Mastering the Design Process

Final Design Process Q&A

Paul Boag

Paul Boag

Mastering the Design Process

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The "Final Design Process Q&A" 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 answers student questions regarding examples of design systems for inspiration and opinions on large organizations relying on third-party agencies when designers should stick with an established design pattern or suggest a new one.


Transcript from the "Final Design Process Q&A" Lesson

>> This is where I'm happy to take any kind of specific situations and specific challenges any issues that you've come up with. I will say I've put all of the slides from today online at Can download them all from there, it's all linked up. So that PDF that you download will have links off to all those articles and tools that I mentioned.

So hopefully that will help. I will reiterate what I said earlier. I'm more than happy to answer any questions you've got via email, even if you're watching this three years later. I'm more than happy. Because I know how frustrating the design process can get. And if you feel stuck in iteration, hell if you're struggling to get control of the process hopefully today will help them all that you've learned on this course.

But they're always nuances, particular challenges you face. Talking to which hopefully we've got some challenges and things to talk about. Mark, what do you got for us?
>> Do you have any good examples of design systems that we could go and look at for inspiration?
>> Yeah, there are some companies that posted them online.

My mind is now gone blank to all the ones that do that. I know that the BBC does. They've got one called the BBC gel global experience language. I quite liked the looking at the BBC one because that is very clever. They built it very early on. And what makes one clever is that the BBC has to cater for vastly different audiences.

So they have to cater for people interested in sports. Kinda holly brow RT people that listen to radio four, all the way down to toddlers, right? It really is everybody. And so the way that they've built their design system is very clever. That they've got their components, which are effectively the same.

Whether whether you're on CBS, which is for the kids site, or whether on BBC News, you're using the same kind of components. Using lists and navigation, and content blocks and carousels, and all of those things. So they've built one of those. But they've built them independent from the aesthetics, right?

So they've got this very neutral kind of no aesthetics really on them via grayscale. And then what they do is for each of the brands effectively that they've gotten the different audiences, they layer on a level of CSS on top of it which then visually styles those. So all the functionality is consistent across all of their different platforms and sites.

And if you know how to use one of their sites, you can use all of them, which is a great user experience, yet they can still be tailored to their individual audiences, which I think is very clever. There are loads of other design systems out there to check out, but that's a good one.

Even just searching on design systems examples, there's sites that actually collected design systems that you can look at and just don't know them off the top of my head. Any other questions?
>> I'll just comment that we do have a design systems course by I'm in Boston.
>> Bro

>> All willing to it.
>> Yeah, definitely, definitely was that because, design systems are one of those things that are really simple to explain, but actually can be frustratingly complicated to get right. Just basic things, right? Let's say you've got a design system that contains a carousel, right?

When you improve that carousel, cuz your design system needs to evolve over time obviously as you change things, do you version the carousel or do you version the whole design system? And how do you manage that process to, and how do you roll it all out? There's a lot of underlying complexity that kind of when you start digging around in it, becomes quite overwhelming.

And and how to structure your components and all these kinds of things. So yeah, what's your course on it will really help a lot more than I will.
>> I was in a project once that like we had a giant design by like, if they were depending on a third party.

>> Right.
>> And they didn't deliver on time, so we had to scale back our design.
>> Yeah.
>> Completely and I made it almost pointless.
>> Yeah.
>> Have you encountered that?
>> Yes, I have a lot. And I have, for someone who ran an agency for 13 years, this is gonna sound a bit strange.

But I have increasing concerns about how most large organizations use agencies. Agencies are a necessity when you're a smaller organization. Say for example like Front End Masters they can't have a staff of designers on board the whole time. They couldn't keep them busy. But for a larger organization, relying on third party suppliers is problematic for precisely the reasons that you've identified.

So one answer is building your own in house team, but that doesn't [LAUGH] you probably don't have the power to make that happen, I'm guessing. So, I think the other way of doing it is possibly changing the working relationship with that supplier. So if you are gonna take on a third party supplier at the moment we still have this arm's length relationship with our suppliers.

So you go away and do your bit and then you come back with the deliverables. And it's a fixed deliverable and a fixed timescale, right? And inevitably it goes wrong because there's been miscommunication or problems and stuff like that. So actually a better way to work with third parties is say, okay, we're gonna work with you, but we're gonna integrate you into our team, right?

So you aren't gonna operate at that arm's length relationship, but instead you're gonna bring design resources into the company either virtually or physically. And you are gonna work as part of our cross disciplinary team. And you're gonna work on a time and materials basis. We're not gonna do fix deliverables or anything like that, cuz you're gonna be integrated into our team itself.

So that would avoid a lot of those problems because it would force those designers to work in your way. So that's a beneficial step, right? That you can do. If you can't do that either, then is setting up front very clear standards. So one of the things cuz I often work with companies that have to work with third parties, and one of the first things I say is look, you need to design system.

It's one of the environments where you really do need a design system quite importantly. Because you say to your suppliers, we are expecting you to work with this design system using this set of assets. So that we can easily implement it afterwards. And it stops them going off and doing weird or stuff that really is impractical or doesn't understand all of the constraints.

And then the final piece of advice I would give, if you're gonna work on that relationship is you need an active manager at your end. Who is actively almost not relying just on their internal project managers to do their job right, but have a counterpart of your end that is essentially actively running the people on the ground within the agency.

