Nona CEO and Co-Founder Mike Scott sat down with Gordon Angus, Head of Design and also Co-Founder of Nona, to explore product design and process. Gordon is an award-winning product designer and keynote speaker, and has worked on over 200 design projects in his career – the man knows his stuff.
When it comes to product development, your process and methodology are super important, Mike explains. “All we ever hear about is process: build systems, build process – the only way to scale is through process and systems.”
The problem with process
From a design perspective, however, Gordon argues that process isn’t everything.
The problem with process and design
“Process and methods definitely have their place,” Gordon clarifies, “I think they’re great catalysts to get things moving, but no, I don’t think you can just process and science your way into a great solution for people.” His reasoning makes sense – you can’t rely on and apply the same processes to solve people-problems when humans are such complex beings.
“I just started getting really frustrated with how limiting all of these processes and methods were.” says Gordon. “And I started to really feel that we started losing sight of the creative analytical part of our jobs. When you become so focused on all of these methods and ticking all of these boxes, you start to miss all of the smaller human nuances that are really important when you’re designing bespoke solutions.”
What about data-driven design?
Here at Nona, we’ve used data-driven design in many of our projects. “Are you telling me you advocate against this?” Mike asks Gordon.
“Well, my issue with data-driven design is that design is no longer subjective and data rules our world now”, Gordon replies. “If it can’t be proven to work in a prototype or an AB test or MVP, then boom, you know, it’s not really worth trying it all.”
The other issue is that we seem to value this data more than the designer’s experience and expertise. “Trusting your gut now just means ‘lazy, entitled designer’.” The assumption there, unfortunately, is that they haven’t done the work or the research. But as Gordon points out, “Design instinct is far more than just your innate creative ability or cultural guesswork. You know, it’s your wealth of experience. It’s your familiarity with industry standards and best practices.”
Designers develop that instinct from years of trial and error. It allows them to recognise pitfalls before they manifest into problems, or finding winning solutions without exploring endless options.
What are some of the pitfalls in common design methods?
To answer Mike’s question: “Well, I mean to start off with, there’s a hell of a lot of methods out there… They are very good, I think the problem is when they’re the standard go-to and they become too relied upon,” says Gordon.
Here are a couple of the issues he’s identified:
Firstly, many processes offer watered-down instructions with thin descriptions of how things work. In reality, it’s not as easy. Design is a very difficult profession that requires a lot more than a guide book.
The second issue Gordon noticed rose with the influx of UX courses. “After a one-year UX course people are applying for senior UX positions,” he says. That implies that anyone with a method card can become a designer, and that experience doesn’t matter, which is totally untrue.
Thirdly, methods can be overly prescriptive. This gives a very strong impression that there’s a right and wrong way to go about solving problems. “Quite frankly,” Gordon surmises, “that’s bullshit.”
As we’ve seen above, navigating the design process of your software project can be tricky. While processes and data-driven design methods are there to assist, it takes an experienced and innovative designer to know when and how to use these guidelines effectively.