process archives

Bring Up a Design in the Way It Should Go

Some people talk as if you can make a product “without designing it.” That’s silly. You can’t make a product without designing it any more than you can raise a child without parenting him or her. You may parent poorly or well, but only in cases of extreme neglect could it be said that you didn’t parent at all. Same thing in making products; you either design haphazardly or deliberately, well or poorly, carefully or slothfully—but you can’t avoid Designing.

Designers are often compared to protective parents, watching over “their baby,” reluctant to take criticism of “their baby,” being proud of “their baby.” That’s all well and good—as long as you don’t spoil the child. Good design, like good parenting, requires discipline.

In parenting, one of the biggest risks is that you indulge your child’s every whim under the guise of “loving him or her.” It makes you feel good in the short term. It makes you feel liked. You may enjoy feeling like you’re a good provider because your kids “have it better than you did.” But if you overdo it, you end up with kids who can’t work for themselves, don’t respect you, and are very demanding. Not good for you, not good for them—because you won’t be there in a few years to defend and provide for them. They need to be able to stand on their own merits. The same applies to your design babies.

There is little risk that your design will start making demands on its own, but your own whims (and sometimes even good intentions) must often be curbed. Every time you add a feature, a decoration, a “little something extra”—does it really advance the design functionally or even aesthetically? Or are you “spoiling the child”? Are you adding bells and whistles in order to “keep up with the Joneses,” or are you really just building what’s needed?

Disciplined Design means knowing your audience and their needs.

It means prioritizing and setting limits (to scope, to budget, to resources).

It means saying, “No, you can’t have that right now. Maybe when you’re older.”

It means having a vision of what a product will be when it grows up, but having the patience to realize that it will take time to mature and reach that potential.

It’s saying “No” to some Good things to make room to say “Yes” to the Best things.

It’s applying tough love when your child goes astray, reining in when the design wanders off the straight and narrow path of meeting audience needs and out into the ever-shifting mists of fad and fashion.

So here’s to bringing up a design in the way it should go. Be kind and thoughtful, but also provide discipline, and maybe your “children” will bring you honor and joy, in good Biblical fashion.

posted by ted on Monday, Apr 27, 2009 · 1 comment

case study

Patton: 12 Best Practices for Agile UX

In October, I attended a session by Jeff Patton at UIE13 on doing user experience work in agile environments. I found it extremely helpful in understanding how to improve the process on my current team. I have not yet “arrived,” but the principles learned there have had an actual impact on my processes, as opposed to the “feels good but what do I do now” impression you sometimes get from conferences.

In a “re-print” from last August on UIE’s newsletter, Jeff outlines 12 principles for UX in an agile environment. Here’s a summary of the points in his article (originally broken into part 1 and part 2), with notes on how I have applied these principles to my current project:

posted by ted on Tuesday, Mar 03, 2009 · 2 comments

case study

Design Lesson:
Shovel Smart, Soon, and Often

Here in Northtemple Land, as in many parts of the United States, we’ve received slightly more than our fair share of precipitation in the last week. I have a long driveway to deal with and no snow blower (something I may need to remedy this year with Grandma’s Christmas check). The combination of heavy snow and a long driveway has resulted in an inordinate amount of time spent outside, with nothing to do but shovel and think.

What I’ve learned: Shovel smart, shovel soon, and shovel often. And what’s more, I think this applies to design as well as driveways, and maybe to any problem-solving effort.

posted by ted on Friday, Dec 26, 2008 · 4 comments

“Our design and editorial teams are storytellers. Design begins in a laboratory atmosphere where we create ideas from scratch. We develop the recipes, the crafts, even the decorating ideas, we design and build the sets, we choose the colors, we choose the photographer, then we finally after all of that sit down to design the story and that’s why for us design is both the creation and execution of the idea from start to finish.”
The process that Gael Towey explaines Martha Stewart uses to tell stories.

posted by chris_mayfield on Wednesday, Nov 26, 2008

“It’s about whittling. It’s about taking something and whittling and whittling and getting it sharp and perfect. Then you’ve got something.”
James Victore – Designer

posted by chris_mayfield on Monday, Nov 24, 2008

Jason Fried (from 37signals) suggests that you question your work

“These are questions we ask each other before, during, and sometimes after we work on something. That something can be as small as a couple-hour project or as big as something that takes a few weeks or more. Either way, it’s important to ask questions like this in order to make sure you’re doing work that matters.”

posted by aaron on Tuesday, Mar 18, 2008

Secrets of UX Design Productivity from Google Jake Knapp, a very well-spoken user interface designer, entertained a packed house with a speech on 17 tactics that he uses for creating strong UX work in “the flood” of projects that pour through his UX department from month to month.

posted by aaron on Thursday, Mar 06, 2008

“Pouring tons of money, tons of resources, and tons of people at a problem is like using a jackhammer to break out of jail. Putting a few smart people on the problem, embracing constraints, not trying to solve the wrong problems, focusing on precision, not using seven words when four will do, and taking the time to get it done right is like using the spoon.”
Jason Fried from 37signals explains their project and development philosophy, and why you’ve got a better chance of “breaking out” using a spoon over a jackhammer.

posted by john on Friday, Jan 26, 2007

Design Lessons from the Tooth Fairy

Lessons in interaction design can come from the most unlikely sources—your four year old daughter who has just lost a tooth, for example.

She had been wiggling her first loose tooth for a few days, and it finally came out last night. When telling my wife what she expected under her pillow in return for her tooth, she said in fine alliterative fashion, “I want dollars and diamonds. Cause I’m a girl.” The interaction design lesson? Know your audience and what they want and expect.

The tooth fairy, however, apparently has budget constraints. Supply of lost teeth is high and constantly being replenished, while demand for spare organically grown teeth is quite low. So the tooth fairy did not in fact deliver diamonds nor dollars last night, but rather two shiny quarters. What do we learn for interaction design? Customer requirements must be weighed against budget and timeline; quality design is just one of the elements of a successful project.

Finally, though she did not get what she explicitly asked for, my daughter was thrilled with her silvery coins. You see, “diamonds and dollars” were probably just the words she used to convey her desire for “something shiny and spendable”. Those weren’t her words, but it’s what she meant by them. The interaction design lesson: Customers do not always know what they need, or even what they mean by what they say. It’s our job to take requirements, clarify them, push back to the simplest design that meets those requirements—not to play the Yes-Man to our client.

Thank you, Tooth Fairy, and we’ll see you again soon.

(More design insights from the next visit of the Tooth Fairy…)

posted by ted on Wednesday, Jan 03, 2007

“The six phases of a design project:
1. Enthusiasm
2. Disillusionment
3. Panic
4. Search for the guilty
5. Punishment of the innocent
6. Praise for the non-participants
on the wall of the Greater London Council Architects Department (via How Designers Think)

posted by john on Tuesday, Sep 05, 2006