Where and how the design and creative process fit in a fast paced agile product environment.
"A minimum viable product (MVP) is a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers and provide feedback for future product development." -Wikipedia
Our approach to product design at decent labs focuses on the MVP. We have to figure out what is the minimum viable product. What exactly can we execute on and ship that gets a usable product out the door? This isn't a full software suite. This is a minimal but very usable set of features that allows your user to do something. And let's face it, that usable product has to be well designed. It has to be capable of working successfully. It has to be viable. Not only does it need to look good but it needs to function with thoughtful intention. Otherwise, you end up with an unfinished product and not a minimally viable product.
My biggest challenge has been how do we design for this? I'm one of those designers that loves to code and as such, I've become very comfortable working agile. Let's piggyback the design process onto this approach.
And if I’m being honest, we’re all figuring this workflow out as we go. And still being honest: this post is serving double duty in that I hope to have more clarity into our design process by the end of it.
1 week sprints.
We're kind of agile-ish-esque.
(deep breath) Yep. 1 week sprints. Design sprints. (not those design sprints but same philosophy) Basically, a design deliverable that is defined on Monday and handed to the client on Friday that will get us feedback and insight into progress of the build in order for us to iterate and improve or sign off on. Something actionable to the client gets us something actionable back. This keeps that project in motion.
What kind of design deliverables do I speak of? That depends, how much exploration have we done? What do we already know about the client and what their needs are? Not every project starts from square one. A lot of times we are brought on to a project that has an existing brand or an existing UI. Sometimes we ARE starting from square one. Either way, we still need to check off as much of client discovery 101 as possible.
Step 1. Define the goal.
What does your MVP look like?
What is every feature, user persona, logo design, button hover state, tagline, etc.. that would make this a shippable product? How much of this do you, the designer, actually need at this stage to get this off the ground? We're not building a full on design system here but let's create like we will be next year.
Step 2. Time to create. Hooray! Let's start making cool shit.
Where to start?
One of the projects we worked on recently was 90% feature complete and we came on the get it over the finish line. Not only did we need to scope out and build the new feature, our client also wanted to see logo iterations and a fresh color palette. Cool, visual and brand design started here. While that was in the works, we concurrently worked to fill in the missing pieces from our initial discovery phase. This included (but wasn't limited to) fleshing out the user personas, establishing the information architecture and making sure it aligns with the vision, and starting to build interactive wireframes.
My point being is let's keep everyone moving forward to the same goal. That sweet shippable MVP. You can always iterate on something. Be creative. Think outside the box. You can always find something design-y to keep this project moving forward and keep the client happy.
Step 3. And still creating... Fantastic!
Remember that part where I was talking about finding something to design? Let's talk to the development team. Have they had time to wrap their head around that new feature request? We can move this project forward by hammering out a quick clickthrough prototype of how you, the designer, see this feature working. Often times, taking the initiative to create will help you identify problems or opportunities not previously considered. You are able to get feedback from the client AND the engineers at the same time.
Step 4. Here come the deliverables.
Early and often. 1 week sprints. By now we have a lot of moving parts but they're all heading in the same direction and the same finish line. While client is approving logos they can also be approving user flow, on-boarding, the settings page, etc.. (don't forget that settings page!) So by the time we're putting the finishing touches on a thoughtful re-branding effort, we've also given the engineers a roadmap to start laying some framework.
Step 5. Repeat steps 2-4. And don't forget to keep an eye on step 1.
Define your goals early and start creating something asap. If you can lean you can clean.