Revealing your hand

It can be hard to know when to put down the mouse and get some fresh eyeballs on your design work. Act too soon and your ideas might not quite be fully formed and be misunderstood. Wait too long and you may have travelled too far down the wrong road. Like most things you need to find a compromise. Here are a few tips on how I try and strike a balance when delivering comps.

The first and most obvious thing to think about is the scale of the project and that impending deadline. Sometimes there just isn’t time to be precious with your work, and — hopefully — who ever is signing off will understand that too. But where do you start when you have a little more time on your hands?

For bigger projects, I think about who is going to get involved in the project later on. Is this feature going to require a lot of development work? Has the UX researcher found an interesting behaviour to leverage? Maybe you’ve been asked to do something directly by the CEO. The earlier you can understand the concerns of the other stakeholders the better, talk to them and try and predict the road blocks each of these concerns could cause. If you want to design a big interactive widget and the tech team is totally swamped, you might want to put that idea on the shelf for now. This will help you avoid travelling too far down those aforementioned wrong roads.

With these concerns in mind it’s time to start. Usually I’ll have one or two gut reactions to a project so I’ll go ahead and get those out of my system. Then it is time to copy those art boards and iterate.

Next I’ll take a good look at what I’ve got, if any of those stakeholder concerns aren’t already being met I try and work them in. With each iteration I try to think about solving one problem, even if it ends up exacerbating other concerns. After enough iterations I can pick out the ideas where I struck an effective balance.

Keeping all of this development work is so important. Not only does help me keep track of where I’ve come from, but It helps me tell a story when showing my work later. As Aaron Draplin said “Vectors are free”, there’s little excuse to not duplicate your artboard before starting a new tangent.

Before you show your work to anybody, they’ll likely already have an idea of a finished product in their head. It’s your job to manage those expectations. Take it from the top, explain your journey, this way your design decisions will have context. Running through this timeline of developments will inherently show intent and the thinking behind your ideas. Often style is a gut decision, be sure your peers don’t conflate this with critical design thinking present in your work.

I like to think of presenting my work as building a castle. I’m inviting people to come and try and knock down the walls. As a designer it’s my job to produce rock solid work, and if it proves to crumble under stress, I need to seriously re-evaluate my offering. Of course I want to do my best to show people why I think my designs work, but what’s more important is accepting when they don’t.

When we share our work we want to put our best foot forward. Having the foresight to think about who we’re sharing our work with will not only help it to be well received, but can smooth transitions further into production. Design can all too often be seen as arbitrary decoration, by presenting the decision making process as a journey we can demonstrate compelling avenues of enquiry. After all that, if our work still isn’t up to scratch we must find the patience to not further explain ourselves but listen, and try again.

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