Conflict is the way Design Teams come to a shared understanding of each decision made in the design process.
Conflict is the engine of design. When designers come up with the initial idea, turning it over and over to make sure it solves the design problem, it is conflict that spurs that process. When designers take that idea and draw it out—fleshing out details, establishing a design’s basic concept—and then take it all the way through to a specification, it is conflict that drives that growth.
Conflict is the process through which ideas are validated and elaborated. Through conflict, ideas grow from a spark to a concept to a full-fledged design because
- Conflict validates ideas: Designers working together seek to understand an idea fully, so they confront each other, forcing themselves to justify every decision. They challenge each other to ground their ideas.
- Conflict elaborates ideas: By talking over an idea and disagreeing with it, designers force each other to fill in missing details.
A Shared Understanding in Making Decisions
Design is mostly a series of decisions. Making one decision allows the design team to make the next decision. That is, they can tackle the next level of detail, the next element in the product, the next challenge facing the project. One decision leads to the next.
Decisions made by the design team must do two things, then. A design decision must
- Be good. It meets the goals of the project
- Move the project forward. The decision brings the conclusion of the project into greater focus, further clarifying the product definition.
So the design process is a series of decisions that increasingly defines the product and yields a good product. These decisions are made collectively by the design team. And the team cooperates to make decisions. Right?
Actually, that’s not true. Not every member of the team contributes to every decision. Nor does every member of the team agree with every decision. But to move a project forward, all members of the design team must understand the decision. That is, they know
- Why the decision was made
- How the decision impacts their contribution
- How they can incorporate the decision into their work
By working toward a shared understanding of design decisions, team members enter into conflict. It is through building a shared understanding around decisions that conflict manifests. That is, team members must understand how a design decision makes a better product and moves the project forward.
A team’s shared understanding rests on everyone understanding both the content of the decision and the method used to reach that decision. They need to be clear on the decision and aligned in their activities for getting there. Refer to the below table:
|Aspect of Decision||Required Understanding||Implication|
|Content||Clarity||Not everyone is going to agree with every decision (“creative differences“) but team members need to be clear on the content of the decision.|
|Method||Alignment||Not everyone needs to agree on how the decision will be made, but they do need to understand the method being used and how they contribute to it.|
Conflict is the way design teams come to a shared understanding of each decision made in the design process. Conflict in design isn’t always accompanied by negative emotions, hostility, or drama. It isn’t always about disagreement. Conflict is about two (or more) people trying to understand each other, paving the way for future decisions and ultimately the project conclusion.