Mastering the Design Process

Design Process Issues

Paul Boag

Paul Boag

Mastering the Design Process

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The "Design Process Issues" Lesson is part of the full, Mastering the Design Process course featured in this preview video. Here's what you'd learn in this lesson:

Paul discusses issues with commonly used design processes, including designing without content, designs coming as a surprise, and clients' lack of the knowledge to provide constructive feedback. Design iterations being unpredictable, the final site compared to the original design, and project risks are also discussed in this segment.


Transcript from the "Design Process Issues" Lesson

>> Getting the right process makes an enormous difference because it reassures clients and it reduces their feeling or need to micromanage. Because when a client starts micromanaging is almost always a sign that they're feeling uncomfortable, they're feeling out of control or that the process is out of control in some way.

And so they feel this need to step in and fill that gap. So, essentially we need to help reduce that kind of desire to micromanage and a robust process really helps with that. And actually, that is true whether you're talking about design project or a technical project to be quite honest.

If a client understands a technical project from beginning to end and what will happen in the order things will happen then, then they feel much more reassured again than it disappearing into the black box of techie magic. When they hear nothing, they see nothing for months and then poop outcomes a functional website at the end of it.

That intervening time can be very scary if you don't understand what's going on. So, having a process helps reduce the micromanage, it also manages clients expectations much better educate some, and it will also help eliminate your scope creep and your endless iterations, or more specifically it will manage those things.

I'm not saying there won't be iterations of design, but there'll be iterations for the right reasons and not the wrong reasons, and it won't be endless and with scope creep, people can still suggest things but it will be managed how we integrate them into the project. So let's look at what your current process probably is, and see where potentially is creating some problems and how we can go about fixing that.

All right, so, I'm gonna make some guesses about what your current process is, when it comes to design. And let me, you might be right, I might be wrong and be interesting in the chat let me know if I'm wrong in this. I suspect your project normally begins with some form of kickoff meeting, right?

Totally fine, should have a kickoff meeting, that's exactly where you should take things, totally agree with that. Then you probably move into doing some initial design concepts. Now I'm beginning to have problems already, but we'll come back to that in a minute. So, you're producing some kind of mock up.

Now, normally that's often a high fidelity mock up, you've done in something like figma, all looks very pretty, then you present that back to the client in some kind of way, right? And you do this big moment where you show them the dark times. I think of this the mad men moment, right?

It's a kinda hangover from the advertising industry of the 1950s, where they would go away and they would smoke cigarettes and be inappropriate with women. And then produce some kind of mazing presentation and they'd go into the client and the client would question it slightly and they would go, well, we don't wanna work with you get out.

It's that kind of error of things as you can tell I'm not a fan. [LAUGH] so you kinda go from this secret thing of producing a concept to presenting it, and then the client inevitably has problems with it. So you end up going through these multiple rounds of iterations and you've really no idea how long it's gonna take you to shut the client up at this point.

How many times am I going to have to revisit this design and change it before the client says, yeah, all right go on then. And then once they do finally give you the okay, then you have to do all the other design templates cuz probably the last however many iterations has just been arguing about the homepage, let alone everything else, right?

So then you get into doing the different design templates. Normally at this point, most people have lost the will to live, so the amount of arguments goes down dramatically with the other templates but nonetheless, they all need to be designed. And then it gets handed across to the developer or you end up having to build it your site or yourself.

If you have to build it yourself, then you have to stare at design by this stage you hate for months at a time while you build it. If someone else has got to build it, you're handing across the design to a developer that's probably never seen the design and goes, I can't build this, is not practical.

And then right at the end of all of that, the content is added in, right? Just kind of poured into this empty template, at which point half of it breaks because the titles are too long and the text is too long. I'm exaggerating for comic effect, but you get the idea.

That is what our process often can feel like. And maybe you're sitting there feeling smug and going that you don't do all of those things and if not, then well done, good on you, but you probably do some of them or at least can associate with some of them.

