by John Schrag on July 10, 2009
Every user experience (UX) designer who practices in a corporate setting knows the breathless whirlwind that is modern business. We designers manage relationships with developers, business managers, and customers, and still have a full-time production role researching, designing and validating features and interactions. We rarely have enough time to do everything we should, and therefore have to carefully choose where to spend our time and resources. Some designers don't even have the luxury of such choice, and instead are tasked with specific deliverables, which are sometimes not the best use of their time. In the face of this industry-wide problem, it's no surprise that dysfunctional design practices can arise and even become so common that they are seen as normal, or at least inevitable. But I don't believe they are.
In 2001, a group of software developers, development managers, and consultants created the Agile Manifesto, a document that outlined a set of simple values that they believed were the foundation of good development practices. What is interesting about this document is that it makes no reference to specific practices or buzzwords -- instead, it outlines principles and values against which any particular practice can be evaluated.
In the same spirit, my co-workers and I spent several hours considering the question of UX design practice. We weren't considering the question of what makes good design; there are innumerable books on that topic. We were considering the question of what separates a healthy, effective design practice from the horror stories we hear about when talking to others in the industry. We came up with two lists; the first list (below) talks about doing certain actions in the right order. Reading the list, these orderings may sound obvious, but they are by no means standard practice:
Setting Goals before Taking Action
Understand Problems before Generating Solutions
Designing before Writing Design Documents
Validating Designs before Investing in Code
Steak before Sizzle
The second list is one of relative values. While all of the items on both sides of this list have value, we value the items on the left more than the items on the right:
Validated Data over Expert Opinion
Quality of Data over Ease of Data Collection
Complete Workflows over Long Feature Lists
Achieving Results over Writing Reports
Collaborative Design over Design by Referendum or Design by Fiat
Ease of Use over Ease of Coding
Well-designed Critical and Common Workflows over Complete Coverage of Every Possible Workflow
Of course, a few words in a list doesn't capture these ideas all that well. In future blog posts, I'm going to talk about each of these items in more depth, show examples and talk about what can be done to keep your design practice healthy, even in the face of the whirlwind.
Do you have more items for our list? We'd love to hear from you.