UI designers have to tread a fine line between aesthetics and practicality. Here’s how designers, engineers and project managers can work together to deliver a perfect product
As a designer, do you always have the feeling that your clients don’t really know what they want, or even what they’re talking about? If you’re an engineer, do you always think of your designers’ ideas as impractical?
If you’re a project manager (PM), caught between the clients and your own colleagues, do the above two things happen to you every day?
The InstALL Mobile Industry Gathering in Taiwan invited numerous designers, engineers and managers to speak to them on how to avoid pissing off your UI (user interface) designers, helping them communicate with each other for better productivity.
Find keywords for everybody and use them well
Monster Li, a former front-end engineer at FIH Mobile Limited, kicked off the event. He asked the PMs in the audience as to how they communicated with their designers. Many came up with the answer that, in the end, the designers would still have to do what they were told, though not very willingly.
Unlike engineering, there is no right or wrong in design — only happy or not happy. The real question is how do you make your designers happy?
Li has been in UI design for more than 10 years. He switched to engineering two years ago, so he understands what both sides are thinking. He said that communication is the most important tool of all. This time he chose to speak for designers on the topic of user sharability and listed three key communication mistakes:
• Avoid being sentimental
Never say things like ‘I find red passionate,’ or ‘This feels right’ to explain your design because not everybody agrees with your opinion. Li believes that designers should use specific descriptions for their ideas or UIs, so clients and PMs can agree with you.
• Understand everybody
You need to understand that every department does different things and thus thinks differently as well. Clients and employers care about efficiency, cost, profit and respect. You can show them a little respect by neglecting the ridiculous decisions they sometimes make. At the same time, sales team and coordinators prefer schedules, effectiveness, users, data and whether or not you are able to mention a lot of numbers, and explain your design from the users’ perspective.
“Engineers care about consistency; they are in love with anything modular, public or in a package,” said Li. As an engineer himself, he said, “If you designed 10 UIs that all look different [from each other], they would go crazy.”
Feasibility is important, too. When he was a designer, he always tried to understand the programme, so he wouldn’t design something that couldn’t even be made. This was also to help him negotiate better with his engineers, instead of believing their excuses blindly.
• Practise the ability of ‘finding people’s needs’
Li gave his personal experience as an example. When he first noticed Google Cardboard — the virtual reality glasses made of cardboard — he tried it out and loved it and decided to recommend it to his friends. He analysed everybody’s background, found out what they needed, and used different keywords to promote the product successfully.
– To gamers, he told them that Xbox is doing virtual reality too, but you can experience it on Google Cardboard for a much lower price. Keyword: Xbox, success!
– To engineers, “It’s from Google. It’s the future.” Keyword: Google, success!
– To designers, “You can develop content for the device with just a web tool.” Mention their area of expertise, success!
– To people with families, “My parents and nephews all think it’s cool.” Mention family, success!
– To overly rational geeks, Li said it was really difficult at first, but then he found a way. “You can watch porn on this thing and it feels real!” Success!
It ended up doing pretty well, with 100 units sold. “I was only sharing. I did not get any commission,” he added.
Design means solving problems as a team
Another speaker, Wu (founding member of Mayor Ko’s website Unlimited) directly pointed out several things a good designer should already know:
– Clients will change their minds
– Clients will delay in making up their minds
– Clients will not know what they want
– They sometimes won’t even pay unless you remind them
Bottom line, clients are not as professional as you.
“To put it another way,” Wu said, “clients want your professionalism. They need you to tell them what design really is. They pay you to comment on their thoughts, watch their progress, or even guide them when they’re lost.”
Wu said that designers should welcome their clients’ indecisiveness, so they can charge for overtime and learn to tell stories to clients, let them know their development process and the limits to their time and capability.
Wu concluded that design is never a battle between the client and the designer, it’s more like teamwork. Having worked on many cases for big companies, he said, the impact of a design doesn’t come from the designer alone.
“For example, your design improved the login page of a website and brought 100,000 extra views. It sounds like a big deal but no, the website already has the traffic of 10 million views, which your 100,000 views are based on.”
Enterprises have a lot of resources and distinct professions, so they think differently and do marketing differently from other people. A designer’s job is to digest and transfer the information for better communication.
“Social enterprise is not the only thing that can make a difference to the society,” Wu said. “Anyone with determination can make a difference.”
Prepare stories for your clients
The two speakers shared various techniques in communication and their attitude towards collaboration. They said that, in the end it’s all about finishing the product with both the designers and the clients satisfied and without compromise on either side.
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Li said he does not do everything his clients tell him to do, instead he reimagines the idea. This doesn’t mean he’s trying to disagree with the clients. He proposes new options that match the original idea, showing a positive attitude of “look, I got these great new ideas for you, it would be such a pity if you don’t want them”. This creates room for further discussion and more new ideas.
In the end, they reminded everybody not to give up easily and to create a product that shines, instead of one any designer would be embarrassed about.
The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, please send us an email at writers[at]e27[dot]co
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