Before we can jump into the tastier design details, a good amount of project planning has to happen. From the kick-off meeting to the first design review, there's a ton going on, and the designer should be on top of it all.
Design is collaborative. It hasn't always been that way, but the modern designer has more influence (and influencers) than ever. Business goals affect design, while design affects conversion. Development timelines affect design, while design often sets the development timeline in the first place. It's hairy.
To combat the confusion, the design process has been cracked wide open and shared with the whole team. The new job of the designer is to distill all input, surfacing and acting on the great suggestions while gracefully skirting the bad ideas.
Ask lots of questions
While it might sound contradictory, my favorite tool as a designer is the question. I ask lots of questions. Asking questions and listening carefully to the answer is my main value as a designer.
While things vary from project to project, some questions always seem to fit. Here are some of my favorites, along with why/how I use them:
- What are our goals? Believe it or not, it's sometimes hard to put the point of a project into words. Getting beyond "make it look better" and into the real goals and expectations of a project is key to understanding what direction to take the design. Along with goals, it's good to talk about the specific results that would deem the project a success. Looking for more time on-site? What design solutions can directly lead the user that way?
- What sites/apps do we like? And why? Collecting a wide array of samples and inspiration is a great way to start a project on the right foot. It's all too possible for a room of smart people to leave a conversation with 5 different opinions on direction. Rounding up a bunch of specific designs and talking about the merits of each is the perfect way to find common ground.
- What's our timeline? This one is a bit tricky, because in my experience, the answer is always "As soon as we can." Crack the ideal nut and start talking about things like development resources, marketing availability (for copy, content, approval), and real launch dates. If you have no idea how much time you have, it's hard to know if you're spending time correctly.
Asking good questions and digesting the answers will determine where the project goes. Maybe more importantly, an agreed-upon vision will help keep things on track when arguments or scope creep rear their ugly heads. If a new feature or design request doesn't align with the project goals, kindly suggest tackling it post-launch.
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Words: Clark Wimberly
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