First 7 rules for start-up design – part 3

By Shahar Naor

If creative fiction writing is a process of translating an abstraction into the concrete, there are three possible grades of such writing: translating an old (known) abstraction (theme or thesis) through the medium of old fiction means (that is, characters, events or situations used before for that same purpose, that same translation) — this is most of the popular trash; translating an old abstraction through new, original fiction means — this is most of the good literature; creating a new, original abstraction and translating it through new, original means. This, as far as I know, is only me — my kind of fiction writing.
Ayn Rand


From Warner-Bros movie adaptation

The American writer and philosopher, author of “Atlas Shrugged”, “We the Living” and “The Fountainhead”, chose to convey the philosophical system she called Objectivism through the image of the architect Howard Roark – an individualistic who chooses to struggle in obscurity rather than compromise his artistic and personal vision – promoting the freedom of the individual and independent thinking.

Every architect, from the average to the most independent and creative, start with a briefing of the job at hand. The designer’s job starts at the same point, and his involvement level, much like the architect’s, is established by the client.

After a complete list of demands, requests and goals, the architect will start collecting data: touring the construction site, checking existing plans and creating a work plan. For the designer, this is the characterization stage: specific and detailed definitions of the digital product, a complete and fully detailed site map, the modules in each screen, the connections between the different sections etc’ – parallel to the house structure, inside and out, electricity and draining systems, number of rooms and position of walls. An experienced client might create large portion of such a list on their own, but would also greatly benefit from using the professional – the designer – in order to create a detailed characterization document. Besides the clarity this document enables, it also helps coordinating the expectations of the client and designer, reaching realistic cost estimation, and allows the possibility of locating problems and challenges that might show up further down the process in advance – especially those that might set the client back a small fortune. Also, a detailed technical document gives a reference and control point to the entire process: the more complex a product is, the more people are involved in its creation, and the greater is the need to have common and clear language and goals.

Following the characterization, the architect will proceed to create the floor plan, or schematic design sketch. In the same way, the designer will continue to create a wire-frame. After receiving all the data regarding the target audience and the complete functionality of the digital product, the designer will begin a flowchart of the process that the end-user will follow – a schematic description, screen by screen, including all the parameters described in the characterization document. Each and every button and module of the digital product leads to a certain action, that will move us forward in the flowchart, until the end goal is reached.

When the architect approaches his physical task, he is helped by the contractor and various professionals in order to fulfill his client’s vision. In the digital world, the client has a development team. Unlike with a physical building, when creating a digital product the development team does not start by creating the final end parts of the product. Development starts by prototyping of each module described in the characterization document, that allows the creation of an interactively functioning wire-frame level product before creating the final finished product. This stage allows tests, updates and improvements for each of the possible actions of the digital product. In this important mid stage, the product is in limbo – it’s still in development, yet it’s already off the paper and allows interactivity. Here we can conduct preliminary usability tests and discover new solutions and paths.

The architect and the contractor finished creating the infrastructure, the building is standing, and the interior design stage commences. The digital parallel is designing the graphical user interface (GUI). The product will acquire its branding, its unique visuals and visibility. The graphical language will be consolidated, along with typography, icons, color schemes and playfulness – right along side with the development team’s final touches of functionality.

Once the GUI design is complete, the architectural comparison ends. The architect designs for a client that in most cases is also the end client. Even in the border cases when he’s not, like building a mall or an office building, after the completion of the physical design and built, there’s not much room for changes.
On the other hand, the designer aims for an infinite number of users from the beginning. The digital world is more forgiving, and allows us to complete the process by final usability tests, that examine both the final functionality and design. The result of these tests will let us make sure we didn’t miss anything along the road, and that the final product is simple and clear for every potential user.

After the completion of the final usability test we can launch a beta version of the product, and get feedback from a much larger audience for the final finishing touches.

A design process that is conducted using careful planing, original thought and professional execution is not a simple or short process, but the end results of a successful process such as that cannot be reached using shortcuts.

A house can have integrity, just like a person; and just as seldom – Howard Roark, Architect.
The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand