This is the first of two posts on my love-hate relationship with the design process. Of course, this is covering the hate side of the relationship.
Design is all I’ve ever done. (I scooped ice cream and taught kids to ski in my teens – but professionally-speaking, I’ve only been a designer.) I went to design school, I’ve worked with all kinds of great designers, on all sorts of projects, through the rise and fall of various industry trends. One would expect that after 15 yrs of this I’d have the design process down pat.
Maybe it’s because I use my anti-process tendencies as an excuse for my procrastination? Maybe I like to think of myself as this oh-so-creative type who simply can’t be restricted by process? Maybe it’s because there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ design process?
All I know, is that there are times when following a solid design process works beautifully. And there are other times, when I’d rather poke a fork in my eye than approach a design problem in a structured, methodical way.
Those times call for a quick & dirty concept, whipped up in a matter of hours, without the full project background – an elevator pitch is all you need.
So, why have I found this approach to be good? It helps with a few things:
1. Skip ‘designer’s block’.
There’s a certain nervous excitement a designer feels when starting a new project. It’s a bit like standing on a bridge, building up the courage to jump into a deep river below. The longer you wait, the more you think, the more you psyche yourself out and the harder it becomes to just go ahead and jump.
When starting a project, there’s so much uncertainty (What will the team dynamic be like? What sort of design hurdles will we need to overcome? What hurdles will we be unable overcome? Will my solution be good enough? Will I be okay with the compromises we’ll make along the way?) It’s very easy to be paralyzed by this uncertainty – that’s called ‘designer’s block’. What’s the best way to overcome ‘designer’s block’? Just jump. Or… (see point 2.)
2. Just start designing.
Draw on a whiteboard, pull out your Sharpies and flipcharts, use your favourite wireframing tool, start scribbling on that napkin. Pick any part of the problem you’ve been presented with, and JUST. START. DESIGNING.
In no time at all, you’ll find that the daunting problem and all the challenges and uncertainty that have been overwhelming you start to feel manageable. They don’t fade away, they don’t magically resolve themselves, but they start to feel familiar. You begin to develop an understanding of the problem, and you get ideas about how to approach it.
Keep in mind, though, that the actual designs you’re creating at this point are most likely horrible. Because the goal of these early concepts is to just start designing without worrying about whether something is the right solution, you can be almost certain that it will NOT be the right solution. (For a good laugh, come back to these earliest designs when the project is complete - just to see how far you’ve come. You’ll be amazed!)
And, these horrible early designs give you no choice but to… (see point 3.)
3.Lose the designer ego.
I don’t know why people come out of design school with giant egos, but they do. And they shouldn’t. The quicker you lose it, the better for you, your colleagues, and the quality of your work.
If you’ve only spent a few hours designing something, you can’t honestly believe it’s all that amazing. You know it’s rough, incomplete, wrong in many ways, and that its only purpose is to start the right conversations with the right people on your team.
Also, because you’ll be sharing these early concepts after just a few hours of work, your client will feel quite comfortable tearing it apart. You likely misunderstood something, went down some path they had already ruled out for valid reasons, or tried something their competitor does which they hate. They’ll think nothing of asking you to toss it all and start again, because there hasn’t been much time or effort invested into it. And that’s good.
Imagine if you shared your first concepts three weeks into a project, only to find out that you misunderstood something, went down some path they had already ruled out for valid reasons, and tried something their competitor does which they hate? That’s not good.
Which brings me to my last point…
4. Expect better.
Expect yourself to always be capable of a better idea. This goes hand in hand with point 3 - you should welcome the early and frequent critiquing from people who’s input you value. We all know that we need to have many ideas in order to find the ‘right’ one, and I find it hard to fit that sort of ‘ideating’ into a process. I often follow a design direction until it doesn’t work, and then I change direction. If it’s late in a project, the cost of changing direction can be astronomical. If it’s on day 2, bring it ON!
If you’re always on the lookout for a design better than the one you’re currently in love with, you’ll be amazed at how often you find one. And suddenly your precious idea isn’t so precious anymore, and you’re quite happy to toss it aside and focus on the new one. Heck, you can easily be into your third ‘better’ design in the first week, before anyone had a chance to schedule a product demo or even send you the requirements document.
And if all goes well, you and your team may find that you’re so thoroughly immersed in the project by then, that you can skip the demo and line-by-line-requirements-reviewing altogether. And that’s likely to make everyone happy.
I did a short session on this topic at an unconference a few years ago, and after my talk a few people had questions about my ‘methodology’.
Methodology? Had I not made myself clear? This was all about being anti-methodology!
But, call it whatever you want.
Just try it.
And let me know how it works for you.
(And come back next week, to hear about the other side of my love-hate relationship with process)
About the Author
As Senior User Experience Designer at Macadamian, Barb loves diving into the ugly mess of conflicting user needs, ambiguous lists of requirements and tight project restrictions, and coming up with products that are beautifully simple, and therefore, simply beautiful. Because let's face it - design isn't pretty, but the outcome should be.