The SpoolCast with Jared Spool

The SpoolCast has been bringing UX learning to designers’ ears around the world since 2005. Dozens and dozens of hours of Jared Spool interviewing some of the greatest minds in design are available for you to explore.

Episode #79 Getting to Good Design Faster

August 28, 2009  ·  40 minutes

Listen Now

Download the MP3

Leah Buley brings us her insight to getting to the good design faster in your process and improving the input you receive from your organization. There are some great ideas here that you should listen to.

Show Notes

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!