5 Disciplines of Successful Design

I recently read a good article about “raising up your design I the way it should go”. It drew parallels between raising children and producing good mature products/designs. One of the things in the article that struck me was the concept of discipline.

The article really didn’t go in depth into discipline but provided some good talking points about discipline and design. The more I unpacked these concepts, the more I saw their value in my everyday approach to design and or development.

In an effort to communicate the value I found in them, I have broken them down into five bite sized pieces… yum!

Know who you are designing for, and what they need

This may sound simple, but it can become so easy to rely on what we know (or think we know) about design, marketing, development, and related fields. The truth of the matter is

“What worked on another project (or in the past), will not work for this one”

Even if they are very similar, each project, each client has individual needs, and though they may be similar to past projects or clients, they are not past projects or clients. They will need individual solutions that are right for their project, and relevant to its needs today. This is where research comes in as a key component.

Knowing your client and what they need isn’t giving them the best design; it is giving them the perfect solution.  Yes visual appeal is very instrumental, but not at the cost of functionality, or even more importantly conversion. Our clients are counting on us to help them achieve a very distinct part of their vision.

“The ability to approach each client with fresh eyes will open up opportunities for fresh insight, which then increases the chances of successfully delivering the perfectly tailored solution.”

Yes our past experiences should shape our ability to understand, adding to our knowledge base and valuable lessons learned, but they should not be the end all. A fresh approach, research, listening to clients, and thinking outside of the box are all steps on the road to successful solution driven designs and or products.

Set Boundaries

I am sure that most of us have dealt with scope creep, complete 180’s, non-paying clients, etc. All of these situations can be frustrating, but more times than not they are the result of not setting boundaries, I often have to remind myself that If I don’t value my design, then no one else will. Yes we should pursue making clients happy, and I am all for going the extra mile for them, happy clients usually lead to more clients. By setting boundaries we are setting up a foundation of communication that will help us with project time frames, revision processes, and the payment process.

Besides setting client boundaries it is just as important that we set up personal boundaries. Knowing our limits when taking on projects is huge, we all need to make a living but overwhelming ourselves so that we are not delivering projects on time, or are not putting the right amount of time and effort into them is so detrimental to client relations, or reputation, and our own moral. Working under constant pressure and frustration is not very conducive to a creative environment, nor does constantly felling like you are not accomplishing tasks at the level you want to.

Set boundaries for clients, use contracts, get things in writing, and communicate. Set boundaries for yourself, know your abilities, and know that amount of work you can handle, if need be outsource, refer, and do whatever it takes to stay refreshed.

Know How and When to Say No

Working with clients as a freelancer, or different departments/ management at an in-house job can prove to be frustrating at times, especially when the requests are outside of the project specifications, or due to some one else’s lack of planning and or discipline.

The key here is to understand project needs in relation to your workload. What are the priorities on your list of projects? This is where having a project management set up is so helpful. So now that you see the request in comparison to workload, time lines, budgets, and company/client focus, how to communicate those two simple letters… NO.

The key is to not actually say “NO” even though it may be the correct answer for the situation. The term “NO” is perceived, and received in a negative way the majority of the time it is received as a response to a request. What I have found useful is to ask more questions, find out what the real need is, openly compare it with the person asking, and make proposals for a new solution i.e.

“So if I do this new request, then it looks like this time line will not be met, or we will start to move outside of your current budget. What would you advise?”

The ball is now in their court with a bit of a better understanding of your situation, and ability to meet their needs. It always pays to educate the client, to ask leading questions to help find ways for them to understand the situation. Paul Boag gave a great lecture on this topic last year at FOWD New York, I highly suggest watching his session.

It is ok to not do something for the good of a project, to say no (without actually saying it). The key is knowing when and how.

Understanding that design/product development is a marathon, not a dash

This is such a crucial discipline, deadlines, desire to get things out, client and financial pressures, and management goals can hinder our ability to create quality user experiences. Yes some designs and or projects will move pretty quickly, but more times than not it is imperative to take your time pace yourself, revisit, rethink, and retool the design, so that it can reach it’s full potential.

Ask anyone who runs, sprinting and marathons are two different worlds, and require to completely different approaches, and training methods to insure success. As much as we have control we should be pushing for a steady well-paced approach to our projects, breaking them out in phases, and making sure that we are helping them solve the right problems and answer the right questions.

Though it may not apply to every situation I have really taken a liking to the phrase “Slow and steady wins the race”.

Know that not every “improvement” is a good “improvement”

Features, features, features, more product enhancements, and slicker features means more revenue right? Not so much, this can be a very tricky area as designers and developers.

A client may see some shiny animated gif, or person walking out onto the page introducing themselves (slightly extreme examples) and they are sure that they must have that, and why shouldn’t they, they are willing to pay for the revisions.

Here’s why they shouldn’t… all that glitters isn’t gold, though some enhancements may seem shiny or the next big thing, we need to be asking ourselves if they will help the site or product further accomplish their purpose, what design problems or questions do these pieces of “flair” help solve.

This is another place where educating the client is so crucial, and the best way to be prepared for that, is to educate yourself. I have found that my explanations and points are driven home and or validated when I have a reference point on the topic, a place where I can point them to why I am suggesting that poorly illustrated flash banners that introduce themselves in a robotic voice (another extreme example) are probably not going to increase conversions on their site (but then again who knows ☺).

I am sure we can all think of situations similar in working freelance, or in-house where clients, managers or the powers that be have suggested enhancements or features, or maybe there is a new sexy app, or plug-in that we find, and are just dying to implement. Time to compare, to see what value it can add to the current design, functionality, and overall experience. This raises the question about choosing not to implement something good to wait for something great (this is why phased approaches to design/dev are key), a decision that is definitely relative to project needs and goals.

Wrapping Up

In an effort to avoid being to long winded I will wrap it up here. Hopefully these disciplines can be nice reminders, or new practices to help us excel in our design efforts.

I leave you with the question “What disciplines have you implemented in your routine?” I would love to hear your thoughts on discipline and design.

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06. May 2009 by Aaron Irizarry
Categories: Design/Development | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 33 comments