Mikey Allan

Natural peer environment

We’ve all seen the importance of regular internal peer reviews and critiques. At Clearleft, as I’m sure in many companies, each discipline or team gets together weekly for one of these catch ups.

For the designer we have a weekly critique. Each designer can present the work they’ve been doing and the others offer feedback. These weekly catch ups are really valuable and should be part of any team whatever discipline. It allows you to step back from your work, think about some of your decision making and more valuably gets another pair of eyes on it.

However this is just one aspect of a good working environment. Weekly catch ups are great but by their very nature are structured and organised, there’s an element of presentation and discussion, furthermore it’s usually compulsory to attend or at the very least frowned upon not to be present.

Don’t get me wrong they’re valuable they’re just not natural.

One of the greatest absences I found when freelancing was the lack of people. We’re social beings (well most of us) and need to be around each other. I am happy to work alone and at times it’s necessary but when you do, revealing your work is in a periodic, presentation-like format. Once more, these are essential skills and provide great feedback but there is always a level of formality.

In our industry even if you work in a team it’s quite easy to get isolated without even noticing it’s happening. You can easily fall into the “Freelance” trap of not being around people and revealing your work periodically, either for the client or at the weekly review.

If the environment allows this to happen it simply fuels defensive behaviour, places to much pressure on the individual, cripples enthusiasm and stunts creativity.

We should aim to create an environment of informality. A natural environment where your mate is walking past to make a coffee and you grab them for a quick “Do you mind having a look at this” moment. Where the weekly meeting is to run through detail not show things for the first time. An environment where it’s much harder for people to get isolated.

The importance of this natural environment is that it’s REAL. A send-all team email saying “I’d just like to say what a great job you’ve done” always feels fake, self serving and filled with office politics to me. Someone genuinely coming over to you and saying “SH*T DUDE that looks amazing”, yes it isn’t articulate or particularly professional but it’s a damned sight more honest.

Some of the best sentences I have ever heard surrounding design are NOT presentation or client friendly, but are filled with honesty, enthusiasm and energy, they make you laugh but emit excitement, confidence and camaraderie.

Which is what you NEED for great design to happen.

I don’t have the answer to solve this, perhaps it’s proximity to one another, perhaps it’s trips away for inspiration, perhaps it’s simply more time down the pub!

I guess it’s down to the team to decide, but whatever the answer is, maybe simply ask how you’re friend’s doing or if you see something awesome on a screen tell them.

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