I’m a firm believer in design process, in taking the right steps to create an interactive experience that is audience and brand appropriate. It’s tough to get clients on the process boat, since they usually want the work done yesterday/cheaper/ASAP. To a lot of clients, or even internal teams, process = s l o w + $$$. Even if you swear that process improvements (more research time, better planning) will speed up the project, reduce errors, and ultimately spare the budget, you’ll probably be greeted with “I think she’s a witch, shall we burn her?” looks.
Recently, I’ve worked on a couple of projects that, while fun, set off all of my design process alarms. Let’s examine one of those jobs, which we will call Project X. I had no assets (not even a logo, or colors), no design direction, no real audience information, no content, nothing. Just two days to design a site for a certain controversial aerial transportation landmark. Like I said, it was a fun project. I got to pull a site design out of my a**, which I rarely get to do when working with other people’s brands. I had to make up a placeholder logo, come up with the whole concept from scratch, do some research on public transportation websites, and generally make an educated guess about what was needed.
Here’s what’s wrong with all that: I don’t know if what I did was right. How could I? Sure, it looked nice, but without a chance to develop a real site strategy, figure out the user needs, develop a content plan, and at least see a logo, how can a design be a success? The best part is that another designer was doing the same thing I was. God forbid the client choose a design developed in such a vacuum. But I bet it happens all the time and designers don’t even bat an eyelash at the notion.
I know, I know, proposals are different, right? That’s not like “real” work, it’s just to show a cool idea. To be fair, Project X was just to prove design capabilities for my client, and not to provide a final solution. But does their client understand that? How often are proposal ideas revisited after you get the work? When was the last time you duct-taped something as a “quick fix”, only to have it become the permanent solution?
Process isn’t something that should be used to stifle creativity or overbill your client or waste your time. If you’re thinking that process is about stamping papers and filing reports, you’ve got it confused with bureaucracy. I’ve worked at places where “process” made a 30 minute fix turn in to a 6 hour project. Good process is just about defining the steps you need to take to achieve the best possible result in your project. It’s how I make sure I get my design assets and brand guidelines, basic user information, technical specifications, create schedules, determine deliverables, and figure out how I’m going to make my client and the users happy.
If you’re still not so sure about all this process, or how it will save your life, you should read The Elements of User Experience by Jesse James Garrett. It covers everything from requirements gathering to planning to execution, all from a user experience design perspective. And, hey, it’s all about the user in the end, right?
There’s definitely a certain rush I get from designing under the gun, in a vacuum, when I can focus on making things look pretty. I think we all enjoy that from time to time. But in the end, it’s like a one night stand. I never feel good about it in the morning, and really don’t look forward to the consequences.