What is Surviving Design Projects?

  • A blog: This blog collects difficult situations creative teams face on design projects. It offers some behavior patterns for dealing with them and describes designers’ traits that might influence those behaviors.
  • A game: The game helps project teams practice confronting conflict. Describe a difficult situation and then be the player who has the best pattern for dealing with it. 
  • A workshop: The workshop establishes a theoretical foundation for the situation-pattern-trait model, and describes how project teams can diagnose difficult situations.

Where did all this come from?

After 15 years in the design business, I’ve learned a thing or two about how these projects go. What makes a project hard isn’t the design problem, but all the baggage that comes with it. People who don’t get along, people with misaligned objectives, people who don’t communicate effectively: they all contribute to the challenges of a design project.

Surviving Design Projects is a collection of lessons learned over the last 15 years on how to deal with conflict on projects. I’m rendering the lessons as “patterns” — a tool used by designers to establish a starting point for solving a problem. Patterns are, by definition, incomplete, but they give designers a framework for addressing design challenges. Likewise, these patterns give team members ways to manage conflict.

Yes, eventually I’d like to turn this into a book, but I needed a good mechanism for capturing these ideas before I commit to that.

Patterns, Self-Awareness, Situations

PatternsPatterns are simple recipes for dealing with day-to-day conflicts on design projects.Self-AwarenessThese traits are aspects of team members’ psychology that impacts their behavior on projects, either positively or negatively. Some deal with the people themselves. Others deal with their reactions to different situations.SituationsSituations describe different circumstances that may arise on projects. They may crop up as isolated incidents or may be an ongoing problem.


Chris Detzi (EightShapes’ director of user experience) and I developed a workshop a few years ago called “Difficult Conversations”. Some of these patterns and situations come from our original brainstorming for that workshop.