Design is not ‘cosmetic’ work

Good things come with a price. Good Design is one of them. How well do you know what good design is? Do you even understand what Design is ?  These are some questions that keep me up a lot these days. An integral part of my work these days is Design Evangelism through workshops at corporates and colleges.

The good part of things, as it stands today is that owing to the popularity of ‘design learning centres’, there are a lot of ‘designers’. The bad part is that there are very few ‘good designers’. The worst part is that there are a lot of people out there who hire people who are not designers and get them to do design work, for their understanding on design itself skewed and limited.

There are lot who still view Design as an add on-thing. Something that comes later. Historically, the goal of design as an act was to make things look beautiful. This means that the impact of design stopped at the Visceral level. More often than not, this ‘beautification’ would come at the end of projects. In software engineering parlance, Visual Design or the final appearance is a Last-in-First-Out (LIFO) thing. Designers add the visual (cosmetic) component to the designs only after the development has been done.

It is important to let clients know that there is a lot that goes on to make things look (simple and) beautiful. Unfortunately there are many who don’t believe so still. Recently, I got this email from a client, whom I have been chasing to do some balance payment. They shamelessly put it as, we will not pay because the logo design you did was just ‘cosmetic’ work. They go on to further say that for these small change requests we have, on the designs you delivered for the android application screens; we will not pay anything. That is also ‘cosmetic’ work, and we are not in a position to pay. And that we will continue to ask for changes.

In my previous avatar of not being able to say no to clients, and being the good-exploited-designer, I would go ahead and agree and do the work. This time I did not. I reminded about the balance payment and refused to do the work till past payments was cleared.

There are numerous designers out there who do not refuse what the client wants, or question the clients and later complain of being exploited by clients.

Design has moved beyond just the aesthetics. It has even reached the boardroom! It’s time clients accepted that fact. It’s time designers speak more about this.

The client often does not know the terms of engagement with the designers. Is it the designer’s task to inform the client about what design is and what the deliverables would be like? Now this is important because often we as designers ourselves are not sure of what our deliverables are.

Once, I had to convince a client that as a consultant to their product, one of my deliverables would be a critique ‘document’. The client was of course shocked to hear this, because they were expecting fancy screens. It is important to let the client know that even this is work, for we spend the time and energy in doing the exercises. There are many instances where I have delivered only paper prototypes as a part of the final deliverables too. Sometimes they are just wireframes that explain the entire product.

Design is NOT just cosmetic work.

There are ample resources out there to tell you that there are so many more components to design. The sooner you understand this, the better are your chances of a high success to the designer.

If you are a designer in the true sense, either by virtue of training, I sincerely request you to spend some time of yours in purely Design evangelism activities and letting the people know the difference between a the role of a designer and a software operator. Until that happens, we would be forced to pay high amount to people just trained in softwares and assuming they know design well.

#design #startups #teamwork

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The post will form the crux of Chapter 3, from upcoming book ‘Make-it-look beautiful’.
Notes from my teaching and consulting work in Design over the past 12 years.

You can read the previous chapter Do me a favor, kill the term UI/UX .

Do me a favor. Kill the term UI/UX!

As an advisor to many startups, I get to speak to a lot of entrepreneurs, product managers, developers and hiring managers. One thing that remains consistent is that they face a lot of challenges in getting the ‘right’ designer on board. This of course is after they have decided that they do need one and that the designer or the creative guy is also an integral part of the team and equally responsible for the success of the product.

Getting this ‘fit’, is challenging because the designer has to understand the product well and often be forced to think from the business perspective, and for the product manager it is challenging because with design being a subjective thing, the designers’ bias always come into the picture.

To make matters worse, product owners are often asking for something that is confusing. You cannot ask for UI/UX person and have the same expectations from them? They are two different breed of people and come with different skill sets.

Every time you use the term UI/UX, a pretty bird dies somewhere!

