Anatomy of a Design Decision

Jared Spool, Founding Principal User Interface Engineering to get a copy of slides from this presentation.

How do designers make decisions? Gray’s Anatomy book, 1858 describes the entire human body. This changed medicine by giving everything a word and a name. Anatomy: a study of the structure or internal working of something. We are missing this for design.

New York Times vs. vs. Etsy
Design decisions went into all of these sites. Many decisions were made – all of the little decisions determine the design. The choices we make take our designs in one directions or another. We never talk about those choices, or the decisions made to go in one way or another.

Jason Fried from 37signals
He makes decisions for him. They only design for themselves. This type of design works.

Self Design
When we design something for our own use

Works great when:
Our users are just like us
We regularly use it just like our users do

Condition: you have to use it every day "dog fooding". If you find something frustrating, you will fix it for you and everyone else.

Unintentional Design
When the design just happens on its own

Works great when:
Our users will put up with whatever we give them
We don’t care about support costs or pain from frustration

Design Decisions Styles

You can move from unintentional design to self design and start using it.

Genius Design
At a certain point you stop getting things out of research and just build based on experience. When we’ve previously learned what users need

Works great when:
We already know their knowledge, previous experiences and contexts
We’re solving the same design problems repeatedly

Activity-Focused Design vs.. Experience-focused Design
List Users and Tasks those users do.

Activity-focused design can only get us so far.

Experienced-based – Six Flags thinks about activities, Disney thinks about the experience.

Design based style guides do not work.
Rule based decisions prevent thinking. They are not informed decisions. Design doesn’t work that way. Design wants/requires thinking.
This FAILS on exception cases. Things fall apart when there are no rules. Teaching a bit of design is actually better.

Pair good design organizations with poor designer organizations to create "The Process" or "Recipe." Sometimes we confuse process with methodology (being able to do something over and over again).
Dogma also plays in and is a faith that certain things just work.

(on the other side of the spectrum…)

Techniques are the building blocks that go into every step of the process (they need to be practiced). There are also tricks, which are techniques not quite used the same way.

The best companies did not have any dogmas or methodologies. The worst had a lot, and when they got stuck, they didn’t know where to go. Best used techniques and tricks, worst used rule and faith-based decision making.

Design Patterns

This is what we’ve done, and what has worked. Educate one pixel at a time. No hard fast "rules" that you must follow.

Discoveries about Design Decision Styles

  • There is a place for every style of design – every one has its purpose.
  • Great designers know which style they are using.
  • Great designers use the same style for the entire project.
  • Great teams ensure everyone uses the same style.
  • The more advanced the style, the more expensive it gets.
    Agencies can’t go beyond Genius Design
    Activity-focused and experienced focused must be done in-house
  • The more advanced the style, the better the design.

What kind of designer do you aspire to be?

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