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Designing for Speed and Scalability

Designing in an adaptable way today will make you even more ready to scale for tomorrow.

August 5, 2020 5 minute read

Design to thrive

There's no shortage of articles talking about how these are unprecedented times. People's lives have been turned upside down as they grapple with this new normal, err... dumpster fire. Once orderly households have been flipped into panicked classrooms with distanced learning. Casual after-work happy hours have shifted to masked contactless pickups. And grocery store visits have departed from being a quiet weekend escape to eerily mimic the Hunger Games, as we dart through aisles hoping to be the first one to get the last pack of toilet paper. 

Behind all of these changes are businesses juggling ever-changing consumer expectations, operational shifts that are hitting more like tidal waves and the acceleration of digital initiatives that were originally planned for 2025.

Enter: design. Design, when used in the right way, can drive businesses to thrive as the world gets turned upside down. It can solve critical problems efficiently at scale while keeping the user at the center of its solution. Designing in an adaptable way today will make you even more ready to scale for tomorrow. Which comes in especially handy when the deadline is yesterday.

Designing for today: Speed

1. Let's start with the basics. What are we creating?

Part of the design solution is extracting the business problem. Define what you are trying to achieve or solve for with a user's experience. Remove all of the bells and whistles and industry jargon from your explanation. The clearer you can be in defining the need, the more accurate your design solution will be.

defining a clear need for designing
Part of the design solution is extracting the business problem to define a clear need.

2. How are we going to get this done?

Once you've identified what you want to achieve with this design, it's time to sprint. