Showing the ugly in design

Perhaps due to the ease & proliferation of Sketch templates for creating high-res mockups that look production-ready — dashboards to admin consoles to social feeds — there seems to be a strong bent towards going all realistic and photo-ready from the start of a project.

Please don’t do that.

I mean sure, why not make it look beautiful and well-formed, as if it’s already coded — indeed, modern tools make it so quick (time saving) and easy (just a few copy/paste/edit maneuvers). It seems to be a no-brainer, right? PMs, Devs, clients will love it — makes you look so awesome too. Capable of spitting out something that looks perfectly formed. Maybe so, but here’s something that’s lost — seeing the ugly, the disposability of doing rough pen/paper or whiteboard-based sketches that’s lower cost and reduce a team’s irresistible attachment to a finished-looking mockup. It also encourages the team to get involved in all the ugly iterations, the “wrong ones”, the “bad ones”, the “WTF are you thinking” ones…so everyone can understand/learn why they’re not good, how considerations or issues become clearer after subsequent attempts.

Creating a good design is not simply about spitting out that perfect gorgeous mockup for Devs to code up.

It’s more effectively about that elusive journey of exploration, discovery and understanding (or learning), an emergent revelation of what’s important (and conversely, not important), via a series of progressively iterative, increasingly higher fidelity creations that…

a) reveal levels of complexity and relationships among objects & actions — which non-design peers likely never knew or realized [spoiler: they’re often buried in tedious 100 page docs nobody reads, or across dozens of JIRA tickets in dozens of browser tabs]


b) getting non-design peers to participate on that journey, helping them recognize what’s important, and how design really happens, aside from pop cultural notions It helps (re)set expectations and disabuse others of false notions per media hype (the “magical genius designer with unicorn rainbows shooting from finger tips” — NOPE!).

It reveals the reality of design as a messy, ugly process of fits and starts, of zig zags and reversing course, of throwing away ideas quickly to make faster progress, of making (gasp) mistakes with a basket of crumpled stickies. It’s admittedly exposing the truth of the process, the essence of creation to those who likely are terrified of seeing the mess, the ugly before the beauty. After all, it just looks so risky and uncertain. Who wants that?? They have to guarantee 32.43% increase in revenue growth next quarter!!

But if you want to earn a team’s trust, and cultivate non-design peers as veritable partners in an ongoing process of generating & delivering long-term value (to customers and your own internal organization), then showing the ugly while holding their hand (metaphorically, of course), is so damn useful, and yes, so damn painful. By going through the visibility and honesty of traversing the ugly together, the collaboration is healthier, stronger, and has the caliber to withstand truly tough arguments when it comes to time to ship and make extremely hard trade-offs.

Showing the ugly helps.

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