As designers, we’re responsible for both creating and communicating our design strategy to different stakeholders; creatives, managers, engineers and of course clients. Each of those audiences have different expectations, capabilities and experiences in regards to design. At Webling, we’ve developed strategies and processes to help bridge the gap, However, given the ever-changing nature of our work, we're constantly rethinking how we manage our relationships, our tools and our processes so we can design bigger and better things.
“Your process should be as responsive as the products you are designing.”
Samantha Warren, Designer at Adobe
Where there’s a plan there’s a way
Designers often want to jump right in and create awesome visual solutions. A quick scroll through the Dribbble homepage and you’ll see what I mean ;). That’s a big mistake. The first step of any project should be to establish a plan that will help meet the client’s or organization’s goals. What’s the purpose of the website? Who will be using it? And in what context?
Strategy documents help align design, technology and business objectives into clear and actionable goals. Depending on the type of project, they can vary from design briefs to user flows or brand documentation. During this process, it’s important to collaborate with clients and collect important information on content, brand strategy, user research and any specific business insights. These guiding principles will help validate ideas and solutions throughout the design process. It’s important that the whole team is aligned on them as early as possible.
Start with content or don’t start at all
Now more than ever, the best way to earn user's attention is with relevant and compelling content. Whether working on a product launch, an ecommerce platform or a dedicated dashboard app, content will likely make or break the experience. It’s why people use it, and it’s why we build it.
Just like writing a book or preparing a speech, planning and structuring your content will lay the foundation for a great user experience. How can existing content be leveraged and structured to meet objectives? What type of content are we working with? Is it mostly visual? Text heavy? Who will be creating or curating it? Are any external collaborators needed to help with industry-specific content? These are all questions worth asking early on because the more we know the better we can design for it. For being the keyword. Design should follow content, not the other way around. There are way too many lipsum-filled themes out there as it is.
Site maps and content maps are a great way of organising and communicating hierarchy between different types of content. They paint a complete picture and provide more context than mockups ever could.
Ask more questions
New ideas and breakthroughs are more often than not the result of someone asking a question. Usually a good one. One that instills a moment of prolonged silence and gets everyone in the room thinking about the challenge in a new unexplored way.
User stories, personas and empathy maps are a great way to generate questions and explore opportunities around specific user needs. However, broader questions (outside of UX processes) can help shed light beyond specific project challenges and get the team thinking about new contexts, audiences, tools or technologies that could influence how and why we build things.
Asking better questions not only provides better answers, but it fosters a culture of collaboration and communication, which is key to long term team collaboration. Everyone has different opinions and experiences. It’s this spectrum of perspectives that brings value to the things we design and build. Encouraging people to critically evaluate their work and the work of others, ensures design solutions progress and evolve in the right direction, even with a few detours along the way.
Design for collaboration
Great design happens when designers and developers work together. Designers rely on developers to bring their work to life and developers rely on designers to create and document cohesive design solutions. Both parties should feel excited and challenged around common goals.
The nature of this collaboration should be flexible. It can vary on the type of project or client, but most importantly on individual’s preferences. Not everyone wants to collaborate in the same way. Some might want to sit side by side and sketch things out, while others might want more quiet time to focus and think on their own. Whichever approach is prefered, it’s best to start this collaboration process early. By exploring and dismissing ideas early on, the team can invest on solutions that provide value to users and clients.
Tools also play a big part in the collaboration process. Online platforms like Invision, and cloud-based tools help share and document our work more efficiently than ever. It’s important that these tools serve the process rather than being obstacle to direct communication. Ideas are usually better shared over coffee than on a Slack channel. GIFS on the other hand are another story 🙂
Adapt your presentation for your audience
Design reviews is an artform in itself. Although new tools are making this process much smoother, one of the biggest challenges in presenting work is translating dynamic and interactive designs through static mockups.
Visual design and prototyping should be approached in a progressive way. Start small to grow exponentially. Exploring basic UI components, branding elements and typography without too much technical constraint helps set a design vision that can evolve as the team gets a better understanding of the project. Style tiles and style guides are a great way to quickly visualize key components of a design and validate the approach. Once aligned on that initial design direction, it’s easier to evolve the system with added components, pages and flows in multiple resolutions.
With this progressive approach to design, collaborators and stakeholders can be involved as often as possible to make sure the design solutions are aligned with the project’s objectives. When presenting work, it’s important to provide the right context to make the most of design reviews.
Here are some things to keep in mind when reviewing design work;
- Present the goals and expectations of what you’ll be reviewing. This will help focus attention on what’s important and gather specific feedback.
- Designers should present their work.
- Present on the intended devices. A mobile prototype will always communicate a design better than images in a browser.
- Ask for opinion directly, don’t wait for comments.
- Tie visual feedback to specific goals and user needs. This is a great way to avoid subjective feedback.
- Don’t resolve, discuss.
- Keep the ego out of it, you don’t own your design.
One last thing
Good design is an result of even better communication. When you get talented people working together towards clear goals, in an environment that encourages collaboration, you have a recipe for design success.