For the majority of my working career in content design, I've been an advocate for pair writing and co-design.
I'm a big-time believer in collaboration. Creating together with another mind inspires better journeys. Work moves faster, there are generally fewer amends to be made and it builds stronger relationships within a team/squad. Plus, selfishly, problem-solving with another soul gives me a huge sense of gratification.
Some of my favourite working moments have been during co-design sessions (where a writer and a designer work to build the product in a "there and then" situation). Granted, this way of working isn't effective for every scenario. If there's a disparity in pace for example, things can get waity-aroundy. But given the right pre-prepared ingredients (like well-known design patterns and well-researched problems) you can build a brilliant solution together with efficiency and effectiveness. It's a great remedy for the age-old debate of whether copy comes before design (or vice versa) and it's absolutely amazing for picking up new skills (I learned so much about colour theory when working with a product designer this year).
I talk about co-design a lot in meetings. Each Friday morning at 11 am, our product team has an informal fireside get-together that's been lovingly labelled 'elevenses'. In one of these sessions, I mentioned how energised I'd felt after a really cool and productive co-design that week. It was from this discussion that we had an idea... So...what would happen if you added an engineer to a co-design?
What? Write the copy, design the thing, and build it? At the same time?
So we experimented. And actually, it ended up being bloody brilliant. We picked something small to work on for the experiment (a form) and went for it. Here's what was awesome:
- It was quick. We went from 'we need a form' to 'its ready for live' in half a day (probably less)
- Getting the perspective of other disciplines on your own work is refreshing, and makes things nice and accurate all round
- Lovely moments of chatter and team bonding happened (absolutely vital for us being remote)
- Feedback loops were instant
- We could completely pivot on our idea, because everyone we needed for that decision was there
Of course, this way of working has its limitations. It's not for all scenarios. Here's what we decided:
- Just like standard pairing or co-design, it works best when you've got known patterns ready.
- It can be draining if you're not into spending longer periods of time with others. It also requires lots of listening and focus.
- You need to have a line in the sand. There's a temptation to keep going and tweaking.
So, why "cocoa-build"?
Well, it's co-design and co-build and pairing, all in one. Co-co-building if you will. And who doesn't love being reminded that chocolate exists? We sometimes refer to it as cocoa pairing too, and more recently we're even more colloquial and just ask if we can 'cocoa' the thing.