Cuz it's very hard for an agency to understand all of the complexities and nuances up front in a way that your own internal project manager could do. But it is a tricky one working with third party agencies. And increasingly my attitude is well hang on a minute. If you're saying digital is business critical to you, right?

It's business critical to your operation. Would you outsource any other business critical part of your operation? You wouldn't. It's insanity, to the thing that you are reliant on to operate, you have to outsource. So that's why I intend to these days recommend they bring it in house. That was a very long answer to your question.

But it's a difficult one, so.
>> My situation was like it was an in house team, but it was a completely different department
>> Completely different department.
>> That's an interesting one. Yeah, yeah, now that's I've come across that as well. And that goes back to the problem of these departmental silos.

That you've got different components reporting into different departmental silos. The real answer to that is to implement cross disciplinary teams, right? That basically break that down. So effectively that whoever was working on that project would be seconded out of their existing department is still reporting into it. But then seconded into a project team that would consist of a developer or designer and all the other people that can work on it simultaneously together.

In practical terms, making that happened can often be really difficult. Because everybody protects their business silos. So that kind of unofficial way of doing it, is you find out the actual person that is working on this project. And you reach out to them personally. And say, let's set up a slack group with just us.

Or let's set up a place where we can talk and share things. So we're not always going through the intermediate of our project manager or our manager on the set, and actually get your build that relationship directly with the person you'll be working, and just circumnavigate the bureaucracy.

But yeah, so that's a very difficult situation you're facing. [LAUGH] Anything else? Yes.
>> That hand wavy question, but-
>> Hell I don't mind hand wavy questions I go.
>> When should designers stick with established design pattern like a card, or when should they create like a new pattern?

>> Okay, actually this is a pet subject of mine. So it's not a hand wavy question, it's a passionate question. There is a school of thought within design at the moment that all design is looking seamy, right? And that there's a lack of innovation going on within design.

I strongly disagree with this position. We are not artists, right? Our job is not self-expression. Our job is not to push the boundaries. Our job is to provide an outstanding user experience, okay? An experience that people can interact with seamlessly. The web is a horrible environment for that, okay?

Every website, every app that you visit, the user has to relearn the interface and how to interact with it. Can you imagine that in any other scenario? Every time you walk up to the traffic lights, they've got different color lights and are organized in a different way. Every time you went to open a door, it was a different latch mechanism.

It would be ridiculous. Standards and conformity provides clarity to the user and enables them to interact more easily. So if there is a design pattern that supports what you want to do, that already exists, like a card, a carousel, navigation, pagination, hamburger menu which is an abomination in many way, but people have learnt it.

If they have already learned and they are standards you stick with them. You do not change things just to be creative. Equally if there are conventions about where things should appear, do not move them, right? And I can say this from personal experience. Let me give you one example.

I had an agency site that specialized in disability. So you'd expect a website to be usable. And I was the designer, hands up, this is entirely my fault. But in a moment of sheer inspiration on my part, I decided that we wanted to encourage newsletter sign ups. And I knew, cuz I'm very knowledgeable, that a lot of people do seem to fixate on the top right hand corner when they first arrive at a website.

Just the way the web works. So I thought what a great place to put a newsletter signup form. So I put a form field for their email address and a button next to it, to submit that. Genius I thought. Newsletter sign ups will come through even put sign up to our newsletter above it.

And then I noticed months later, cuz I wasn't paying much attention to my website, cuz I'm a bad human being, that we hadn't had really any newsletter sign ups. I thought that strange. And I looked at our analytics. And I found that there was lots of submissions of the button, people were clicking on the button.

Why was we not getting a newsletter? I must have coded it wrong. No, I coded perfectly. People were typing search queries into that field, because of its position, cuz that's where you find search is the top right. So they just presumed without reading the instructions, it was a search box everybody was typing in a search query hitting the button and it was giving them an error saying, that is not a valid email address.

And they will go, well, this is a shit site leaving, right? Because I wasn't following the conventions, that said searches in the top right hand corner. Okay, rant over. So there you go stick with the conventions, [LAUGH] all of that was to say [LAUGH]. It's always nice to hear somebody else's messing up, isn't it?

So it's something deeply reassuring to hear, somebody's screwing things up. I'm sure I've got lots of them. Examples of me doing things horribly wrong, but we'll leave it there. And there is a place, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that you should never innovate online. Of course not.

That's just damn. But I would suggest that you don't innovate at the expense of your client or employer, right? You innovate in your own projects, your side projects. So it's where you can do fun, stupid stuff. I do all kinds of stupid things on my website. And I'm probably one of the few people that have my own personal website these days.

It's very full and out of fashion. But they're a great place for messing around. And I often like, I'm trying to think overlays, right? Those annoying popup overlays that, and I've been bad mouthing them for years. Saying that they're just annoying and they're detrimental, but I thought, well, let's run it on my own website and see what happens, right?

And see whether it does make any difference, and whether it made no difference to my conversion rate whatsoever. And just got a whole load of angry people going, why are you doing this? You should know better. But that was my chance to learn. And we need an environment where we can push and innovate, but I don't think it's on our client websites or our employees websites, I'm afraid.

Unless your employer happens to be, I don't know, Harry Potter's website, where you expect it's about exploration and finding things, and that kind of thing, that's different. But if you work in e-commerce or whatever it's not a good idea.

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