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It’s a Matter of Time: Massively Accelerating Design Projects



That’s the all-too-common answer when we ask a potential client, “When do you need to have this done?”

We are big fans of physics. As such, we have chosen to work within its laws. And while our level of experience makes us fairly quick, good design does require a non-negative amount of time.

So, what can you do to goose the P in ASAP? For any given user experience design project (that is to say, work of some complexity involving a team or three), there are quite a few things.

Unfortunately, these things are boring and mostly have to do with organization and communication rather than creative magic. But they are effective. If you are planning a design project and want to propel it to success, read on.

I’ll try to keep this short.


Be very clear about goals.

No goals=no project. Disagreement about goals equals slow, annoying project with more arguing (or as some call it, “meeting”) than designing. Because you need goals to evaluate potential design work. Otherwise down the line it will devolve into a battle of personal preferences.

Pet solutions are not goals. They are ponies. Design projects are not pony farms.

Assess internal resources and assign roles.

Who will be able to do what on your side? What work do you expect the external partner to be responsible for?

Make sure that everyone you’ve signed up for something knows it and agrees to it. Also, in complex organizations, identify all the potential political roadblocks to getting the resources you need. Share these with your potential design partner, because very often they can be very helpful in selling the value of the work to anyone who needs to be sold so that you can move forward.

Define the decision-making process.

A design project boils down to a set of goals and a set of decisions. The availability and participation of decision-makers is the greatest variable in the schedule of any project of a given scope.


Measure, if not twice, at least once.

Sure, it’s counter-intuitive, but in order to have the design work proceed as fast as possible, you need to take the time to gather necessary knowledge and get agreement on process, priorities, and constraints—in partnership with your design team.

This allows everyone to focus on creating and evaluating potential solutions rather than arguing about the basis for that evaluation. It also helps prevent bad surprises that could derail everything.

The specific time and set of tasks involved in this period—commonly called Discovery—varies with the complexity of the endeavor and the number of unknowns.

And remember, any knowledge the client has doesn’t automatically transfer to the designers upon contract signing. We need to get our own sense of the problem at hand from our perspective.

To put this in Aesop’s terms, the hare would start comping as soon as the check cleared, while the tortoise would interview stakeholders.

Get good at feedback.

We’ve covered this at length in an earlier post. Clear, detailed, goal-oriented feedback leads to quick, productive iterations. Trying to understand and interpret conflicting feedback is very time-consuming.

If multiple people are involved, it is essential to unify and summarize the client-side feedback before sharing it with the designers. We do find it very helpful to hear why the Marketing Director thought something really worked when the Product Director thought the opposite. However, there is no way to move forward with what amounts to a transcript of a lively discussion with multiple points of view, or—even more challenging—input coming to us at different times from different sources.

Decisions, decisions.

We can’t stress this enough. Design projects are made of decisions. So make them. As the work proceeds, the time for deciding supplants the time for exploring, and this can be daunting.

Fear of commitment can really slow things down. Confusion about what is being agreed to with any decision does as well. So, asking clarifying questions is always welcome.

A productive Discovery period should mitigate paralysis by clarifying expectations and priorities. Again, clear, agreed-upon goals and process provide aid and comfort to the decision-makers and help to avoid the dreaded design by committee.

Oh, Honey, no!

And finally, we want to recognize that everyone goes into these projects with the best of intentions and often a lot of ideas for speeding things up. We want to save folks even more time by removing these from consideration immediately.

“We don’t need to talk to the ultimate decision-makers right now. We can wait until later.”

“We’re all going to be agile!”

“Instead of writing up our feedback we just revised the design ourselves.”

“We’re available to talk about this over the weekend.”

“The team can’t decide. Could we see additional variations until we have one that we all agree on.”

“We can all come to your office and sit next to you while you work.”

In sum.

We love the rush of getting things done and we’re always looking for ways to improve our process and work more efficiently. Clear goals, sufficient information, and quick decisions are the best propellents to speed design to the finish line.

About Mule Design Studio

Mule creates delightful interfaces, strong identities, and clear voices for useful systems and nice people.
Also, We are funnier than all other designers.


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