So let's briefly look at the problem with your current process and why it becomes so problematic. First of all, you're forced to design without content, right? This is just madness, okay? Design is the relationship between content and visuals. That is in a nutshell, those two have to go hand in hand.

And the idea that you add the content very last when what is a website fundamentally about its content, right? If you go back to what the web really is, it's a document management system, or at least that's what it was intended to be at the beginning, is about conveying information.

The design and the functionality have all come later. So communicating the content is fundamental. If you don't have the content and you design without that content, it's gonna to create all kinds of problems for you later down the line. Secondly, the design is gonna come as a surprise, right?

And that is a big thing. If I come into a meeting with you now and I was meeting with all you guys and you were stakeholders in a project, we were gonna redesign the front end masters website, right? So I'd gone away and I produce this amazing design concept that I've worked on for weeks.

And I came to present it to you. Every single one of you will have a vague mental picture in your head of what a redesigned front end masters website could look like, right? There'll be things on that website that annoy you, obviously not many, I'm sure it's perfect.

But, there will be the occasional thing on the website that annoys you. There'll be things that you'd like to see on the website that I'm currently there. You might have your personal preferences about design, etc. And, I'll go Tada, and I'll show you my new design, and you'll go, well that wasn't what I had in my head.

See the fundamental problem, is actually a moment where understanding human psychology is incredibly important. Because that moment you present the design will be a shock and we don't like surprises except a Christmas and even then let's be honest, we don't like the surprise if it's socks, right? So, really this idea of having this big reveal moment is fundamentally flawed.

So, also then what happens, right? You present the design, and what's the next words out of your mouth, what do you think? Never ask a client what they think or a stakeholder, because then no educated to know, they can't provide quality feedback because they've not been involved with the process at all.

They understand very little of design principles. They very understand very little of your design thinking and so if you ask them, what do you think? And which means that they have to express an opinion, what are they gonna do? What do you think, they're gonna fall back on their personal opinions?

It's the only thing that they can realistically do. And do we actually care about their personal opinions? No, we don't. We care about the end user's personal opinion. So during a big presentation with a what do you think afterwards, kiss of death. The other problem with that process is when it gets to the iterations.

Now I'm not saying we're gonna wipe out iterations because your design, I'm sorry to break it to you, probably won't be perfect the first time, right? I've just done a design for a pet insurance company. It went out to usability testing, and it performed worse than the design they already had.

That's a humbling moment after 27 years of designing that you can't do better than what they already had. So, but that's the design process, that happens sometimes. So I'm gonna have to iterate the design. But here's the thing, I'm iterating based on hard data, right? I'm iterating based on user feedback which is predictable.

I knew that the design was gonna be tested and I knew that my design wasn't gonna be perfect and I would have to make adjustments. That was predictable, I could cost that in, in my both my time and what I charge the client, right? Now, but with traditional with endless iteration where it's the clients opinions, you don't know whether they're gonna go yes the first time or whether it's gonna take you 20 iterations to get to the sign off.

Now if you're a freelancer or an agency, that is the kiss of death to your profitability, because you've no idea how many iterations you might have to do, right? If you work in house is still a fundamental problem, because that draws out the whole timeline. And what gets squeezed development, right?

And that's why you have so many angry developers, because they never left with enough time because the design gets stuck in iteration hell. And then the other thing with doing it in this way is that the final site often looks very different from the design, right? And then the client complains that the final site doesn't look like the design they signed off.

And the reason it doesn't look like the design they signed off is because nobody consulted the developer during the design process, right? And nobody put any real content into it. And then finally, running a project in this way includes a whole load of risks associated with it, right.

So risks around how long it's gonna take, how many iterations are going to be, how alienated a client is going to be and frustrated by the design, how demoralized the design is going to be? How long it's gonna, whether users even accept it at the end of it because you're not doing any kind of testing.

There are all kinds of risks with this kind of approach and so we need to correct it.

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