Chris Thelwell

Quality vs. Speed – the death of the designer

Are designers focusing too much on perfection? Are they becoming the bottleneck? Are they preventing valuable customer feedback?

Written on Wednesday, 13th February 2013 by Chris Thelwell

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As a designer with over 15 years of professional experience I know the importance of quality. Anyone that’s ever worked for me will vouch for my high standard of quality and my eagle eye for spotting anything that’s less than perfect. This has always been the case for every designer; the endless search for perfection in our work is what drives us and what we enjoy about our job. We have always been fast at working, in-order to survive in a commercial role, but never at the sacrifice of quality.

However, this quality-focused view is a selfish one as it centres around the individuals’ (or agencies’) quest to have better work to prove how good they are. It doesn’t take into account the bigger picture; the product itself, the production, the other people in the team that make the design a reality. The problem now facing designers is that while we’re still wearing our quality hats the rest of our (digital) industry is undergoing a change towards a focus on speed-of-delivery and the ability to learn.

Thanks to new development techniques such as agile, lean start-up and continuous delivery, the people that build our designs are getting far quicker at doing their job. They are focusing on doing less and more often, getting a product in the hands of the customer faster and continuously learning. The leading companies of the new digital age are also adopting this new approach, for example Google is now able to ship a new version of their Chrome web browser every 6 weeks, Facebook pushes out new code twice a day and Flickr are deploying changes every half-hour.

This is the new world we live in. If we don’t want to be left behind then we need to take another look at the way we work – we need to keep up. Designers need to look at how they fit within the wider team. We need to work out if we want to change the way we work, and if we are willing to let go of our obsession with perfection in order to adopt the ‘fail fast and learn’ approach of the new world.

Adapt or die – the challenge for designers

We’ll never sacrifice quality, lets make that clear, but we do need to change the way we work. If quality is too low we’ll never be happy to release a product or design, yet if quality is too high this also prevents the rest of the team from releasing the product and loses valuable learning time. As designers, we need to consider how we sit within the larger team and the product release cycle. We need to challenge the process we’ve always stood by and, if necessary, change our skill-sets and tools. We need to get smarter at designing.

Slow down to speed up

It’s time to lose the ego and change the way we structure our design teams – creating cross-functional teams with the rest of the bigger product team, recognising that success comes from the whole team, not just the design. We need to look at our processes and reduce any waste; is the old model (concept > wireframe > design > prototype > guidelines > handover > walk away) still the best, or is there a better more lean approach we could take?

Adopt a ‘sketch first’ and ‘sketch a lot approach’ and stop wasting time moving our mouse around looking for the big idea

Stop hiding in our work, start designing in the open

  • Break our design jobs into smaller pieces to enable the developers to start sooner, favouring ‘just enough’ over the kitchen sink, losing the big hand-over grenade
  • Ditch photoshop and the wireframe in favour of design in-browser – the idea of mocking something up, then asking a developer to copy is so wasteful
  • Learn to code! At art school we learnt about colour theory, typography and layout. We should also learn how to deploy these skills in a digital format

Speed alone isn’t the answer – it’s keeping the whole process running smoothly, enabling the product to be released sooner (and more often), to get valuable feedback from the customer quicker. With this in mind the role of the designer is going to change – fact. We need to see the bigger picture, be part of the wider team and use our new skills to enable the whole team to learn quicker.