The modern digital designer is faced with a constantly changing landscape of evolving technologies. In order to keep up with this Digital Technology Explosion we adopt a perpetual state of learning and re-learning, both of the tools that help us to create our designs and the various ever-increasing technology platforms where our designs end up.
There’s nothing wrong with up-skilling and staying up to date with developments in your industry of practice – that is natural. What’s unnatural is the the rate at which we have to keep up.
Behind the scenes, I am haunted by memories of new technical bugs slowing design implementations, emerging product incompatibility after software updates, and having to relearn versions of the same programming language, again and again, just to accomplish the same task.
I am faced with the same old problems like ensuring my designs looks, works and feels great across multiple, always evolving browsers, ever-expanding screen resolutions and a seemingly infinite sea of devices.
Increasingly, I am faced with new problems relating to the emerging and competing mobile application formats, UI languages and social media channels, to name but a few. Add to this design considerations around platform specific characteristics like iOs’s gesture based interactions or its changing device orientation, and the designer’s workload starts to become overwhelming.
It’s becoming near impossible to keep up. Forget about about staying ahead. In a post Moore’s Law world, as we rapidly approach Technological Singularity, and before our digital designer’s brains explode from the complicated complexity of commoner garden design projects – something has got to change…
…and thankfully somethings already are.
Design a Solution
Across the web I see and hear various folks and factions defining frameworks, creating methodologies and starting movements to address the problems of designing during this Digital Technology Explosion. I have decided to jot down a few of these ideas as first steps to create a solution.
In the immortal words presented on the cover of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – “Don’t Panic”. The overarching problem – the Technology Explosion (yes, I do like saying it) – has been identified by the wider community. Framing the problem is half the battle. I recommend adopting a zen like approach. Most of the anxiety is caused by not having enough time to process all the information about emerging technologies. So take a deep breath…
When in Doubt, Map out the Ecosystem Out
Take some time to inventory and list all the various technologies, platforms, portals and channels your design may appear on. Chunk similar items together into categories eg: smart-phones category. Once you have inventoried and chunked the entities within the ecosystem, it becomes quite clear whom all the players are.
Putting necessary boundaries on a seemingly border-less space will help you to recognise knowledge gaps that you can promptly swot up on, and to identify problem spaces where you can focus on creating solutions.
Reset Client Expectations
It’s time to change our approach with how we engage with stakeholders and clients. Over the past year we have noticed our clients are asking for more and more presence across the various new channels, platforms and portals. These demands are normally a gut reaction panic to their day-to-day exposure of the “Digital Technology Explosion.” Thus, client expectations of their offerings’ user experience continues to grow.
As the technology landscape expands, so does the job spec, but clients don’t seem to expect a rise in scope or price. Make sure you learn to accurately scope design work as it proliferates across new technology platforms. Don’t casually agree to extending platform support for a design beyond your normal capabilities without first considering the scope of the work, how it will effect your design/development process and identifying potential risks to the project’s success.
Practice User-Centered Design
Deciding what technologies to design for should be based upon researching and observing real user behaviour with the digital product and/or service. The findings from this research will provide vital information about the context when the product is used, the environments where the product is used and the device upon which the product is used.
This user-centred-design approach, means you are better considering the customer and/or user’s goals and needs throughout their life-cycle and across all touch-points. Ultimately, this leads to a more concrete specification based on real usage as opposed to nice to have business requirements.
Practice Responsive Design
We need to think about our approach to design in general, and begin to create designs that will easily work across multiple devices. Ethan Marcotte in his wonderful book Responsive Web Design says “rather than creating disconnected designs, each tailored to a particular device or browser, we should treat them as facets of the same experience…we need to practice responsive web design.” This method involves the use of CSS3 media queries with fluid grids, and flexible images which create a consistency of an experience across a wide range of devices and browsers.
Tell a Good Story
As I have previously stated in other posts, throughout the history of humanity, storytelling has evolved alongside technology allowing storytellers to re-craft compelling tales in emerging media. This highlights the important role story has to play in our daily lives as its resilience and longevity as a form. Although I am always really excited about emerging technologies such as the iPhone and iPad, I have no doubt that in the not too distant future they will be replaced again by some other technology and story will adapt and evolve once again.
So, the most technologically autonomous area to hone is the story that your design is based on. The story will manifest through the concept and content of the design and will have significant impact on creating a positive (or other) state of mind and user experience.
Know and Apply the Underlying Principles
Technologies, and even methodologies, will come and go so its important to dig deep to learn and understand the constants, the underlying principles, the constraints, and what makes a good design – great! Knowing the best practices of graphic design, interaction design and content strategy will all help to ensure that your design is based on solid foundations and will therefore be more conducive to working across the many platforms, with minimal correction required.
Instead of Scrambling to Keep Up, Learn to Deep Dive
Whats the point of keeping up with everything, when its constantly changing. Unless your role is to focus on one aspect, then its difficult within this ever-evolving progress bar of an industry to stay abreast of every development across all relevant disciplines. Instead, learn to deep dive into topics on an as needed, case-by-case basis. Of course, this relies on you having an understanding of the basic principles of design and technology. Ultimately, it proves more effective when you dont have to continually keep up on topics that you may never have to use again or ever.
Conclusion, for now
There is obviously much more to cover on this topic. I wanted to get the ball rolling by getting my first ideas out. I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter, and how you deal with the Digital Technology Explosion.