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Designer, visual designer and developer – Software and computing services company : a harmony under conditions

For 4 years and on more than forty projects, I have tested and developed an exchanging method and a project process for use in multi-disciplinary team work on application projects and more largely for digital experience projects.

For 4 years and on more than thirty projects, I have tested and developed an exchanging method and a project process for use in multi-disciplinary team work on application projects and more largely for digital experience projects.

The usefulness of the designer during the launch phase of a project, his presence as a workshop organizer (client / user) and the importance of storyboard and wireframe phases is now less and less challenged. The place and role of the visual designer in such teams is also beginning to be more widely accepted. This professional is now frequently integrated into the team at the very start of projects in order to incorporate ideas as to style and inspiration graphics, his true role. There are hence fewer and fewer, last-minute actions at the end of the development phase, in a ‘make it pretty mode! ”

Are attitudes finally changing thanks to the evangelism that we all do every day ? We should not despair  when people roll their eyes when you say once again “interaction designers and visual designers are entirely different professions”. The first designs and conducts workshops and is the guarantor of the quality of user experience. The other uses graphic techniques and tools to transform a paper/pencil interface into accomplished visuals. It is for this reason that the interaction designer takes often the role of Lead Creative Designer and is present from the early stages of the project until the delivery of the complete solution. His role can be compared with the Technical Lead. As a Lead Designer, I regularly hear, “you’re a pain in the ***” from developers. Most of the time I answer “yes, but that’s my job” in the name of user’s experience quality. Any missing pixel, any too rapid or too slow animation, any too small contact area, has to be corrected. The little pop up that is added at the end of a project without talking to the Creative Lead, does not pass My Design Review.

Of course this level of quality is only possible with the trust of customers. They are the only ones who can turn a mature and satisfactory solution into an application that the team that designed it loses the pride gained during its implementation. It’s of course the customer who take the final decision, sometimes unfortunately for him and for his users. Obviously it is difficult to say to a customer “you’re wrong, trust me,”. Even when deep inside us this is what we’d like to do, sometimes we just have to say “okay”. But before saying okay, a good Creative Lead, a good Technical Lead, must defend the ideas of the team, arguing in the interests of the client and above all the end users. It is essential to rapidly clarify and understand on which points the client is flexible or not. Many constraints cannot be set aside, no matter the reason. Including, for example everything about the brand or the constraints of copyright for graphics aspects. These are constraints that the team have to accept and on which they must bounce to propose new solutions.

If we refocus on the entire solution production team we find the same notions of constraints. Each has his sphere of action and also his own related constraints.For an interaction designer, constraints are related to:

– Intuitiveness, ergonomics, simplicity, utility, usability, relevance and consistency. The interaction designer has obviously to integrate the impact of such constraints on the overall project budget at the earliest possible time. His innovative ideas even when aimed at creating an optimal user experience, nearly always lead to additional costs in terms of development and sometimes visual design. The designer is the person who has the critical role of sketching out the clients dream-application. However the application of his dreams is often 2, 3 or even 4 times more expensive than his initial budget. With the various participants, the designer becomes the person who will have to find the right balance between: User Experience, technical constraints of development and visual design complexity. The aim being to please the customer while taking into account his marketing and communication constraints. The recipe for success of this phase:
– 2 tablespoons of customer workshops
– Few branches of creativity
– 1 zest of empathy to understand the users (even when you do not have access to them)
– 3 large cups of communication with the technical teams, creative, marketing and customer
– So one good handful of patience and listening
– And a good sized analytical mind

It is under these conditions that we will be able to obtain a project acceptable to everyone and taking into account all the constraints.

Visual designers will thus have to juggle the respect of the brand, visual identity. He must also base his work on current trends, taking into account all the screens, to produce a homogeneous application, while fully respecting the wireframe created by the interaction designer. Most of the time the budget is established before one even knows what is needed. The designer’s job thus becomes more difficult and frequently does not permit the project time required to make real substantive work. The major principle problem with this mode of operation, is that customers will almost always be a little disappointed. Some people call me a Utopian, because this type of operating mode is very widespread and well established. However, my point view is that it is quite obviously highly unsatisfactory. Make a parallel with industrial design: this type of operating mode is a bit like if “Ikea” were to decide that each piece should cost € 5.50 to produce, without even worrying  whether the final object will be a spoon or a chair. Can we really be expected to do a good job under these conditions?

But what about harmony between designers, graphic designers and developers in all this ? what are the conditions?

The key is to have a team that communicates constantly and does not stop the communication at the border of his profession. Everyone must be solidly anchored on their area of ​​expertise without trying to encroach on others. No decision on the functioning of the application should ever be taken without the interaction designer or creative lead. No decision of change, no freedom should ever be taken in terms of graphics without talking with the visual designer or the creative lead. No new functionality or gestures should be added without the full consent of the developer or technical lead.

A team in harmony is a team that speaks and listens, a team that communicates and seeks compromise all being aware that each memeber is constantly making an effort to understand the other. It is a united team that presents  a single solid unit with respect to the customer. All team members in contact with the customer, regardless of their profession, must be aware of all changes that may affect their work, in order to speak with a single voice to the customer. It is obviously more reassuring to the customer to hear always the same version.

Someone I know well often says that you need to think of a team like a family where communication is the basis for all progress and trust. The more I think about it and the more I agree with this view. It is obvious that we do not share the same problems or the same crises in our professional life and in our family life but we all go through hurricanes and major difficulties with pressure  and stress Omni-present. “Remain united and communicate” seems to me to be the solution to live in harmony in software and computing services company.