Design Driven Development. Because Life is Too Short for Bad Design

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If you follow us closely (which you should), then you would have read our article about what makes a good design, and why it’s so important for a business. Mäd’s core service is built on the idea of good design, far from mere aesthetics and mere functionality. Hence, the importance of design driven development.

Good design covers everything from functionality, user experience and objectives. Design is strategy. Design is forward thinking.

What is Design Driven Development?

Everything you are looking at right now has been designed by someone else. Without knowing it, all of us, at some point or another have been guilty of being designers ourselves.

Design Driven Development has many labels. If you hear of things such as domain driven development, behavior driven development, then we are talking about the same thing. In its most concise form, design driven development is DDD. Far from being an oversized bra size, it is a whole philosophy of why things work. It is a belief that design matters the most. Good design teams develop excellent products for the people who matter: the users.

Let’s look into pop culture to cite some examples.

The case of Terrible Doors

Have you ever tried to go into a shop, tried to open the door and instead, smashed your head on the glass? You may look silly, but it is not your fault. Have you ever watched “Snatch” where two thugs tried to rob a bank, ended up being locked inside and in their desperation unmasked themselves unaware that the camera was pointing right at their faces? A second later, their driver buddy opened the door from the outside, as they didn’t realize that the door was meant to be pulled from the inside. Never seen Snatch? Here’s the clip we’re talking about:

The two thugs are morons, let’s face it. But we would rather blame the designer of the door for this hilarious confusion. He (or she) is the one that should be chastised.

The issue of bad doors has been plaguing us since Don Norman wrote “The Design of Everyday Things”, in which he addressed his frustration on the lack of common sense which manufacturers place on door designs. But this problem runs deep because it exposes a flaw in the design of things: there is a lack of respect for the user.

Purposing for Functions

In the core of things, Design Driven Development is not about making things look pretty. Sure, it is important that your products look good, but focusing only on aesthetics defeats the purpose of design. After all, design is about functionality as much as it is about the aesthetics. It is the way it works as well the way it looks. The user is central to the development.

Now that we know what is DDD, let us explore why it matters.

Why DDD Matters

We have already treaded the waters that design matters because of its focus on the users. Design is about delivering the best experience, as well as serving a purpose. We believe that good design does not only deliver value for the users, but for the business. As well as delivering an awesome product to the user, the business will reduce their cost in terms of development time and increases the brand value.

User First, Always

Focusing on the users means making the experience seamless, smooth and making sure that the product is easy to use. But it goes far beyond that. We need to make sure that we deliver a great experience for the user. In which case, we need to define what sort of experience will be delivered.

Knowing what we should deliver to the end user reminds us why we are making the product in the first place. At the end of the day, it is easy to lose vision. Having a user-first approach maintains the vision for the product.

Above: Our recent designs for the upcoming Pharmacity eCommerce project.

Reducing the Risk of a Bad Product

There is an ever-present danger for both startups and mature companies to neglect design. Product functions take precedence over usability and product experience. Companies often forget WHY they made the product in the first place. Startups may suffer from the lack of design input, but the danger is greater for mature companies.

As flawed design becomes embedded in the product, this will affect the long-term usability. This issue is known as design legacy, which creates product debt. Design legacy is harmful when design flaws are passed on to the next versions of the product. Product debt is the consequence: it takes longer to fix the design flaw by the time the product is developed.

Speed

While trying to maintain a clear vision on the product, it is easy to lose track of changes around you. Your product may keep up with your vision, but your users may already left you behind.

DDD focuses on speed and deliverability, and then continually improving the product. While there is an emphasis on quality and aesthetics, the product needs to stay relevant. Thus, it is important to constantly react to user feedback, reviewing and making those changes quickly.

DDD is a process of perpetual improvement, and quick.

DDD Breeds Good Teams

Focusing on design and constantly reviewing the product takes a lot of skill and discipline. It is also a steep learning curve for teams who are thrown into the deep end. Because of this, design-driven teams are strong. Design is multi-faceted, from understanding the users, knowledge of best practices, as well as a solid technical background.

