Our Industry Design Process is Just Wrong

I have been involved with designing and developing web sites and other interfaces for a while now.

Overall this time the way we (as a design industry/community) worked just didn’t seem that right to me.  It just seemed like we were not working with the client and their customers but just working for them.

Being involved with projects in the capacity as an independent consultant often means that I have to adapt and slot into the process as required.   And you know over all these years I have found that teams still seem to be doing it wrong.    Oh they say they are different, but at the end of day, the process is all the same.

Currently the process goes something like this:

  • Gather requirements.   Research customer needs.  Define issues.
  • Throw findings over the wall to the client.
  • Design solutions to issues.  Test design.
  • Throw solution over the wall to the client.
  • Develop prototype or solution.
  • Throw final product over the wall to the client.

Okay that may seem a little extreme.  But think about it for a moment.

Our process maybe centred around collaborative input from the customer of our client (as it should be), but we seem to have left the client with the same old “over the wall” approach of yesteryear.

This approach seems very much waterfall based, but even if we make it agile and iterate it, the issue still remains.

  1. Gather requirements.   Research customer needs.  Define issues.
  2. Throw findings over the wall to the client.
  3. Research a little, Design a little.  Test design.   Prototype and develop.  Test.
  4. Throw build of product over the wall to the client.
  5. Iterate to 3.

I have done this sadly way too many times.  Luckily I have learnt from these mistakes.

The Solution

The solution is simple.   Make sure the first time the client sees the work you are doing is not when you send them final reports, designs, prototypes, post to basecamp and so on.

Send the client drafts, half finished ideas, get them involved, show them your sketches, let them collaborate in the process.  Bounce ideas off them, debrief with them every day.  Go work in their office with them (if you can), explain in writing and verbally what you have done and why.   The why bit is very important.

Just make yourself available during the process.  Yes this will interrupt your workflow.  But it will really help you build your client relationship.  Afterall the design and development process should be a joint affair, especially if you want people to own the final product.

The same should apply to any external resource you are working with.  They are not the enemy, sure they may challenge your decisions, process and ideas.  But isn’t that a good thing.

Lets take down these walls!