Prototyping Your Workflow
Posted on June 03, 2014
Technique is easy, talking is hard
It’s easy to get fixated on the benefits of specific tools and techniques, and to assume that those benefits are self-evident to everyone. But over the course of the past year, it’s dawned on us that meeting the demands of our multi-device web is less a problem of technique, and more one of communication. Sometimes people just need to understand why you want them to change how they work.
You will probably need to make your case differently for each person on your team, then. If you’re a designer, it could mean explaining to your developer teammate that you would like to start breaking things into a design system so that you don’t have to do 20 different iterations of the same page layout. For developers, you might have to convince your boss that a style prototype will be the best way to present a site to your client.
Limit your focus
A mentor of mine once told me that programming (and especially programming for the web) boils down to reducing the number of “unknowns” on a project to a manageable number. One is fine, two is a stretch, and three is asking for trouble. If you think exploring HTML/CSS wireframes could have a positive impact on your work, introduce just that one thing. Most projects have enough built-in friction without adding or changing multiple processes at the same time.
A good idea that didn’t quite work in the past: we had created a static style guide for a previous project that had quickly become outdated and was ultimately discarded. But we still thought the idea had merit. So when you gather as a team, think about past good ideas that might have stalled, and whether they could work if you approached them differently.
Align your tools and techniques with your team
One of the recurring discussions we have at our studio is: “Should our designers learn markup and start doing some of this design in the browser?” We’ve heard a lot of persuasive arguments for it, but in the end, we decided that the main focus should be how to get our designs into the browser earlier in the process, instead of who should be doing that work.
This led us to try pairing designers and developers early on in a project, and having the developer create markup that “waterskis” behind the designer’s sketches and Photoshop explorations. We’ve found that doing it this way takes advantage of our team’s individual strengths. It also means that our developers are providing feedback that makes it into design iterations while they are still malleable.
We’re currently in the middle of a redesign project for a literary magazine, and we’ve found that the rough HTML/CSS mockups created by our developer helped us pose the right questions to our team’s designer. Giving our designer a specific problem to solve (“These titles take up too much space at narrow widths”) allowed her to judge the problem in the context of the entire design. She could then explain what she was trying to accomplish visually, and even find solutions that extended beyond the immediate issue we were trying to solve. She’d look at the screen while we squished the browser back and forth, and then say something like, “If you move the titles below the photos this whole problem goes away.” Stepping away from dogmatic ideas of who should be doing what allowed her to focus on doing what she did best, which was solving visual problems.