Thoughts on Iterative Design
Short and sweet: It’s a waste of time designing complete experiences at the start of a project. From any point, only design what you’re confident will go unchanged. The final design may not reveal itself until you’re close to the end.
There’s a foundation to design
Now that design is getting broken down into smaller and smaller specialized skills, it’s important to know how everyone you’re working with is using the term design. Much of the design work may not be done by someone who would call themselves a designer. People are collecting and curating lists of features and functionality (identifying needs), organizing them into sets (information architecture), and even setting up a visual hierarchy (wireframes) without thinking of it as design.
Once the tasks above have been agreed on, it’s not uncommon for people to start mocking up a full visual design. You have everything you need in place, you just have to make it look good. Right?
In a small and highly predictable project, this is probably a safe approach. On more sophisticated projects with larger the teams, there’s a higher chance of more invasive design changes being made again and again. These invasive changes could potentially upset the every part of the design and require addition or removal of features, reorganizing the navigation, and changing the visual hierarchy.
Can you confidently create a full visual design under these circumstances? Is it a good use of time, energy and resources to work on something you know will drastically change? Until the project starts to settle down, it may be prudent to only concentrate on the basics and move into other areas as they solidify in your team.
Visual design has a strategic purpose
There’s one part of design that’s thought of as organizational and structural, and the other part that’s thought of as visual and emotional. This seems to be where art and design collide for a lot people. Although artistic skills are used, this is still an area of the project that strategic choices are made.
- Typography can immediately set the tone of a serious, structured, and regimented environment. Or it can be fun, random, and energetic.
- Color can immediately set the tone of a seductive, inviting, and warm environment. Or it can be cold, robotic, and impersonal.
- Texture can immediately set the tone of a rich, deep, and layered environment. Or it can be simple, flat, and one-dimensional.
These are all choices that create an understanding in the audience. They don’t require creativity. They aren’t magic. They make a big difference.
Getting to a shared understanding
A huge part of the design struggle is getting everyone on the same page. Breaking design down into understandable chunks and clarifying their value is a great approach to designing in a team setting. It gives everyone a chance to get involved and better understand what you’re doing and why it’s important.
It may feel slow and cumbersome. Designers want to design! Just remember, if you want people to care about design you need to give them the tools to discuss the problem and solution with you.