Design Can’t Live Alone

What is the difference between a designer and an artist? What is the primary goal of design? How can you recognize outstanding design?

My mind is getting around the answers to these questions. I am passionate about the design in all its appearances. Everything like the graphic, industrial, interior, and product design excite the imagination. Art and design are close terms. They are so close that people tend to mix them up. At this point, I would like to add some clarity. I am broadly sympathetic to the words by Matias Duarte, Vice President of Design at Google, on the definition of the primary function of the design:

“Design is all about finding solutions within constraints. If there were no constraints, it’s not design — it’s art.

My job requires tight communication with Dashdevs’ design team. I get requirements from clients and transfer them to designers. Moreover, I have fair expectations for their work results. I want to see a design for the application with UI/UI solution and nowhere near an oeuvre or over-creative masterpieces that can’t be implemented in a reasonable time. My personal belief is that design must be comprehensive, functional, and transparent for the user. In my ideal world, I can take any screen from the application and show it to a bypasser. The stranger should be able to name the goal of the screen and recognize all the apparent functionality. It is like a seal of approval for me that the design is great.

Application design constraints

Let’s get back to the words of Matias Duarte. The design must have constraints. For the last years, I have been working with the development of web and mobile applications. Their constraints are really similar:

  • The Persona — we are creating the application for the particular users’ type. A typical person has the pain that the application could solve. Do not forget about the gains and additional value. Create a design for people, and they will love it. The designer must feel empathy for the user.
  • Programming language possibilities — not every creative idea of the artist may be appropriately implemented. Let me set this clear. We can develop any visual effects in the mobile application. However, they can kill the device battery in minutes or slow down the performance of the application. Do you really need it?
  • Technical limitation — the design is excellent, but almost every application has its guts. The application is connected to the backend via API (application programming interface). Backend/ API provides a valuable contribution to the design. If the application is built from scratch totally, it is much easier to negotiate technical restrictions to design. However, in some cases, you need to work with a bad architecture of API. Your perfect design may be spoiled by it.
  • Time and budget — everything can be done some way. Sometimes it may take a lot of time or cost you too much. These two constraints always go together.

I notice that neglecting these constraints can ruin even the most perspective project. First of all, your target audience can reject your application. They don’t get the idea. The second issue is when the client (or decision maker) fall in love with a magnificent prototype. A prototype looks dynamic and is done on platforms like InVision, Marvel, or Principle. The client expects to see the same implementation in the mobile application. At this point, the technical side enters with its red lines of limitations. Consequently, all of these influence on time/budget ratio.

Design processes

I consider that everyone can nurture design skills. One should not be a natural-born designer. For some people it is easy, for others it takes a lot of time and affords. That is why appropriate design workflow is so important. It can help not only get better business results, but it helps a designer to improve himself as a professional.

I come across and took part in different design workflows. Every approach has advantages and disadvantages. Giving thanks that we had various projects, we got a chance to experiment much. So, the best design workflow for us looks like this:

  1. Research. It consists of two parts. The first one is the market research: define main players, do benchmark analysis, and look for the substitute products. The second part of the research process is dedicated to users. Some products are specific. The designer needs to deep into psychology and behavior of the typical user. At this stage, we need to create a persona.
  2. Design creation. Here we try different approaches — atomic design, co-creation, design thinking. You name it. The approach depends on the team, project, and timeframe. I’ve written about the process improvements that save our time in this article — here. Please check it.
  3. Design cross-review. This step is really vital for the process of design creation. The goal is to review the design with a fresh look and improve it, if possible. A new unbiased designer may see more options and introduce new ideas than the designer wrapped up in work fully. By the way, this step also helps to share the knowledge and experience in the team.
  4. Technical review. This step can protect you from making a number of mistakes. We provide the developers with the latest design and business requirements. They check it for API compatibility and technology implementability. Usually, we have a lot of good suggestions about the flow, animations, and UX. Most of the developers have an analytical mindset. The technical review helps us to improve not only the design skills but educate designers technically.
  5. Demo for the client. A designer and client engager usually present a demo to the client. As our good practice, we prepare a dynamic prototype in Marvel or InVision. During the demo, we get feedback and discuss the possible options for the improvements. If the design is not good enough for the client, we turn back to the second step.
  6. Estimate. Only if the client approves the design, we can provide the most realistic estimation for development.

It is the perfect workflow due to our experience. However, design workflow is not the only thing that must be done. We have started a series of technical lectures for designers and managers. They need to understand how the application is working from the inside. It is impossible to create a great product if you don’t understand its internal structure.

I believe in educated intuition, which you gain through a profound experience. My great inspiration is Raymond Loewy. He worked with totally different products like copy machines, refrigerators, cars, and locomotives. No matter what was the product, he always was thinking about the user first. He had changed many things. They are so ordinary for us right now. I think that he was the best UI/UX designer of the century.

“The main goal is not to complicate the already difficult life of the consumer.”

Raymond Loewy

In Dashdevs we believe that the design of mobile and web applications is a combination of aesthetics and functionality. Every workflow and process in our company must improve these two components. We are experimenting with different approaches. The described one is the optimal choice for us at the moment. However, we take it up a notch.

How do you improve your design processes?

P.S. If you don’t see mistakes in something that you designed a year ago, I have a piece of sad news for you. You have no progress since.