Creativity is best when it doesn’t have constraints. For designers, structured processes create a fear of being stuck in a box limiting the possible ideas for a design. Telling a Designer to work within an Agile Process is no different, so Im going to explain how a designer can work within an Agile Process without giving up what they love most about design…freedom.
The Weight of Design
We, as Designers, are blessed to have the opportunity to create visual experiences across many different platforms. We dont have to go to work every day hoping for a chance at creativity. We are able to change the way the world views artists. We are no longer “starving” but we have become the pinnacle of the digital world we live in by designing website, software, mobile applications and now even video. In todays society the possibilities are endless to what we can put our creativity towards.
Or so people think…
Designers have a constant feeling of captivity surrounding them. Whether a limitation of the medium (desktop, tablet, mobile), the browser, the client or the time, restrictions creep in from every angle. We know this so we fight against it. Our eccentric natures get subdued to fit within the box the processes we work within create and we constantly search for freedom from the boxes, so we can gain a simple freedom to design amazing things.
Constraints come in all shapes and sizes and with those shapes and sizes are many different processes that limit various things surrounding design. In the past I have worked with companies that were completely hands off and with some that micro-managed every design that left the office.
The hands off process provides a way for the designer to have control over the project. It puts the destiny and burden of the project completely on the shoulders of the designer and lets the designer guide the project. The client usually has a small part to play in the beginning of the project but can get easily frustrated when too much time passes or the vision of the company is overshadowed by the designers “grand ideas”. When the time for development comes there is usually a disconnect and the developer mindlessly codes the site and moves on to the next project.
The micro-managed process places the destiny and burden on the project manager. This creates an environment where the designer and the client don’t communicate. The manager makes decisions and sells his/her ideas. Usually if a design doesn’t match with what the manager thinks, the client will never see it. This lack of communication isn’t usually noticed by the client because the manager is the only point of contact for the client, but the designer can only last so long in this “box of doom”. This method creates an environment where not only does the developer mindlessly code the site and move on, but so does the designer.
Both of the above project management methods can keep the business moving forward but the weight of the projects and clients become displaced creating a stressful environment for most, if not all parties involved. Issues within these project management styles are hard to resolve because everything is packed in a nice neat little process that constrains the possibilities of the client and the team. To resolve the issues you need to be able to adjust things based on the needs.
A Responsive Process
Agile by definition is the ability to move quickly and easily so when we think about an Agile Process we need to make sure it is able to move quickly and easily for everyone.
First we need to break down the design. A composition is composed of a few different techniques and the way those techniques are put together create the finished work. So with that in mind, if we can break apart a composition into parts then we can think more about the smaller parts of the work and refine as we go.
The structure is a very important part of the process however many times we think this piece must be done first. If we take the approach that this can and will change, whether major or minor, we can then see that this part of the process becomes and ongoing part of managing the project and decreases the amount of effort needed to make sure its correct from the beginning.
In recent years Wireframes and Prototypes have become a standard for applications because they make it easier to see how software will work before it is completed. Wireframes can handle the layout portion of the design and can provide a quick way to show how a layout can potentially work.
The Visual Design
The visual part of the design includes the textures, colors, fonts, imagery, etc. To handle this aspect of the design we can use a Style Tile or a Style Guide. This will provide a way to break down the visual aspects into consumable parts. With this we can quickly pull together some styles without putting much brain power and time towards the composition as a whole. This will allow the developer to begin using the generalized styles for a prototype or a working piece of software.
The Finished Products
Taking all these methods into account, if we break the project into smaller user stories and think about the project in terms of micro-interactions at the beginning and build on it as we go. We can fit into an Agile Process.
With every process there is some form of box. This box happens to be Agile. Things that are quick and easy tends to dilute the quality to some degree. As we work within this process we cannot forget what we love, who we are and why we are doing what we are doing. We are designers so we cannot stop making the world around us beautiful or the beauty in the world around us will fade.