Whether we’re building a large complex website or a new feature for an existing one; we usually work in sprints that include discovery, design and development cycles, to create an MVP (minimum viable product) that we can maintain and build upon with our clients. When beginning a discovery phase, there’s a lot to think about, such as user needs, client goals, content structure, tone of voice and device resolutions to name a few. The way we approach this part of the process is fundamental to the smooth running of the subsequent stages and the overall success of the final product.
It’s important that we avoid designing the aesthetics and layout before considering the challenges that go hand-in-hand with designing a maintainable responsive design system. It’s also important that we avoid trying to follow design trends, because with time and budget constraints, it’s all too easy to fall into this trap. The problem with following these trends is that you end up trying to retrofit pre-existing design solutions to your own (different and unique) set of problems.
We need to create wireframes based on content structure that informs the layout and takes into consideration user journeys, interactive elements and site structure as a whole. I’ve found that the best way to do this is to let go of perfectionism throughout the discovery phase. Working fast and rough leads to better ideas that solve the right problems.
The difference between perfectionism and attention to detail
Perfectionism is the opposite of flexibility, as it has a negative impact on creativity when it gets in the way of working quickly to discover new ideas. Being precious and overly invested in a single idea at the beginning of a project is dangerous and prevents us from seeing the real problems at hand and the best ways to tackle them. The best solutions are usually hidden, waiting for us to dig them out before we can begin to refine them.
Attention to detail is a valuable asset and one of the best qualities a designer can have. It comes in handy when the design we’re working on quickly turns into a system of elements, layouts and pages. Each new element needs to be carefully considered to make sure it doesn’t break what we’ve created. This is why working rough in the discovery phase is so important. It highlights areas within the system that work, don’t work, haven’t been thought about or could be improved.
To some extent perfectionism is subjective. However, there’s a line to be drawn between committing to the first idea we have and paying attention to the things that matter most at each stage of the process. By working quickly in the discovery phase we can explore more concepts early on, and take a closer, more in depth look at specific parts of the design. This gives us a better holistic view of how all the individual elements within the system are working together. It also reduces the amount of potential stumbling blocks in the future by giving us the opportunity to test things early, arriving at a solution before investing too much time and energy into aesthetics.
Knowing where to focus time
I’ve found that working rough at the beginning of a project allows us to get a better idea of the real problems at hand, experiment with new ways to solve them and often leads to happy accidents that would otherwise go undiscovered. I try not to waste time keeping design documents neat and tidy, colours consistent and the typography accurate at this stage. It’s about getting ideas out of our head and onto the screen to create new exciting ways to solve problems.
By quickly solving problems in the discovery phase we can spend more time refining high fidelity designs later in the process, ensuring the system works before creating a consistent, pixel perfect elements sheet to handover for the build.
Maintaining high standards and paying attention to detail to the right problems at the right time is essential to create new ways of doing things and standing out from the crowd. Whether we’re testing user journeys, editing content or refining each element to the nearest pixel, it’s important to understand which details to focus on. The design process is also considerably more enjoyable when we allow ourselves the freedom to experiment with new ideas and find the fun in imperfection.