before you design: the words! the words!

Our team recently came to a crossroads with an earlier design decision we’d made. We identified an opportunity to enrich a particular tool, to bolt stuff on to make it better.

Getting busy
What I did was sit down and look at the workflow of the tool. Keeping Omnigraffle closed & my hands off the Sharpie, I began jotting down all the potential variations of where in the flow we could add the bolts.

I identified 5 separate approaches. For each, I wrote a title, pros, cons, and any questions or concerns that the approach may give rise to.

The entry for each approach looked something like this:

1. Title of enhancement – Description of enhancement.

Pros:

  • Eliminates need for adding complexity to the overall UX.
  • It’s easy for a user to identify what they need to do with this approach.
  • Etc.

Cons:

  • The visual priority is somewhat downplayed.
  • Interactions may not be easily understood.
  • Etc.

Questions:

  • Will this enhancement increase the development time?
  • Does it impact the overall navigation scheme?

Collaboration is key
Google Docs is genius. It allows for real-time collaboration on documents. So I wrote all this in Google Docs and shared it with my team. They could go in and make changes to the entries and ask questions as I worked. This gave everyone the opportunity to be part of the process from the ground-up, even though I was technically the “lead” on it.

From there, we had a quick meeting to review the approaches. As additional items (pros, cons, questions) were identified, we simply updated the document.

In the end
After reviewing everything, we all agreed that our best choice was to do nothing—keep the bolts at bay and push on with our initial approach. By fully vetting alternative ideas, we saw that each increased complexity and created more problems than they solved.

Often, sitting on your hands is the best way to keep them warm. Am I right?

One more thing
Not only is this process quicker and more collaborative than sketching, it has the added benefit of creating an artifact that can shared if key stakeholders question why we’ve stuck to our design guns. In such an event, we can go right back to Google Docs and share our succinct written descriptions. Ba-da-bing.

Of course, some stakeholders may require more explanation and context. You’ll need to be flexible with setting up meetings and/or providing some sort of visual backup (sketches, wireframes) as needed. But your document will be a good starting point to get the conversation rolling.

Ok, one more…
As a caveat: This approach works best when addressing enhancements, rather than from-scratch designs. It also helps if your co-collaborators fully understand the context of the problem you’re trying to solve.

– @michaelseidel

08. March 2012 by Michael Seidel
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