Working the Product: Demand Process
Good design is born out of process. A process is as simple as a recipe. Some recipe’s like Kraft Macaroni & Cheese call for boxed noodles and packaged dried cheese. It has three simple steps, and consistently produces tired foods, but it is nearly fool proof. Without a recipe your sitting on a pile of ingredients that will always come out different. Not a big deal with macaroni & cheese, a little more haphazard with Chicken Tikka Masala.
As the lead of Squared Eye I wasn’t going to give my clients a Macaroni & Cheese experience, I wanted to serve them steak, frites, and a tall glass of Tripel Karmeliet. In other words, I wanted to give them the design and the business experience that would change the way they work, change their expectations of the web industry, and leave them dancing in the streets. In order to do this Icreated a process kept my clients happy and engaged, my output and contractor interactions efficient, and money in my pockets.
It took time to develop that process for Squared Eye, and it will take time to develop one for a new born product like Zaarly. It will happen along the way, and at startup speed.
Every part of a product process is Design
Business Goals I’m learning that a decent product process starts with a solid business goal. It should be a goal that provides for a consumer need, or helps draw out a need that is obscured by a stale system that needs disrupting (like our economy for instance). Without this root, the following parts of the process will be empty of impact and probably riddled with confusion and frustration. This is design at its best, solving real problems with edifying solutions.
Product Roadmap and User Experience I’m still not sure how the road map and UX interrelate, but I see them as a kind of liaison between business, interface or visual design, and people who use your product. The roadmap is necessary to know where you’re going and how to unfold that experience for the audience in a meaningful and consistent way. User Experience is a part of our industry that’s thrown around like a hot potato. For my purposes here I’m speaking to the kind of UX that deals with the high level concepts and flows that make using a product so easy and enjoyable that people forget they’re using it.
Information Architecture, Copy Writing, Content Strategy, and Prototyping Transition into working with content. Copy, buttons, actions, titles, descriptions, images, navigation, and more make up the content in a product and all of this has to be organized into proper hierarchy and flow according to UX and business goals. This is not a dry stage, but acutely important to design and development phases of the process. Without these steps, designers are moving by intuition alone and can often create great looking products with a poor flow or care for the edge cases. The prototyping phase of this is particularly important if the product has complicated interactions that need to be simplified. (Side note, check out Invision App, awesome prototyping tool). At their core, these steps are design. They are the structure and scaffolding of the product.
UX Design, Interaction Design, Visual and Graphic Design If done well, the IA, copy, and prototyping becomes the raw clear ingredients for the interaction and design team. By now the focus of the feature being developed should be pretty well along and making sense to the whole team. Everyone has already contributed major input and so now its time to make the interactions and visual treatment elegant, in-brand, and compelling.
This is a time for the visual look & feel to take precedent, but as a Creative Director, its my job to be proportionately involved in every step of the process. I’m only half a CD if I can’t dive into the creative business decisions that are driving Zaarly.
Development In a good process, developers have been involved along the whole way, from business through design. Without their involvement and leadership the product expectations will fail because they were either unrealistic or weak because the prior teams didn’t understand the capabilities of their developers or the available technologies.
Development is design. Anybody can be taught to code, and some coders are better than others, but the best developers are those who think in design and execute with innovation or simplicity when appropriate.
Quality Assurance This is a big one. Everyone up to this point is so involved in the product that the assumed flows and uses of the product have become static. A QA team should be involved throughout the feature push, and particularly during any prototyping, but this is the critical moment where all the testing and assumptions are put under fire. QA is feeding issues to designers and developers, and if need be, even further back. This is the filter for everything that goes out, so that your audience is experiencing your best.
Ship I’ll get to this more in the last portion of this Working the Product thing I’m writing, but in short, this part of the process is why all the others exist. Without shipping, you have no product.
Bringing it together
I’m seeing a kind of rotational relay race in product creation, or perhaps something more akin to the way cyclists will take lead while their teammates draft behind them. None of these steps are hand offs and totally independent, but each step in the process may have the emphasis as features are pushed through.
Regardless, the process isn’t fixed. It changes based on the experiences, maturity, and growth of a company. The process should be self-critical, and often reinvented. The process should change as we keep learning.
This is Part 2 of Working the Product