The Benefits of Sharing Ideas with Like-Minded Companies


Shawn Crowley and I were recently invited to the 8th Light Chicago office for a one-day exchange with two of their UX Craftsmen. This intensive mind-meld was extremely productive, and I want to share and reflect on the value uncovered.

The Design Exchange

8th Light and Atomic Object are similar in size, and our approaches to design and development are philosophically aligned. We also share the goal of building a strong identity, culture, and methodology for design within our agile development practices.

Shawn and I spent the day with two of 8th Light’s UX Craftsmen, Stephanie Briones and Chris Peak. It was apparent that this experiment would bring tangible value by giving us both immediate and long-term ways to improve our design practices.

By the end of the day, I tallied up quick wins we could gain by seeing first-hand the success it had brought to their organization. In an environment where failure and experimentation are encouraged, the value in sharing lessons learned is priceless.

Choosing the Agenda

Shawn kicked off the session by mind-mapping discussion topics on a whiteboard. He identified a few mandatory agenda items, which covered introductions, team/company history, and individual aspirations for the day. The four of us took a few minutes to dot vote 4 topics we felt most interested in. We indicated some secondary topics to discuss if we found additional time available. That set the tone and prioritized a strong agenda, including (but not limited to):

  • Selling design services
  • Design methodology & practices
  • Building design culture
  • Design mentorship
  • Growing design across multiple offices

The Discussion

The topics were time-boxed to 30 min each, and we extended an additional 15 min if needed. Shawn kept time and politely guided us back when we got off target. This led to a very structured and productive day.

As we discussed each topic, Stephanie and Chris shared ideas, challenges, and proprietary insights from 8th Light’s history and past experiences. Shawn and I reciprocated, sharing lessons learned, team history, and stories that led us to where Atomic is today. I felt proud of our discussions and ability to take advantage of our short time together.

Around noon, we took a walk to find lunch. This allowed for some personal time if needed but also a chance to continue talking. Switching context and getting some fresh air felt very important, in preparation for the rest of the day.

The Retrospective

After the work day (and before the 3-hour drive back to Grand Rapids), Shawn and I took a walk around the West Loop. Getting out and walking around, we shared the initial debrief of our day. It was great to do this type of retrospective immediately following the engagement. Before having time to apply much analysis, it’s best to get the initial impressions on the table.

We then met a few of the 8th Light craftsmen at a nearby bar. Getting some personal time with the group allowed us to get to know the team on a more casual level. It was nice to see such a shared sense of comfort and established trust in the group. This allowed us to pause and reflect on the day, while sharing some personal stories and common interests.

Driving home gave Shawn and I an equal amount of focused time to reflect on the events of the day and the key knowledge we’d learned. It also gave us time to catch up, share stories, and learn more about each other.

In Conclusion

Companies must create this affordance for team building. There is immense value to be shared when ideas can cross-pollinate effortlessly between peers inside and outside of an organization. The design community only reaches as far as you are willing to contribute yourself. Sharing with the community allows us to get the topical feedback we need most, and the community will only be strengthened by broadening the team we make ourselves a part of.

We are extremely thankful to Stephanie, Chris, and 8th Light for sharing their time and space with us. It was enjoyable and extremely valuable. I highly recommend that everyone engage in some form of environmental context switching in their work life.

If you get approached to tag along to a meeting or join a session like this, understand ahead of time the value and opportunity it can provide. Carefully plan your schedule around how best to optimize this focused time with colleagues.