Good design takes time

This has become somewhat of a mantra internally amongst the Citrix Product Design Team. It’s a fun phrase, but also a serious statement of the need for an increasingly scarce resource amid multiple project release cycles– Time! Yes, everyone and their neighbor begs for more time to get something done. But why exactly does good design in particular take time? Let’s try to identify the reasons, for those folks who may be somewhat unconvinced (ahem, stressed out coders and anxious product managers ;-) Hopefully this will lead to a productive conversation around the need for better scheduling and project management overall for everyone’s benefit, especially our users at the end of the day.

* Time for understanding a problem; from multiple angles: biz / tech / social / visual / etc. This involves gathering and processing information, shaping a mental model of the context and audience as well. Learning about the audience’s goals and attributes.

* Time for generating lots and lots and lots of solutions: sketches, pixel comps, and prototypes. Yes, designers can (and often do) speed up this area, but work becomes sloppy with opportunities and insights missed in the heated rush for some artificially imposed, ASAP-style deadlines.

* Time for creating precise, pixel accurate comps. Quality is key! Quality takes time. This includes fonts, grids, colors, images, etc. Diligence, judicious choices, practicing restraint, continual quality checks…all of that takes necessary time.

* Time for reflecting upon solutions to appropriately judge/evaluate which have bonafide merit. Rushing to judgment can be a mistake in the middle of the night, especially when in the morning’s hazy light that it’s clear a better solution exists. It maybe clear that last night’s rushed option is deeply flawed…

* Time for re-evaluation after the intial cut of designs, to re-interpret their value and socialize with folks. It takes valuable time to make sure relevant stakeholders understand and support design decisions accordingly.

* Time for conducting thorough user studies and truly digesting, processing the feedback, not just “court reporting” what some users have said, but actually assessing / distilling / synthesizing. And making proper judgment calls thereafter for the design.

* Time for re-visiting the solutions and adjusting, again with care & diligence to ensure the highest quality results are borne out for final production.

So yes–it takes valuable time to deliver a high-quality, well-developed design solution that is thorough, significant, and strongly defensible from any angle. The good news is this time can be compressed via talented smart designers, strong collaboration, rapid prototyping, and guerilla user studies. Yet the time for reflection, quality control, and diligence of craftsmanship cannot and should not be ignored or short-shrifted. To do so only imperils the integrity of the design solution, and implies a lack of interest in doing good design. Good design is an imperative that takes balance and compromise, back by strong principles of craft and quality. If the time frame isn’t working for your project (i.e., tomorrow ;-), then please have an honest conversation with the designer, and work out how to achieve what everyone wants: a beautiful, functional, amazing product users will love. Who doesn’t want that? It might take several versions but let’s make sure the path is set with mutual agreement.

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