Deviating from process

In An industry defined by accountability and technology will suffocate without idiosyncrasy, Colly writes of his irritation with people writing about process, tools, standards and guidelines as if their opinion is the the Truth and the Only Way.

Packaging up opinion as fact seems to be an effective way to get noticed, and if one does it often enough people can start to assume one is an ‘expert’, whatever that is. Of course, if one is really clever then one writes vigourous pieces that appear to be stating the Only Way but in fact, when read thoroughly, state the Way That Works For Us And Might Work For You. Sensible readers would get this and still see one as an expert, and one still gets noticed by lazy readers.

But that’s not my point. Colly also wrote this:

the flipside of [using a process] is to remain as organic as possible. For three years I have been going on about how much I loathe the production line approach. Much as every member of the team should be free to make suggestions or get stuck in to any aspect of a build, so should the process itself be malleable.

And I couldn’t agree more. Just as with Colly at Erskine, so we at Clearleft have a pre-defined process. User-centred design demands it, and potential clients like to see a process before hiring their agency. But what we’re starting to enjoy more and more is deviating from the process to achieve the same goal. Skipping steps, changing the order, adding extra steps, using different tools. This all keeps us fresh, but it also helps eliminate the production line approach it’s so easy to fall into.

So where information architects James and Cennydd might ordinarily design HTML wireframes, we might involve designer Paul earlier on in the process and layout pages straight into Fireworks. On another project we might miss out Fireworks or Photoshop altogether and go straight from HTML wireframes to designing directly in the browser. Alternatively we could create a high fidelity sitemap, incorporating every symbol from JJG’s IA vocabulary, move onto pencil & paper wireframes and HTML wireframes on the most complex interactions.

The generic process we employ of research, information architecture, visual design and HTML templating are just steps in transforming business and customer needs into an engaging and successful website. Logically, stuff has to happen in that order, but the emphasis, personnel and tools can – and should – be allowed to deviate from project to project. It’s easy to fall into a rut and the afore-mentioned production line mentality, but moving away from that comfort zone keeps creativity flowing, both in design and in process.