Types of Pairing and Integrating It Into Your Design Practice


Chay Land

on •

May 7, 2024

Chay Land as Senior Product Designer discussing Types of Pairing and Integrating it into Your Design Practice, with an abstract design and giraffes.
Pairing: The Future of Collaborative Design

It wasn't until I worked with Artium that I came across pairing, an approach that reshaped my understanding of collaboration. Given the number of developers practicing it daily at Artium, it begged the question: what about design? Initially, I was skeptical because, like most designers, we work alone or async. I was also skeptical because I was one designer surrounded by multiple developers; who would I pair with? My journey into pairing revealed it to be more than a method; it became a catalyst for innovation in my work at Artium and a new lens for me into the world of AI. When I realized the benefits of pairing, it wasn't sudden. It unfolded through numerous projects that taught me to cross-collaborate with people from different crafts.

The Essence of Pairing

Pairing has initially been a practice exclusive to developers through a development methodology called Extreme Programming (XP). Pair programming is a practice from the XP methodology that allows two programmers to work on the same code. An example is when one developer focuses on writing while the other reviews codes, suggests improvements, or catches mistakes. 95% of developers said they enjoyed their work more through collaborative pairing, and statistical insights found 15% fewer code defects. The output produced a higher quality of work. It taught each person how to work together rather than alongside one another to push boundaries in real time. Techniques like 'ping pong' and 'strong style' pairing have proven particularly effective in remote work environments. For more details on effective remote pairing techniques, you can explore Thoughtworks' Remote Pairing 101.

The Benefits of Pairing

Pairing offers enhanced collaboration, a continuous feedback loop, error reduction, speed, efficiency, and opportunities for learning and growth. It also allows both people to stay more focused on the task and solve a problem rather than let an issue stop them in their tracks. As products get more complex, working closely with your team is essential to create a seamless user-centric experience.

-But the question remains: What about design, and how can a designer use remote collaborative pairing?

Practical Application: Pairing in Action

To get the most out of pairing as a designer, I have adapted and modified the "Strong style" pairing and the "Dual Keyboard" pairing technique.

Strong-style pairing is a traditional approach to pairing that allows one person to be the Driver, the person doing the work, and the Navigator, the person who provides high-level feedback and instructions.

The Dual Keyboard pairing technique is used less by developers but is optimal for designers. This method allows both individuals to interact with the design simultaneously. However, a higher level of communication is required to produce meaningful output.

Types of Pairing Relationships

As one designer on a team of multiple product managers and multiple developers, I have had to shift the way I think about collaboration.

Pairing With Developers

Designer-to-developer pairing relationships are ideal for refining design-related tasks and troubleshooting experience issues. Throughout my work with Artium, I have paired with developers more than any other craft. I find 15-30 minutes daily with the strong-style pairing technique is the sweet spot to keep the team aligned and help them stay on track. A designer doesn't need to code, but a coding background will make communicating with your developer and pairing with them more hands-on and efficient. Over time, I've noticed that my interactions with our developers enhance the final product and enrich my understanding of the technical landscape. If you pair with your developers at least once daily, there is less of a gap to fill in the design-to-development handoff.

Pairing With Product Managers

Designer-to-product manager pairing relationships are ideal for defining a product's direction and aligning the vision with user needs. In the initial stages of a product, I have found it helpful to pair with a product manager 3-5 times a week for 30 minutes to an hour, using a strong-style pairing or the dual keyboard pairing technique. As the product reaches a more mature, consistent, and stable state, I will modify my schedule to meet with my product manager 2-3 times a week to work on quick responses to changes in user needs, innovative solutions, look at user data, increase engagement, and QA.

Pairing Designer-to-Designer

Designer-to-designer pairing relationships are ideal for pushing the boundaries of design and experience design, working on the design system, and sharing knowledge. In the structure of our teams at Artium, where each team is assigned one designer, it has been uncommon for me to collaborate directly with another designer. On a few occasions, I have collaborated with another designer, and we organize 1-2 pairing sessions a week that last between 30 minutes and an hour. We opt for the Dual Keyboard technique, which is especially effective when working in Figma. Sharing knowledge and critiques with fellow designers fosters a culture of growth, shared ownership, and excellence. Diverse perspectives from cross-functional collaboration foster creativity and lead to innovative solutions.

Effective Pairing

To pair effectively, each individual needs to set clear expectations and understand each other's working style. This will prevent misunderstandings and optimize collaboration. Establishing clear roles, such as who drives and who navigates, will also ensure productive communication and make the pairing process more enjoyable. Not all tasks require pairing. To get the most out of your time, recognize when to apply this strategy and when not to apply it. To learn more about when not to pair, check out Pair Design Pitfalls.

Looking Ahead: Pairing and AI

AI brings new complexity, unpredictability, and ethical and legal challenges. As we head into the age of AI, the call for a human-driven experience is more important than ever. With each new AI tool or piece of technology, we unlock a chance to collaborate and push the boundaries of design. If you are looking for a place to start, integrate AI into your workflow and merge it with your creativity using the methods outlined in Google's AI design patterns guidebook. Get inspiration from AI tools on Product Hunt and experiment with gadgets like Rabbit tech and the Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses. Working with AI can be fun, but it will be even better with a partner. Team up with a partner today to unlock the potential of a new future and craft an experience that leaves a lasting impression.

A Personal Note

Reflecting on my journey with pairing, I'm convinced that it's not just a methodology but a mindset—a belief in the power of collaboration to bring out the best in our work and ourselves. At Artium, pairing has become more than a practice; it's a pillar of our philosophy that drives us toward a future where collaboration is the bedrock of innovation.

In this future, designers have a unique opportunity to redefine our role by integrating tools like AI into our collaborative practices. This is not a solitary journey but a collective adventure where we can shape the next design horizon together.

So, let's embrace pairing as a tool, a way of thinking, and a path to unlocking our full potential. Together, we can sculpt the future of design, where collaboration and innovation are inextricably linked.

Interested in learning more about how to introduce pairing within your teams?