Digital Design Dogma

“Good personas are indispensable.”

No, not really. Personas are overrated. Even the good ones. And 99% of personas I’ve seen are done because “everyone else is doing it, and because this is, like, what designers do because business value or something…”

I can hear an army of researchers yelling “you think that because you don’t do personas right”. No, I get it. Personas that are created after doing some serious customer research can be useful. Know thy customer and all that.

But they’re still overrated. I can’t remember ever gaining a mind boggling insight by glancing at a persona. I do remember getting incredible insights by talking to users, and especially from dogfooding.

If your boss insists you create a persona, then at least opt for the minimalist Mailchimp personas. Make them fun, and cut the long demographic bullshit.

“Let’s put all these into user stories.”

Do you really need to see “As a buyer I need to be able to complete the purchase so that I can receive my order and have a jolly ‘ol smile on my face”. Does this help you with the task at hand? Just make the bloody shopping cart work. You don’t need the company mission or a manifesto for this one.

If you really must standardise all your task descriptions and can’t write like a normal human being — i.e. “Fix shopping cart bug”, then at least opt for job stories, which focus more on the task at hand, rather than framing everything in some weird 1950s style Mad Men marketing lingo.

“We need to do a research project first because assumptions will kill us.”

Right. Because nothing promotes business sustainability like burning a quarter of your budget on research to clear the assumption minefield.

Relax. Make well-reasoned assumptions. As long as you’re aware of them and as long as you don’t pretend that opinions are facts. Knowing how to make assumptions is an art. I’d rather be on a team with solid product taste, and good enough assumptions that knows how to pivot fast — than on a team that has meetings to plan how they will tackle the research planning.

Stop thinking and start doing. Keep scope super low, get constant feedback, iterate and pivot when necessary. Prototyping and testing in one week will bust more assumptions than any formal pre-project research efforts. You’re building products in a competitive market — not contacting ancient tribes.

“Big Design Up Front is a cardinal sin. Agile is here to save the day.”

Ohhhh boy! If I had a dollar every time I heard this. Here’s the thing about agile — it’s great for work where no vision is needed. That means either you’re doing small iterative work, or it’s the next step after a Big Design Up Front has already been completed.

But the problem with Agile is that no one really knows what they’re building, different teams take the product in conflicting directions, proper estimation is impossible and always wrong — and I mean always wrong. And, I have worked at over 5 different Agile teams at various companies.

Whereas Big Design Up Front, makes scope crystal clear, and thereby proper estimation possible. The project owner is happy because they know what they’re getting, the designer is happy because they got clear sign-off, and the developers are happy because they can properly estimate for the first time.

You then bring Agile into the picture, slice up the work and complete it in two-week sprints. But unlike with pure Agile, no one is building in the dark.

“Everyone is a designer.”

This myth is almost dead, but I think it deserves a special mention anyway just to set this extra straight. No. Not everyone should learn to code. And not everyone should learn design.

And I admit, I was that person. The one organising company events to get everyone to practice design thinking. Yes, design should be accessible and not elitist. But not everyone is a designer. There’s something to be said for taste and experience. When it’s crunch time, it’s chefs only in the kitchen.

Designers need to involve relevant stakeholders in order to get all the requirements on paper, all the big picture ideas out in the open. I’m all for design thinking workshops and communication.

But once this groundwork is laid down, and it’s time to turn low-fi ideas into high-fidelity prototypes, then it’s a black belt design dojo session. If you’re a non-designer blue belt (you have solid product design rationale and know your way around Figma/Sketch) then welcome.

“Design will save the world.”

Stop watching the Disney channel, kiddo, and turn on the news.

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Dreamer-upper of digital products.

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Damir Kotorić

Damir Kotorić

Dreamer-upper of digital products.

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