Don’t get me wrong, I think there are many benefits to agile and Lean approaches. I work within an agile process every day. But the attitude that spending time on design is optional is a harmful one and is detrimental to product development.
Design Kicks Ass
Steve Jobs said, “Design is not just what it looks like. Design is how it works.” It was this kind of thinking that propelled us into a new era in which people revered design—good design. But this does not give the complete picture.
No, design is not just the way an application looks. Nor is design just the way it works. It is so much more. I prefer this definition: Design is the creation of a plan or convention for the construction of an object or a system. This definition gives design its due, because, in actuality, design kicks ass by
- maintaining and communicating a vision
- forming a shared understanding of the plan
- helping to gain buy-in from stakeholders and entire teams
Design Is a Production
The reason Design is able to do its job so it well is that there isn’t just one discipline that contributes to successful design outcomes—there are many. Design encompasses aspects of fields such as psychology and sociology that enable us develop marketing strategies and do field research that helps us understand personas and scenarios. Writing and the visual arts help us develop the part of a design solution that we see. Engineering and technology help make the vision happen. Design is a production.
Agile methods can’t take that value away—no matter how much they try to gloss over it. But designers have to learn how to adjust and work within a more iterative, faster-paced development cycle to make the magic happen.
In many ways, design reminds me of a theater production. There are so many aspects of a production that have to come together for a successful show. And the process from audition to production can be quite rapid.
I know the idea of putting on a production may sound daunting. But one thing theater can do really well is teach us how to manage a rapid, iterative process. Clearly, there are some characteristics of a theatrical production that can help designers working in an agile context:
- iterative cycles
- distributed, independent, simultaneous invention
- unifying action
- a director who facilitates
- a forum for conversation
- a way of establishing structure—the design artifacts