Collaborations: The How And Why Of Working With Other Designers

Ah, collaborations. They can be a blessing or a curse, and sometimes both at once. Working with another designer on a project can challenge you in ways you never thought possible… and it can also drive you so crazy you’ll find yourself wondering whether it was worth the effort in the first place.

Today, we’ll explore some ways you can approach other fellow designers for collaborations, and how to maintain a hold on your sanity once you decide to take the plunge.

Choosing A Partner

You shouldn’t just choose to collaborate with someone because they are a friend, or because they ask you to. There are several criteria which need to be met by anyone seeking a creative collaboration with you.

First, is this person going to help you achieve anything specific, creatively or career-wise? If you’re a full-time designer, you’re pressed for time, and wasting it on a collaboration that isn’t going to bring you any value is just not a good idea.

Secondly, how does their skill set compare to yours? You can have great collaborations with designers who are both similar and very different from you, but it’s important to make sure that the two of you can “mesh” your skills together in a meaningful way.

How Much To Contribute

A collaboration can be a 50-50 effort, with both (or all) parties pulling equal weight toward the completion of the project. Other times, though, you might be asked to contribute something small but important, like a type treatment, or even just the use of your intellectual property or logo. It’s up to you to determine how much you want to be involved in the creative process.

When I collaborate with someone, I like to get my hands dirty, so to speak. To me, unless I’m directly involved in the production of the work – coming up with ideas, making sketches and notes, doing revisions – it’s not as interesting to me. Choose the level of contribution that best suits your personality and creative goals.

Looking Good

Anything you work on, any creative piece that bears your name, should be an asset to your portfolio, rather than something you’re ashamed of. When I was just starting out as a designer, before I knew better, I would agree to collaborate with friends of mine whose work was sub-par, just because I didn’t want to reject them or seem snobbish.

The resulting work was always disappointing – I never had as much creative input as I wanted, and as a result, the quality would suffer (funny how those who are most eager for a collaboration tend to be the biggest control freaks… but I digress).

If you can’t be sure of the quality of the finished work, you should probably pass.

Collaboration And Legal Issues

If the project is major, or there is a possibility of it generating significant revenue or media attention, it’s obviously important to work out the details of who receives what compensation and so forth. A contract can come in handy here, and there are plenty of resources, both online and off, that can help you draft something which will protect you and your partner in any conceivable situation.

Even if you and your partner are collaborating purely for creative or artistic reasons and don’t expect anything to come from the project, things can change when there is an unexpected windfall of cash or fame involved.

One or the other may feel slighted, or like they’re not getting as much notice as the other. Sorting out the legalities early on will prevent disagreements from turning into lawsuits.

Emotional Response

Keeping on that last note, what happens when one partner gets more recognition for a collaboration than the other or others? It can result in hurt feelings and resentment, and can certainly lead to legal troubles if your contract is not ironclad. Designers have fragile egos, and if someone feels slighted, it’s important to engage in damage control before it spirals out of hand.

Having a strict outline of who is contributing what might seem a bit obsessive, but in my experience, it has helped cool disputes in the past as one party is forced to remember what the original agreement was. If someone still gets insulted, there’s not much to be done except make a note not to work with them again.


Collaborations can be amazing experiences that can catapult your career as a designer to new heights, both professionally and creatively. Having a clear idea of what to expect can only enrich the experience, and help you avoid potential disasters before they occur.

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