4 Things Design Teams Can Learn From Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


The movie Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was another great movie that I highly recommend to everyone. It’s not just about talking apes or the dwindling size of the human population. Not just about who is right and who is wrong. But it’s a story of how complex groups are, no matter how small or big.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, now is a good time to turn back. Although I did not write heavy spoilers that would give away most of the movie. I’ll classify this article as a “mild spoiler” review-ish.

So, what can design and development teams learn from the movie? Let me point them out for you!

Points in Planet of the Apes to Learn From


Take Ceasar’s tribe as an example. For a decade they had lived the way they knew, learning and building their own home, and when humans appeared again it caused unrest. But only when Ceasar allowed the humans to enter their territory and work on the hydroelectric power plant did Koba and his cronies express their discontent. All Ceasar wanted was for apes and humans to live in peace, an idea that is foreign to Koba.

Planet of the Apes 1
© 2013 – Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

As your team grows bigger, you will notice that you can’t innovate without causing a little bit of discomfort among the members. In fact, this is backed up by science. That we, by default, reject external factors that may change our current societal structure. We don’t want change, because that means getting out of our comfort zone. And no one wants to experience discomfort willingly.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with several design teams for the past three years and there is one thing I noticed among them. That whenever a new tool or process was introduced, some would argue against it while the others would just accept it.

As an example, one team upgraded to a different project management tool (they work remotely), from Basecamp to Asana and many expressed their dislike for the change. Same goes for other web design tools. And rightly so, because people spend days of their time trying to learn shortcuts, functions, and the like only to be replaced by something else after a couple of months or a year.

This is absolutely normal.


Koba’s loyalty belonged to Ceasar. At least that’s what appeared at first. But once that loyalty was tested when Ceasar’s opinion differed with his, it was quickly revealed that Koba was acting in his best interest, not for the harmony of apes and humans — certainly not for Ceasar. Just for himself. He hates humans, you see.

The talk about passion for work trumps all is kind of senseless. There is no such thing. People are not driven by passion for their work, they are driven by their passion towards their own cause. People, by nature, are for themselves.

Planet of the Apes 2
© 2013 – Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

This is the reason why you need people in your team who share the same values as you hold. Say, your goal is to earn $10,000 monthly. Find people who want to do the same. Is your main goal in life to educate people about the beauty of web design? Then build a team who share the same goal. In which case, individual goals and team goals will meet in between. Sweet!


Similar to the first point, when a new person joins the team it will cause a little unrest. What is this person’s goal for joining us? How will it affect us? We were doing just fine without this new addition to the team.

This not only shows that everyone protects their own interest, but that they’d rather keep their current structure because it’s comfortable, than explore new possibilities with other people.
In this case, the new guy will always feel alienated for a couple of weeks. Everyone was the new guy or gal for some time, and I bet you have experienced this too.

Planet of the Apes 3
© 2013 – Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

In team meetings, the new member will most likely have little to say. If he or she does have something to say, the majority of the group would tend to just brush it off with smug faces.

In the movie, the younger apes merely follow the ape in charge. And they know he’s in charge when he’s shouting, and is visibly older. They just follow even to march to their deaths because they felt they had no authority to say no.

A great team is run not only by its senior members. Everyone’s input is encouraged and listened to. Everyone has a voice.


Being under the same team does not necessarily mean everyone agrees on everything. Assuming that everyone does is detrimental to the creative process. Remember, creativity is not forced and should not be forced. Forcing someone to do something against their opinion will breed anxiety, which is the cousin of stress. And it is known that stress is a highly effective creativity killer.

When it comes to teams, it only takes one stressed member to infect the rest. This is particularly true for teams working remotely, since there is very little human interaction.

Planet of the Apes 4
© 2013 – Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Conversely, in the Dawn of The Planet of The Apes, both humans and apes disagree with each other. Humans would have the apes wiped out, but a minority of them wanted to form a dialogue with the apes. In the same way, only a handful of the apes wanted peace with the humans.

In which case, progress is hindered because two sides would not relent to form a dialogue and find a middle-ground. In my experience with working with web designers and developers, nothing good comes from people who keep their thoughts to themselves. Everyone may say that they agree on one thing, and just sound out their thoughts when it’s already too late.

To avoid this problem, be sure to encourage everyone to be open about their thoughts. Ensure new team members that they will not be punished for voicing out their opinions. That that’s what your team does to constantly improve.

To End

If there is one thing that every member of a team needs to be aware of, that is how to communicate properly. When communication runs great within a team, there will be less confusion and arguments.

But don’t take opposition as, by default, bad for the team. Opposition means there is doubt, and when people doubt, it reflects their willingness to understand better. If people just trust what is laid out in front of them it will ultimately backfire, no matter how good it sounds.

Like Malcom (Jason Clarke) and Ceasar (Andy Serkis), we can learn that good communication can go a long way.