#3 — Cross-functional collaboration

🌁 Building bridges to become a better designer

Hey there, design friends!

I hope you all had a nice and productive week after the last newsletter. Here, I’m still stuck at home with my broken foot, but in two weeks, you’ll see me wearing shoes (yay!) and running wild in the streets.

But for now, I’m incredibly thankful for the book recommendations you sent my way. I’m currently reading The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck which was recommended by Victor Kernes.

Today, I’m talking about cross-functional collaboration and how it can help you become a better designer and open new doors for your career.

Happy reading,
Julie — @syswarren

Table of contents

  1. Resources and links

  2. Design team of one collaboration

  3. TL;DR

  4. Community spotlight

Resources and links
The most random collection of links

💕 Silktide - If accessibility matters to you (it should), I highly recommend using this Chrome plugin to create better experiences. The most useful feature for me is the screen reader simulator. It helps understand how people without enough vision read a website.

🕊️ Brandbird — If you keep getting requests to “design an image for a tweet” send them this tool and fly away. You’re free now.

🤓 IDEO shared 5 Ways We're Using AI at Work: And apparently, they’re using AI for a lot of things, from research to ideation and critique and even to help build presentations.

📽️ Design and Engineering collaboration: an epic battle — an AI-generated EPIC video on UX/UI designers and Developers. Kinda relevant to today’s topic of cross-functional collaboration.

The logo needs to POP!

Design team of one collaboration

⏱️ Reading time: 3 min 34 sec

As a solo designer, you might have read articles about design collaboration and wondered, 'How am I supposed to do this by myself?!' You might have even tried running a workshop, only to find it didn't go as expected.

The usual design collaboration methods might not be helpful in your situation, but it doesn't mean you have to work in total isolation. Collaboration with non-designers is possible and valuable. Using your coworkers' expertise and perspectives can help you gain new insights, discover better solutions, improve your presentation skills, and make you a better designer.

Brainstorming solo

Thinking outside the box

When you involve non-designers in the design process, you get to hear about their points of view, problems, and ideas. Adding their perspectives to yours is a great way to find solutions outside the box.

Working with engineers, support, or marketing means you get access to fresh ideas. You might learn of technical limitations or possibilities that can help you reframe a problem. A few years ago, one of my coworkers showed me the technical capabilities of the tag. It sparked so many ideas. We spent an afternoon building demos. I learned a lot, and we asked another coworker who worked in Sales for feedback. He made some suggestions, and by Monday morning, we had an incredible demo. On Tuesday, it was sold for half a million dollars… And a few weeks later, it was presented at SXSW.

By talking with people outside of your direct collaborators, you can approach challenges with a better understanding and think of new solutions. As a designer, you know how important user research is, and involving your coworkers in your process is very similar.

Getting out of your box

💡 Involve non-designers in your work:

  • Reach out to one colleague you rarely work with. Ask them for feedback and offer to help them.

  • When you start working on something new, ping people you think might have ideas or could be impacted by your work.

  • Build a friendly rapport with your coworkers to support each other better.

Learning opportunities

Including non-designers in your process is an excellent way to better understand their work and the overall problems you're trying to solve as a company.

It means learning about the sales process, getting a private lesson in javascript when discussing an idea with an engineer (Should Designers Code?! 😉), or learning some SEO tips when asking for feedback from the SEO expert… that could be useful for your personal website.

As you get better at understanding your teammates, you get better at explaining your design choices in a way that speaks to them. You naturally start to present your work in a way that promotes the value of design. And in the future, it'll make presenting your work to stakeholders, interviewers, and even users easier.

💡 Grow your toolkit:

  • Be curious. Ask for an explanation if you don’t know something.

  • If you can, shadow a coworker to learn what their job is.

  • See yourself as both a teacher and a student.

  • Actively ask for feedback and be precise about the type of feedback you want.

I got promoted because I demonstrated I communicate and work well with non-designers. Communication is key to getting that famous seat at the table. And over time, the relationships you forge with your coworkers can become valuable connections that might help you get hired at their future company.

Building a strong design culture

Collaborating with non-designers is like an intensive course in communication. You'll have to forget the design jargon and explain your choices in a way that's clear and easy to understand… but that also resonates with the person you're talking to.

When you include people who typically aren't invited to the design process, you help them care about design. They gain a better understanding of your work and your expertise. And when people understand, they care and tend to put in their best effort.

Involving your coworkers in your work doesn’t mean designing by committee. You’re still the designer, but it’s a good way to build a strong design culture. When non-designers experience the design process, they better understand what design means and how it can help achieve your company's goals.

💡 Communication is a design tool:

  • When presenting work, explain why you made certain choices and the impact you hope for.

  • If something is obvious to you, it might not be to others: take a minute to provide context.

  • Adapt your communication to the person you’re talking to. Show that you care about what they do.

  • Show gratitude and give credit to people when you’ve worked together. Appreciation goes a long way.

Solo designers aren’t alone

Finally, just because you're the only designer at your company doesn't mean you can’t work with other designers. Team up with other designers you trust: Help each other level up your skills or brainstorm solutions to challenges you're facing. It's also a good way to learn how to give and receive design-focused feedback.

While I’m not entirely “solo” at my current job, I still share work with designer friends outside of work to get their feedback, and in exchange, I do the same.

💡 Build your secret design team:

  • Engage with designers online to build your design team.

  • Go to meetups, conferences, or online events.

  • Share work in public if you’re allowed to.

  • Find a mentor, or mentor younger designers.


Even if you’re the only designer at your company, you can include non-designers in the design process and learn from their expertise and insights. It’s a good way to create meaningful connections while improving your work.

  • Involve non-designers in your work: Talk to colleagues who aren't usually working with you, share your work, and ask for feedback. Build meaningful connections with them to support each other.

  • Embrace learning opportunities: Be curious, and shadow coworkers to understand their roles. Ask for explanations when you don’t know something. It’ll help you learn new things and grow your skill set.

  • Build the foundations for design culture: As a solo designer, you're in charge of the design culture. By improving your communication and adapting your message to different audiences, you’ll be a voice for design within your company.

  • Network with other designers: Connect online, attend events, join a small trusted group of designers, find a mentor or be one, or work together on side projects. This will help you grow professionally and receive valuable design-focused feedback.

Community spotlight

🌭 You might already know him… but if you don’t, you definitely already know his work. To me, it’s one of the most talented product designers out there. He’s also an amazing illustrator. I had the chance to work with him a few years ago: Adrien Griveau. He’s a Founding Designer at Linear.

To end today’s newsletter, a question since we just talked about meeting with other designers. Are any of you planning on going to Figma Config 2023? It’ll be in June in San Francisco, but it’s also possible to attend online. Reply to this email to let me know!

See you next week 😊

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