No matter your skill level, there’s one question you can start asking in order to think like a great designer:
“How should it work?”
Yep, it’s that simple.
Not “How should it work?” But “How should it work?”
Ignore what everyone else is doing. Ignore what the engineers say is possible or easy to build. Start with a blank slate and then think through the ideal experience.
A real-life example
If you’re a blogger building out a sales funnel in your email software, how should you edit that form?
When adding visual automations to ConvertKit we thought hard about this. But instead of getting caught up in what would be quick or easy to build, we simply asked, how should it work?
Well, I should click on a form, make the change, and jump back. All in a few seconds.
To edit an email it should be the same. One click, loading the email in under a second, keeping the context of my automation on the side, and then jump back just as fast. Seamless.
This solution is so obvious… after it seeing it done. But it’s clearly not obvious since Active Campaign, Infusionsoft, Drip, and every other visual marketing automation tool has a clunky, many-step process for making a simple change to an email.
When Dylan (our UI designer at ConvertKit) and I first came up with this we didn’t know if it was possible—or at leas too difficult to build to be worth it. But instead of scrapping the idea we pushed for it. We trusted that our engineering team could deliver something difficult–something that no other company had done before. And they delivered. This interface launched to our first beta customers today.
A month ago I demoed this interface on stage at Craft + Commerce and the crowd actually gasped when I clicked on a a sequence and it animated to edit an email inline. It turns out speed and an intuitive experience are always in style.
You have the tools
You don’t need to know Photoshop, Sketch, or code to think in this way. Instead start with a blank slate in your head and ask yourself, “What’s the ideal experience?” Then grab a pen and paper and start sketching it out.
Don’t get caught up in the implementation details. Aim for perfection. The fewest number of steps.
Then once that is nailed down, turn to building it. How can you make it happen? You’ll hear things like, “we can’t build that”, “it won’t work”, “that’s too expensive”, and “if we do it this way we can ship faster.”
All valid thoughts, but they’re also harmful to the user experience. Push for your original vision and keep iterating until you can get there.
Once you create this kind of experience it will be obvious to everyone else. But that only happens once someone does it first.
Simply ask, “In a perfect world how should it work?” and you’ll level up your design abilities immediately.
Interested in playing with the new ConvertKit yourself? Sign up for the beta of our new automations.
8 Responses to “The one question great designers ask”
Great example and reminder! It is easy to get stuck in the mindset of “this is how everyone else is doing it”.
You are so right. Your implementation of automations is brilliant. It just makes sense. I have this sneaking suspicion that others might follow suit. Now ConvertKit is the “way it is done”.
Great to see you talking about design again!
Yeah, it really is probably one of the first questions to ask. Still, many others will follow “Can I do it?” ; “Is this really going to work?”
It’s often an insight that (particularly less experienced or ‘savvy’) clients can bring – making suggestions for how things should work, without the context or baggage that designers / developers can accidentally be weighed down by.
This is a great reset to get focused on what’s truly important. It’s easy to get wrapped up in a lot of other aspects of the design process. Thanks!
Great job on the improved email editing flow.
This is really true. As a developer first and a designer second, I constantly find myself questioning my designs because I actually do know how difficult it would be to build. But how hard it is to implement shouldn’t even be a question worth considering, because if you truly believe in giving the user the best experience, then the effort will be worth it. Cutting corners will cause visible frustration to the users, even if they cannot pinpoint exactly why.
Great article, Nathan! This is a prime example of using design thinking (which is all about people) to solve business problems.
I’ve written a lot more on this topic on my company’s blog, would love for you to check it out if you’re interested: http://45royale.com/blog/design-thinking-lean-startup-methodology/
Love the blog, keep up the fantastic work!
Loved it. It’s always good to have the context on why should it work before how should it work. A lot of designers out there build ideal experience without having clarity on the need — diverting the tech team’s resources from potentially crucial things.
I read this article just the right time – about to start design software however will sI t down with pen & paper first & ask myself ; how should it work?