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  • July 23, 2015


Like many agencies, Happy Cog works with strategic partners and freelance professionals to supplement resources or to utilize their unique skills for internal or external project work. Finding people you can trust is not always easy. Decorative Illustration

Design Avengers, assemble!

I love the idea of the best of the best coming together to fight the good fight. Naturally, when opportunities arise we think of our friends or people we’ve come to know and respect through the web and social media first. We follow them online, we enjoy their company at conferences or meetups; it feels like we’re of the same mind. All of which may be true. But, how we work is more important in this scenario then how we talk about the work we do: Even Hulk and Iron Man have to figure out how to complement each other.

Here are some steps to consider before you allow your wonder twin powers to activate.

1. Be clear about the project

In much the same way, you iron out the agreement with your client, iron out the agreement with your partner. Discuss project scope, your approach, roles and responsibilities, and be clear. It is important to identify and agree on who owns the client relationship.

Are you bringing in someone after a client agreement has been made? If so, what process did you articulate to the client? Yours? If so, is your partner OK with that process? They will need to be, since your client’s expectations have now been set and this has to be made clear.

If you’re pursuing new work together you have a lot more flexibility here, but it is still important to specify how your partnership roles will relate to the client. When relationships go bad it’s often for lack of communication, and lack of holding one another to the accountability and responsibility you agreed to initially—when possibilities were endless and no real work had begun.

2. Project infatuation leads to unspoken words

Assumptions will be your worst enemy. If your process is more Photoshop-based and static, and your deliverables are built on that premise, then you don’t want to find out, in the middle of design tasks, that your compatriot likes to design in a browser. This may not be a detail that gets shared when planning, but trust me, you don’t want to find this out in the middle of the project. This may seem like tacit knowledge both parties have and you might not think to share it, but how you do your work matters—talk about it, question one another, and work out a plan together. Then honor it.

3. This flight may experience moments of turbulence

You have a plan, you know your approach, your roles, and this client is going to be blown away, but just know it won’t be a smooth flight. It takes working together start to finish to fully understand how you respectively like to work, and in so doing you’ll find that your way and their way doesn’t always mesh.

The natural response may be to ignore a red flag and hope it resolves itself—you don’t want to wreck a relationship—but you owe it to yourself, and your partner, to reveal the issues asap. Talking through the problem—why you disagree with an approach—offers a chance to compromise, and ultimately this is how you’ll refine your collaboration moving forward. Getting emotional or ignoring an issue will only exacerbate the problem, and can easily turn a conversation into a potential shouting match.

All you gotta do is talk, talk

I could write volumes about the good and bad collaborations I’ve been part of, but I think the biggest mistake I’ve seen repeated is not taking the time to really discuss how we each do our work. Communication, or lack thereof, seems to be the root of all evil. So, talk. Keep talking and be honest and specific about what you want to accomplish, and how you want to accomplish it. Then reach out your hands, press your knuckles together and take the form of a kickass web team!

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