Above: Our concept designs for Phnom Penh Crown Football Club jerseys. The client picked the green and the red.

Design-driven teammates often communicate their ideas to each other. There is no other way. They have to respect deadlines, as design development comes quickly, without a single compromise on quality. It is also the mixture of the personality types and structures in place to allow DDD to thrive.

Ready to build your DDD Team? Read on to find out how.

How to Build Design-Driven Teams

User First, Always, Again

Yes, we have to start from the end again, or at least from the end-user. Most startups plunge into their laptops and focus straight on the product, regardless whether the product might flop or not. There is a lack of context, which is a major pitfall.

Do you know who you’re building your product for? Do you know where they live? How about their pets’ names, if they have pets at all? Of course, it is impossible to know all the aspects of your user, but it surely helps to know their behavior.

Although this merits an article to itself, there are ways of finding your user’s behavior than just skimming the demographics. Invite potential users into a focus group, update yourself on new trends and examine lifestyle patterns. These are just some of the ways to delve deep into your user’s behavior and a step into understanding their mindset.

Breeding a Culture of Design

David Butler, the design spearhead who rejuvenated the Coca-Cola brand, argued that everybody can be a designer. To a certain extent, everybody has been involved in design in some way. Some of these may be trivial, whether a project manager is structuring tasks in a CMS, an accountant arranging her stationery to reduce clutter on her desk, or the janitor rearranging his equipment to make sure that the mop is ready when needed, in case a designer spills a coffee.

Butler argued that in order to build a design-first culture, it is important to take risks and be bold. Put learning in front of education. Practice comes before theory. Butler also brought a culture of design across Coca-Cola and enjoyed the dividends of increased brand value and more innovative solutions.

The same thing happened at Intuit, the leading accounting software firm in the world. As soon as design became the driver, Intuit started to reap the benefits. They became the market leader in tax return software, capturing 60% of the market. The runner-up is a long way off at 18%.

What principles apply for designers is applicable across the board to every employee. For designers, having a design culture instilled in the organization will allow for more creative freedom and consequently, better designs.

However, building a culture of design is far from enough; it is not even halfway through the finish line. To get there, you’d need the right people. Here are some photos of the right people.

The A People

In the seminal DDD article, Jess Eddy, a veteran in UX design, mentioned the importance of having the right people on board, thus building the right team. We couldn’t agree more. The emphasis on people who are design-minded, design-driven and driven in general makes the difference between an average product to something beyond expectations, possibly market disruptive.

Design-driven people never stop learning, and generally, not afraid to make mistakes. You’d see our designers and team members carrying books with them. One of our designers, Kim, has a stack of books on UI/UX design up to his neck. See the picture below, it’s crazy. He spends two hours a day taking notes and polishing his skills as a designer outside of work time.

Furthermore, we share what we read and learn with other team members. We put this knowledge into practice and make awesome stuff.

The A Team

Eddy took her idea further and highlights the need for a balanced team: multi-faceted, multi-skilled and collaborative. Product decisions are unified; everyone is on the same page, and everyone is committed to make the best product humanly possible.

Communication is key to get this recipe right. Too much communication and you waste valuable design time for one detail; too little communication and the product will slip along with the timelines.

Those who are involved in the projects have a great deal of responsibility. However, they also have a great degree of freedom to make sure that they get the job done.

Get It Out There. Fast. Test It.

We have a saying that assumption is the mother of all mistakes. That’s why we build products to the point that it fulfills the core functions, test them and push them live.

Given that the focus is on the users, their feedback is paramount. Steve Krug stresses the need for constant testing, regardless whether the test subject is representative of the audience. There is always an interesting insight. There is always something the team missed.

Woop! There it is!

Now you know why we take a design first approach. As well as our clients, those who matter to us are the users of the products. We focus on making things look snazzy, yes, but we also focus on delivering a great user experience.

DDD is still a new concept for companies young and old.  Much is left to explore, more is left to experiment, to break and rebuild. DDD will make sure that there are not too many thugs stuck in the bookies, pushing the door instead of pulling.

 

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