Collaborative Design – Innovation, Iteration and DAM


Robust collaborative design leverages synergies between the principles of team-based innovation, iterative design process and digital asset management (DAM). Here we briefly explore these principles, and illustrate how they can unite within a three-stage collaborative design cycle.

Team-Based Innovation

When people consider innovation they often think of a lone entrepreneur toiling late nights in a garage who – through blood, sweat & tears – brings to life a new technology so revolutionary it spawns a new industry. As this story goes, if the right amount of preparation meets the right amount of inspiration – in the mind of the right virtuous entrepreneur – then the light bulb illuminates and the world is forever changed. This is the Thomas Edison trope at the heart of the innovation tales we tell about Silicon Valley, and all the Dave Packards, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of the world.

Yet a great deal of innovation proceeds at the humbler pace of the day-to-day, via cross-functional teams of project managers, developers and designers who have become a hallmark fixture of innovation hubs around the world. This isn’t lone genius innovation propelled by fits-and-starts or happenstance discovery. Instead, this team-based style of innovation is management guided, leverages a diversity of skillsets and is formalized across many product development methodologies.

Iterative Design Process

An iterative design process best governs the kind of team-based innovation described above. This is mostly just a three-step procedure: collectively brainstorm, design together in a structured way and revise based on market feedback. In short – brainstorm, design, revise. By following and repeating these three steps, teams can achieve closer and closer approximations of their design goals. In this way, collaborative design teams (whether designing software, marketing materials or any other work product) become part and parcel of an iterative process that continuously strengthens design integrity, while also honing-in on client or market needs.

Digital Asset Management

Structural support is still critical no matter how innovative or iterative the collaborative design process. Mindmapping tools, diagramming software and project tracking systems come to mind. Yet a DAM system to centralize, organize and share digital assets offers outstanding benefits to collaborative design projects. This is because digital assets are building blocks of collaborative design thinking. A system that empowers team members to manage them puts the right tools in the right hands at the right time, and helps move ideas through production and into market delivery.

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A Collaborative Design Cycle

Here’s how team-based innovation, an iterative design process and the structural support of digital asset management can unite within a collaborative design cycle.

Brainstorming Phase

Nothing is so exciting to a design team as the big blue open sky. In this phase, no ideas are discounted, and their liberal consideration can yield fresh, innovative insights. Ideas are often captured on a whiteboard and/or written on index cards. The advantage of the latter is that they can be iteratively arranged and revised in different combinations to tease out new relationships. Taking a digital snapshot of these index cards or their arrangements can be a great way to preserve and memorialize blue sky collaborative design meetings.

A DAM system, then, is a fantastic place to store digital index cards, and later relate them to other digital assets like sketches, mood board imagery or prototype layouts. In fact, if your DAM is sufficiently archived, related assets can be  sourced from collections already stored in it. A portal can then pull together all assets relevant to and considered within the brainstorming phase, organized in a maximally beneficial way to serve the next phase.

The brainstorming process should improve communication between team members.


Design Phase

The design phase is where innovation becomes more refined, collaboration more structured and the organizing benefits of DAM shine. A collaborative design team might use keywording and tagging to identify design assets, while matching folder and album taxonomies to project specifications. Then asset collections coulld be organized and searched as needed for limited scope innovations. A simple approval system might flag assets for iterative entry into specific workflows.

For bigger design projects, the DAM might integrate with leading creative production software. For instance, the Canto DAM and InDesign plugin lets designers pull images right from Canto into Adobe InDesign, with URL links maintained in the DAM. This is fantastic for larger collateral design projects like product catalogs, where multiple designers must collaborate in real-time on tight schedules.

The collaborative design process inevitably produces snags that must be overcome.


Revision Phase

No matter how fantastic a design (or how well risks were measured upfront) clients have a way of discovering design flaws only after design goes live. There’s also not a design team in the world that hasn’t seen previously undiscovered design flaws exposed by the honing missiles of the live market. Seasoned collaborative design teams anticipate these critiques, and iteratively revise with innovative adjustments based on changing requirements.

The sharing benefits of DAM really come to the fore here. Users of a sufficient DAM system should be able to directly annotate images in real-time, and contribute to threaded comments alongside the asset. Asset versioning should allow users to retain previous versions, while displaying the latest-and-greatest on top. These revision histories increase visibility for all team members into the reasoning and justifications for design decisions, and grant controls on design changes.

collaborative design process
The revision stage is often overlooked, yet is critical to collaborative design.


What Next?

Design projects are inherently risky. One of the best hedges available is collaborative design thinking that leverages best practices in team-based innovation, iterative design process and digital asset management. We invite you to join our webinar – How Canto Helps You Research, Produce and Share Creative Marketing Content – to learn more ways that Canto DAM supports collaborative design, and can help your team take design projects to a higher level.