SpoolCast: Getting to Good Design Faster

Jared Spool

August 28th, 2009

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Guest Leah Buley speaks about getting to good design earlier in your process.
Duration: 40m | 21MB
Recorded: August, 2009
Brian Christiansen, UIE Podcast Producer
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I had the pleasure of chatting with Leah Buley recently, in advance of her appearance at our User Interface Conference. She’ll be speaking about getting to a Good Design Faster with new techniques to getting at your creative ideas. She’s done some wonderful research on early-project design stages that you really need to hear. There’s a ton of great content in this podcast, and I can only share so much with you here, so please tune in for more of her insights.

When Leah told me that wireframes are really holding back the design process, she grabbed my attention. Designers sit down with some rough ideas and start trying to fit them into one or two pages. Next they start sliding design elements around until things feel good, and then they show it to someone for feedback. That someone or group then sees a design that’s pretty far along, and looks pretty concrete. If some of the ideas in the wireframe are not developed as much as they should be, it’s difficult to stop the forward momentum and reassess.

How can we explore a range of solutions before diving into a single solution? Wireframes are very useful to the process, but instead, we should consider delaying them. Before wireframes, Leah suggests a very open, cross-team exploratory stage. Invite people from across your organization and even collaborate with those who might not normally be within the core design group.

Leah suggests a week-long ‘design sprint’ that begins with a group brainstorming meeting in the morning with lots of people… and everyone’s opinions count. Then that afternoon, the group sketches out a large number of low-fidelity sketches further exploring the experience they’re looking to design, based on the morning’s activities. Sketching many iterations based on different perspectives like, ‘how would we optimize this for a first-time user?’ ‘how about for a power-user?’ ‘how about for this demographic?’

Then the week-long process continues. Grouping the different approaches together, sort the best from the bunch, mixing and matching the best ideas and build upon them (Leah calls this ‘sketch-boarding’). Next, take the sketches and flows with the most potential, and make those the first round of wireframes, which you present to a group critique. At the end of the week, take the feedback from the group critique to improve the wireframes.

The end result is a wireframe that has a tremendous amount of collaborative thought behind it. Instead of surprising many stakeholders at this point, their good ideas are already baked inside. You can now share these fire-tested ideas with the next groups that need to see them. This is clearly different from the way many groups and designers are using wireframes today, and I think it’s a really powerful proposition.

Leah and I also talked about ways to become an effective sketcher, how to run productive group critique sessions and much more. You really need to listen in, this could really help your teams process. After our conversation, I’m even more excited to see her full-day workshop on this topic this November at UI14 in Boston. I hope to see you there, as well.

Till then, what are your experiences with the early rounds of design? What are you doing in advance of your wireframing? Can you see implementing this process in your organization? Let us know in the comments!

7 Responses to “SpoolCast: Getting to Good Design Faster”

  1. Pen and Pad Rule? « Tales from a Trading Desk Says:

    [...] in the overall project shouldn’t be allow to view design. Well it appear that I’m not alone in think this is completely mad Luckily Lab49’s London UX team agrees with me – [...]

  2. Jeff Belden MD Says:

    It was refreshing to listen to this podcast. As my academic family medicine department’s collaboration with a major electronic medical records vendor proceeds, we are moving increasingly in this direction. I like the sketching emphasis here, in particular. I recommend Bill Buxton’s book “Sketching User Experiences” to your readers/listeners.

  3. Mark A Hart Says:

    In addition to the tags assigned in the original post, thanks for sharing the helpful insights to minimize premature convergence (a term that Dave Snowden at Cognitive Edge has advocated) to maximize final value.

  4. Golden Says:

    Really interesting interview. Seems like a great workshop. I hope that this process can help create more interesting and useful designs!

    As a graphic designer, one of the problems with wireframes for me is that interaction designers or information architects who draw them aren’t often trained with visual basics like composition and, although they may understand the concept of hierarchy, don’t often know the many ways to achieve hierarchy correctly. This would be fine if wireframes were consider loose guides when handed to graphic/visual designers, but unfortunately I think few think that way and many view wireframes as something that merely need to be stylized.

  5. What’s so special about testing radically different designs? « All About Website Usability Blog – Holly Phillips Says:

    [...] basics, usability testing I ran across a podcast between Jared Spool and Leah Buley about “getting to good design faster“.  The main point is that too many groups take a single design into testing and work on [...]

  6. Wireframing for web apps | The Contrast Blog Says:

    [...] faster – Leah Buley has had this as her mantra for years now. Here’s a slidedeck and a podcast where she explains [...]

  7. Wireframing for Web Apps | The Intercom Blog Says:

    [...] design faster – Leah Buley has had this as her mantra for years now. Here’s a slidedeck and a podcast where she explains [...]

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