I am an interaction designer who loves minimalism, elegance, flow and agile.

What is your design to documentation ratio?

Don’t mistake documentation for design.  There is a difference between designing and documenting – don’t mix them up.  If you are spending more time documenting than you are designing then something is wrong.  Designing is creating solutions to problems – the output might be a sketch, it might be a conversation which is applied directly to some code or a psd, it might be a wireframe.  Documentation on the other hand communicates these solutions.  Communicating your ideas is essential, its key to working in a team and making sure that your work is effective.  But as soon as your idea is communicated, its diminishing returns.  You need to stop, take a breath and get back to something useful – like designing.

I’m amazed at how many people have made a career out of mindlessly banging out wireframes.  Expensive, redundant and ridiculously verbose documents that run into hundreds of pages.  The actual design content of much of this work is usually marginal – probably something like 10% design, 90% documentation.  For some reason this is deemed an absolute necessity while primary research, good quality personas, proper concepting and regular usability testing are seen as an indulgent luxury.

There is much debate in user experience circles about the use of tools.  In my humble opinion I think it doesn’t much matter – just don’t *be* a tool and measure your output by the volume of documentation that you do.  Documentation is an overhead that needs to be kept to a minimum.  Every hour you spend on documentation is an hour that you aren’t designing.  One of my pet hates is seeing UX job postings which focus on tools – “must have experience with {insert drawing tool here}”.  Please…

Because our *real* output as UX professionals can be rather intangible, it can be sooo tempting to make it concrete by pouring our efforts into lovely, polished deliverables.  We feel like it helps justify our existence.  Don’t fall into this trap.  This kind of documentation is a waste of your time.  This kind of documentation is a rod for your back.  It burns the best hours of your day.  When I worked for Toyota I would have called it muda.  The more you create, the more you have to maintain – its a vicious cycle.  There is no correlation between the number of pages you bang out and the value you are adding to a project.

I’m heavily influenced by agile/lean philosophy that tells us not to carry unnecessary documentation.  I’ve done a few extended backpacking trips through Europe and North Africa and found out the hard way that every little thing you choose to carry with you incurs a small cost.  Every step you take has a little more weight, every time you unpack/pack your bag its another item that you have to consider.  I learned pretty quickly to take just what I absolutely needed, which is a hell of lot less than I originally thought it was.

I think of UX documentation as delivering a payload.  Ultimately it exists as a vehicle to get your idea into some kind of tangible form – something real.  How you define real depends on your project, but I can tell you that it certainly isn’t going to be a wireframe.  As soon as your idea has been made real in that creative/prototype/production system, your documentation isn’t needed anymore.  Bin it, archive it, whatever.  But don’t try to keep alive it in some kind of wireframe limbo that you have to look after for the rest of the project.  I’ve worked on many a project where most changes actually took longer to update in the wireframes than they did to make to the code.  That’s madness.

Interaction design is not wireframes.  The higher your design/documentation ratio the more value you are adding to your organisation.  UX professionals need to stop being so insecure and get out of this ridiculous rut that we seem to have gotten ourselves into.  What can you do this week to reduce the amount and fidelity of your deliverables?  What will you now be able to do as a result?

Disclaimer: Some documentation is valuable and keeps on giving throughout the project.  Experience architecture, user journeys, personas.  These things are generative and add value to everything that follows them.  The documentation I’m talking about is the stuff that ceases to be useful as soon as its been understood.  As soon as that wireframe has had creative applied and been coded up it stops giving and starts taking from the project if it needs to be maintained and reflect every little change and nuance of the ongoing work.

Designers are optimists :)

I’ve met designers from many different backgrounds who each work in their own way.  But one thing they share in common is the fact that they are optimists.

In a recent re-read of Kees Dorst’s fantastic Understanding Design it occurred to me that designers must be inherently optimistic because design is such a forward-looking, explorative activity.  Immersing yourself in ill-defined and constantly changing wicked problems is something that you can only really do if you believe that there is something better at the other end.  Its what gives you perseverance when you hit wall after wall and that rush when you finally nail it.  If you can’t look at something and think “Hmm, I could do that better” then maybe a design career isn’t for you.

One of the best things in the world is sitting in my favourite cafe (Brick Lane Coffee!) with my notebook turned to a blank page, a cappuccino in one hand and a pen in the other.  Few things give me as much excitement and anticipation as a blank page.  At least I’m easy to buy gifts for!

Coffee and a blank page

Coffee and a blank page

Designers also love to argue – but i’ll save that one for another post…

**Update**

I just came across this wallpaper as a part of the flickr “Design is…” pool.

Design is... wallpaper

Design is... wallpaper

Turning the page: where to from here for the paradigm of the page?

The web is turning a new page. In fact, its leaving the page behind altogether. A page-based web can only take us so far and as technology changes the game, new conceptual models of what the web is are quickly emerging. I’d like to speculate about where they are heading.

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