This is a serious problem, and one that is doing a lot of damage to the product and design industry both.  We have to understand why we got into using this term and where we messed it up. In my opinion, there are multiple factors to this. One is a clear case of a problem of supply and demand. With the dearth of good UX designers, people often have no choice but end up taking a UI person. If you have studied design, you would know that they are different. Second is the fact that you do not have a clear understanding of whether you need a UI or a UX person. Third is that a lot of the job descriptions for design positions are written by people who have no or little background in Design.

When you put up a requirement stating that you are seeking UI/UX guy, you are literally saying that you are okay with hiring either a UI person OR a UX person for the same set of requirements that you may have. This is NOT right. This is further not right because you have underestimated the potential of engaging a good UX person and more likely assumed that the designer (UI person) could come to make that interface of yours look beautiful.  I understand that you are in a crisis and need to hire the person soon, to get the designs out. But you should be aware on what to expect, when you hire a particular profile.

Expectations from a good UI designer ?
He ends up studying a lot of the design Trends, rules and theories behind good Interface design, become good at softwares and tools. Dribbble and Pinterest are perhaps his best friends.

Expectations from a good UX designer ?
He ends up studying a lot of design from different aspects. You get to understand market trends on innovation, data, business and the disruptions happening in the industry. He understands design process well. He speaks from the user’s point of view all the time.

It’s evident that these are clearly two different set of skills and profiles of people that we are dealing with.

If you still don’t believe me, take a look at the numerous job postings out there. Majority of them seek a ‘UI/UX’ person.

As a designer I get a clear understanding about the culture of the company or the people I will be interacting with, just by looking at this job posting. It reflects a lack of clarity in the product owner’s vision and engaging with people.

We need to bring a corrective measure to this. 

Let’s start by doing me a favour. Kill this term UIslashUX aka UI/UX. I cringe with frustration, every time someone uses that term. If you need a UI person, ask for one. If you need a UX person, be prepared to engage them in matters beyond the UI and give them that space, resources, time and budget to fulfil that need. As product owners, you need to have this clarity. It would ensure that your engagement with the designers would be a much better experience.

In my opinion, as product managers, your goal should be to get a UX guy. Someone who is proficient with the different things under the UX umbrella and is really rock solid good at either one or two disciplines within UX.

Be clear in your requirements and your expectations when you are hiring the designer. For many product owners the realisation that you need a designer on board comes early in the process and they engage the designer at the right time. It is often seen that for the ones that realise early, they are seeking the User Experience Designers . For the ones that realise late, they end up hiring more User Interface designers.

How do you know whether a person is a UI person or a UX Person? Here are some pointers. 

  • UI person talks in interfaces. UX person talks in experiences.
  • UI person talks more about the layout and trends on interfaces. UX person talks about the overall experience from product sales and marketing to product usage to customer support.
  • UI person will talk more about the tools. UX person will talk more about the processes and design rationales.
  • UI person is more screens and Visual Design driven. UX person is more system and strategy driven.

A word of advice to a lot of junior designers is to move up to being more of a UX Designer and not be limited to only a UI Designer. I started my career as a UI person. We were called User Interface Designers then. Except the once in a while call with the Business Analysts who would sit onsite and assume to know everything about a product, there was hardly any insight into the business side of the project. Even talking to the developers used to happen only once in a while. Over the years where I evolved into a User Experience person, I enjoy my conversations with the developers on a regular basis as well as the challenges that the business is facing. Often, I am discussing with the marketing team on how the USP of the product, which has a great UX needs to be highlighted and marketed well.

We are evolving into a product-driven industry, constantly trying to create amazing products. Design plays a substantial role in the creation of these products.  As companies adopt the Agile and the Lean way of working, the need for collaboration amongst the three, viz the Designer, Developer and the Product Owner (Manager) is the way forward. UX needs to be emphasised as a company culture element. Something that is fundamentally evident in everything you do.

Finding the right designer for your product is tough. Seek and you shall find. Just make sure you ask the right question.

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This post was first published on Linked In.
This post is Chapter 2 of a series of posts on Product Management, UX and Design, from Make it Look Beautiful. A compilation of essays and tips from my years of Design Consulting practice and teaching at Design schools and Management schools.

Here is the Chapter 1.