And the Winner Is!
We live in an exciting, fast paced era. Technology is evolving at an ever increasing speed, gaining momentum right under our feet. With the continuation of globalization and the spread of open source software, fellow humans can now help us solve our problems even as we sleep!
Do we need to design and build faster? Can we learn faster? How—as humans—do we stay on top of all this change, and how as product builders, do we make sure this ever increasing change remains meaningful to our existence?
What’s the Constant?
In the software design book Head First Design Patterns, Eric Freeman and Kathy Sierra provide an interesting train of thought—to be used as a tool while designing:
“No matter where you work, what you’re building, or what language you are programming in, what’s the one true constant that will be with you always? CHANGE.1”
Change occurs naturally, and fast as we saw in the last section. Accepting that fact leads us to design more flexible systems. From the pixel perfect mockups of the “past”, we’ve evolved into creators of modular systems, incorporating components and “living style guides” into our vocabulary.
As designers, developers—as makers of products and services—it can be quite scary to think, that by the time you ship your product it might no longer be relevant.
Interestingly, modular design is actually not that new. The founding members of the Swiss graphic design movement had this exact idea in mind, when they introduced grid systems into the visual problem solving toolset.
Computer scientists talked about modularity in, wait for it… the late 1960’s!
As advanced and evolved as we might think we’ve become as an industry, we owe a lot of credit to some very smart people early in our history who foresaw the fast and constant change coming and prepared us for that which is now prevalent in our daily lives and our users’ daily lives.
There is one word in that last paragraph that hints at one more constant. Realize it and you’ll be much more likely to find product market fit without blindly throwing darts at the wall…
As a lead product designer of next gen products at Adobe, my job is to make design products that are easy for a broad market to use. My users don’t have time to go to design school and perfect their typographic craft. In fact they don’t really have time to learn about new software. It should just work!
Internally, like every design team—inside of Adobe and beyond—we naturally debate about certain features. We ask questions like:
“Is this discoverable?”
“Do users need this?, Why?”
“Do they want feature A, or feature B?”
“When do they use our product?, Why?”
We recently had a debate about the amount of control we should provide over styling in a certain product. Give the user too much control and they might end up with a bad looking design, or a UI that’s too complicated. Give them too little control and they might say it’s not enough.
We even had a certain hypothesis:
Only a “power” user would want this type of styling control. Most “normal” users would be happy with a predefined set, chosen by a professional designer.
And then I interviewed one of our amazing users: Jenn2
Jenn, by trade, is not a designer. But she asked me, “How do I make the fonts in this template bigger?” I then asked myself, well why would she want that? It has a “perfect typographic rhythm”. “It was designed by a really talented designer, I know this designer, she’s good!” “Why would you want to change this masterpiece of a font size?”
If Jenn had asked this question on say, an online forum, I might have assumed she was that “power” user. I might have assumed she wanted to be more expressive. Luckily I had the chance to talk to her in “real time” over the phone.
Jenn, it turns out, is on a mission. She wants to inspire adults over 65 to go out and enjoy life. To unshackle themselves from their age and continue enjoying life. Be it on a road trip or just a walk outside.
In her context, the font size is literally, physically, too small to read for her and her users. The perfect typographic rhythm that I admired so much was simply imperfect for the human who is using it! The conversation we had—internally—about expressiveness was irrelevant to our user’s actual need. Had I not talked to her in person, we might have misunderstood the problem itself!
And this leads me to the second, even more important constant in an ever changing world, in product design, in the future, and beyond. As you might have guessed, that constant is people.
The constant is: What is the special power they, our users—our heroes—now have when they use our product and solutions. Pay attention to them and they’ll help you navigate the sea of constant change in a meaningful way, and as a result you’ll find product market fit without losing your soul.
- 1 Freeman, Eric; Robson, Elisabeth; Bates, Bert; Sierra, Kathy (2004-10-25). Head First Design Patterns (Kindle Locations 834-835). O’Reilly Media. Kindle Edition.
- 2 I’m not using Jenn’s real name, but she is a real user I interviewed.
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Noam Almosnino is a lead product designer at Adobe in Seattle. He led the design of Adobe Post from the ground up, invented Scroll Effects inside of Adobe Muse, and now leads the design of a future product. When not designing, you’ll find him outside with a camera, observing and capturing the world. You can visit his site at MadeByNoam.com or follow him on Twitter at @madebynoam.