Surviving Design Projects - The Game

Managing Conflict

The hardest part of design isn’t doing the design. It’s working with everyone else without wanting to run screaming for the hills.

Collaborating with smart people on challenging problems is, inevitably, fraught with conflict. Conflict can be good for creative work, moving a project forward as designers wrestle with the challenge. But not all conflict is healthy, and frankly most designers aren’t, shall we say, diplomats.

Where to Get It

You can buy Surviving Design Projects at print-on-demand vendor

Further Reading

Game Overview

Surviving Design Projects is, among other things, a little game to help designers hone their people skills. It’s pretty easy. Each player takes turns being the Creative Director. He or she turns over a Situation card, and then tells a little story about the situation shown. She can make it up or draw from her own experience.

So, I just turned over Lack of Inputs. Maybe I make up this story:

Though the client has provided stacks of user research, they can’t offer us any clear business priorities. They’re just asking us to make their site better without giving us a sense of what they want to accomplish. I need to go talk to the client about this, and try to get them to give us some inputs.

Each player around the table chooses a Pattern card from their hand and places it face-up next to the situation card. The Creative Director chooses one player to go first and describe how they would apply the pattern to the situation. That is, to describe the technique would they use to make the conflict productive. Let’s say one player uses “Make Assumptions” and describes it this way:

The Make Assumptions pattern suggests we fill in the holes ourselves with some assumptions. I guess the idea is that we’re smart people, so we should know what the starting point is. We could brainstorm a list of assumptions about the project’s business priorities, then share that with the client to validate it.

The Creative Director then chooses which technique she would use to deal with the situation and leads a group discussion about the choice. The person who suggested the pattern receives the situation card. The player to the Creative Director’s left becomes the next creative director, flipping the top Situation card, and starting again. At the end of the game, the person who has the most Situation cards is the winner.

So that’s it. It’s a pretty simple game, but the idea is to get people talking about difficult situations in a no-strings environment.

Other Ways to Use the Cards

The cards can be helpful in dealing with difficult situations. You might be stuck in a conflict but struggling to put your finger on exactly what’s wrong. You can use the Situation cards to help you zero-in on the challenge.

If you’ve got a pretty good idea of the situation, you may need some help dealing with it. Flipping through the Pattern cards can give you some ideas on techniques to try. The Pattern cards are categorized into four types of behaviors:

  • Empathize: Behaviors that signal you understand where someone else is coming from.
  • Involve: Behaviors that encourage other people to get involved in the project.
  • Redirect: Behaviors that shift the focus of the conflict.
  • Reframe: Behaviors that explore new ways of looking at the conflict.

Pulling out some relevant patterns for your situation, you might see a natural grouping of certain types of behaviors. Even if none of the patterns fit exactly, you can identify a general behavior type that may lead you in the right direction.