Thursday, April 23, 2009

Designing it up front, and throughout

I recently read a blog entry by Sara Summers, that really got me thinking. Thanks Sara!

I have been working in Agile projects for a few years now. I have come to find that part of my role as a designer, within the process, is to constantly explore and redefine exactly how to get the most out of the iterative, organic nature of the process and still make the time to get a kick-ass design in place.

my Twitter convo with Sara:
@ssummers I think most designers have a tuff time w/ many Agile principals. It is a Dev focused process after all.

@jason_goodwin Agreed. It can work if oxygen is supplied to design upfront.

I thought this was very well put, indeed. And it begs the question; How much design and how far up front?

As designers, we feel we need to have a complete view of the entire experience before the building can begin. One of the things I like the most about designing in an Agile environment is not knowing exactly what I 'should' be doing and going with the flow. The down side of this is finding the best way to inject the stuff you learn during each iteration back into the overall experience. I have some ideas about this, but that's a different show...

I am also not a fan of reading/writing huge documents. I like communicating ideas visually and Agile not only allows me to do that, it forces me to. I have found that most of the other people on the project would rather look at at picture of what it is we want to build vs. reading about it.

Something Sara takes issue with is the notion that designers should have to write code. I write tons of code, for a designer. So much that I consider myself a pretty decent UI developer. It's my feeling that if you are a designer who wants to learn some code, or wants to expand on what they know already, Agile is great for that. You get to work side-by-side with developers and QA folks and is a great way to get better, faster. On the flip side, if you don't want to write code, you get to teach some developers a thing or two about design (I have yet to work with one who didn't want to learn). I see it as a win-win.

Please look at Sara's site it's quite good.


At 11:27 AM, Blogger Derek said...

Designers that can appreciate, adapt and even embrace agile development are few and far between.

It is always a pleasure to hear the other side in a way that is constructive, introspective and articulate about the real issues of moving into iterative design.

Please continue sharing your thoughts and findings!

At 1:05 PM, Blogger s said...

Thank you, Jason! Lovely complements and added food for thought.

How much design and how far up front?To this question I think the best goal is time and focus on great IDEAS. If we designers have time for a little brainstorming (with the whole team, of course) then critical components and further iteration have a solid foundation. In my mind this can be done in an afternoon. Truly agile : )

At 12:52 PM, Blogger Adrian Howard said...

"How much design and how far up front"

The answer to that one is - of course - "just enough" :-)

One of the things I've found useful to think about is having more than one "scale" of iteration. If you look at Beck's description of XP in the second edition of his book you'll find short one-to-two week iterations at one end - and quarterly iterations at the other.

Look at longer term issues in the longer cycles. Shorter term ones in the shorter.

At 8:08 PM, Blogger Jason said...

I agree that brainstorming with the whole team is crucial. I like to think you can have tiny explosions of it at any time, unplanned. Co-location is great for this.

Something else to consider is there will always be iterations/sprints where there is little to no UI work on the board. This can be a great time get that foundation in place, much like the technology foundation will need to be put in place.

At 10:46 AM, Blogger Think Tank Dev said...

really good post and food for thought. Kinda reminds me of the Moen Facet commercial where teh woman says, "I would like you to design a house around this", and plops a facet in front of the guy.

Just think about other industries. Do interior car designers wait till the whole car design is completely settled upon before thinking up cool concepts for the dashboard or radio controls? I bet you not. Why should application development be hampered by an outdated process?

I like widgets!


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