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Why pair design?

This post has been pair-authored by Kim Dowd and Pam Dineva, designers at Pivotal Labs.


Consultancies and embedded design teams are owning more of the product creation process, expanding into early stage research and validation at one end and engineering to create prototypes and products at the other end. The traditional waterfall design process is changing to a faster, more iterative one.

A designer working in this emerging system of product creation faces many challenges. A design pairing framework solves most of them.


…tried to sketch the onboarding flow in so many ways that you imagined cutting them up, finding a blowdryer and making a confetti party instead


…felt like you were the crazy feelings designer monster who must stay in wireframe cage.

…gone down the rabbit hole of shiny, distracting things — the email monster, blogger bits, dribbles, the Oatmeal, Pattern Tap, Bob Ross, and sparkling parallax screens of wonder — instead of addressing that you didn’t know how to go forward and weren’t sure about  your design direction?


…felt an anxiety monster grow inside you as the client experts use entire rooms of whiteboard, and words with too many syllables to explain the six flavors of quarks, and then ask you to design for it

…indoctrinated the marketing intern into the world of your project because no one understands and someone needs to understand all six flavors of quarks before you can get feedback on subatomic pie charts.



Collaborate with you like a battle rapper because they were also dunked in the same pool of client system that involves flavors of quark or whatever sorcery they are making.

Offer you a design review, all the time, and be someone you respect, like the Dalai Lama, but with fancy glasses.

Make you feel the warm fuzzies when you share a mouse and keyboard. All. The. Time.

Empower you to be a unicorn rocket scientist of conversational wonder about systems-level decisions, and the feedback rainbows of user testing.


Inspire you away from drawing the same thing over and over with their mental rolodex of design knowledge.

Work when you want to take a day off and the project won’t follow you to Napa, like a ferris wheel of chaos in your head.

Help you learn through osmosis as you watch and understand the inner workings of another designer.

Sound strange?

We thought so too, as we pushed two monitors side by side, plugged them in and let another designer share a very personal workflow: keyboard shortcuts, photoshop workspace, naming conventions, file organization systems, even the daily craigslist alert!

So start slow

  1. Pick a day or half a day and commit to sharing your screen no matter what you’re working on, workflows, wireframing, even high fidelity visuals

  2. Record – video, notes, post-its, note interesting outcomes or questions that you ask

  3. Retrospect – spend 10 minutes at the end of the day discussing:

    1. What worked well :)

    2. What could be better or still feels odd :/

    3. What didn’t work well :(

  4. Repeat

Try it out and tell us, how do you pair?

  1. Jenea Hayes says:

    When talking about paired design, I usually pitch efficiency and coherence. Here you have managed to communicate the sheer joy of having a thought partner.

    Thank you!

  2. Nina Mehta says:

    Whoaaa! Mega awesome graphics and really nice way to tell the narrative about who may need a pair, the struggles we face and the magic of having a pair. Love the funny writing and empathy at the bottom of the post! Nice one ladies – it feels very us and very you!

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