Designing Together - UX book club book review

Ok - I’ll admit it, I was very pleased that we voted to read Dan M Brown’s latest book - Designing Together - at the October meeting of UX Book Club Sydney. I found his first book, Communicating Design a great read and very helpful at a particular point in time. Dan is not to be mistaken for the other author of the same name and Da Vinci Code fame.

I am fascinated by the psychology behind people’s interactions with each other. Especially at work when we are meant to be on our best behaviour - but so often are not :)

My heavily bookmarked copy of Designing Together by Dan M Brown

My heavily bookmarked copy of Designing Together by Dan M Brown

One of the things I really like about this book is the positive and pragmatic approach Dan takes. He describes some situations that I would find quite frustrating, but for each he provides alternative views and management strategies that are both light touch and straightforward. His focus is on how to solve a problem rather than where to lay blame. 

I expect the most sophisticated, self aware team player might find this book self evident, however the rest of us will get something out of it :)

I found the following sections the most valuable:

How to deal with common design issues - chapter 9

Dan describes these as just “Situations” in keeping with his value neutral approach. He describes a bunch of potential issues and provides ways to recognise and address them. For example a “poorly planned presentation or discussion” which is recognised by something like “Less than one day’s notice for presentations”. 

I recommend scanning the situation title, how to recognise (in the wild) and possible mitigations (possible patterns) then reading the detail if it is relevant to your situation.

All the case studies - dotted throughout the book

I respond strongly to narrative. It really helps me understand and engage with a topic, so I appreciated the case studies through the book. Just flip to the blue pages.

How to listen - chapter 3

I think listening is one of the most underrated skills. I see lots of people struggle with it, I sometimes feel like I am not being listened to and I suspect I am not always the best listener - especially when I don’t feel like someone is on track. Dan shares strategies for being a better listener including ways to keep people who are lost or at cross purposes on topic.

Conflict - chapters 4, 5, and 6 and 11

Dan does not define conflict the way you might expect. He says “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.” He says conflict is a key way to gain a shared understanding of the design problem.

I found the descriptions of why people might not be able to come to a shared understanding, for example, because they feel marginalised, or because they feel anxious about not understanding something, or because they are afraid they are not going to be able to contribute great design ideas or decisions, useful.

The methods for managing and dealing with design issues in chapter 11 are worth reading, for example "Reflect the position", Offer a sneak peek" and "Help me prioritise". Again the emphasis here is that each member of the team takes responsibility for themselves and their team members.


In conclusion, this is a book I would recommend that has made me think more critically about self reflection and empathy. Dan asks us to take note of behaviours that make us uncomfortable as we read the book so we can start to focus on them. I have made my list :)

If you would like to read more books about user experience, please join me at UX Book Club Sydney.