Over past two years I’ve had a major pendulum swing from design based on cultural immersion to design based on technological immersion, also from a process guided by a creative director to a process guided by a lean methodology. Even though all of my work is built in code now, my inspiration still comes from architecture and fine art, pop culture and urban design. I’m a graphic designer at heart and my background is in print and branding, but I now call myself an interaction designer.
Interaction design is a discipline with little to no pedagogy. We rely on works by Moggridge, Papanek and Norman – all industrial designers – for intellectual foundations. Digital product designers are not necessarily graphic designers – they are a different breed that grew up immersed in digital, and are well versed in every aspect of technology.
When I think about my approach to work before my foray into product design and user experience, it was governed entirely by the traditional notion of creative direction, originally from the advertising world.
It is essential to have creative pillars to guide the overall concept of a project, however I understand more now about digital agencies and the service we provide to clients. I know what they need to survive and the kind of designers they want on their team. We need to have reasoning beyond aesthetics – thinking about how information has been prioritized, how the design is helping users understand the problem, and how the design is solving the business problem. And confidently answering these questions in the work and when presenting the work is essential.
All of these factors need to be considered when designing a new product, service or website, however it’s the designer’s job to push the creative direction where they feel appropriate. Otherwise we will have millions of websites that look exactly the same (hm we kind of already do).
My process hasn’t changed that much, but this new perspective has elevated my level of thought around my work to think about the organization, stakeholders and strategy. Designers constantly need to be solving a problem, and there is no shortage of problems in the tech world.
My biggest beef with working in an agile frame of mind is with the friction between speed and quality. Quite simply, agile doesn’t put quality first. I’m reading Eric Ries and I get it – I believe in the build/measure/learn feedback loop, but I’d like to see that mentality folded into a strong and thoughtful concept. We need both to create successful products, because there will be enough time up front devoted to research and creative direction to guide the process.
Possibly the biggest takeaway from working in an agile environment, and one that will effect my day to day work forever is that it’s essential to talk to every single person who is involved in the work you’re doing in the early stages and as much as possible throughout the timespan of the project. Know every stakeholder and team member, and cultivate a great relationship with the developers. The devotion and skill of the developer is critical to the success of a project, but if they aren’t brought into the early stages of planning it only makes their job harder.
Working fast with constant iterations has the potential to produce loads of shit work, and some people just aren’t wired to work in that way. Perfectionists, for one. Or creative introverts. Susan Cain has a great TED talk on the power of introverts, and she pleads with people to stop the madness of group work. Introverts need time to work on their own in order to be most productive. I’ve found this to be true – not that I’m entirely an introvert, but with constant meetings and interruptions, my work suffers. It’s best to have long stretches where designers can focus on the task at hand.
Agile gets it done in the end doesn’t it? Things get made, instead of spinning around in the eddies of conceptualization and quality control. My question is how can we marry the rapid iterative approach with strong creative direction to produce even better work?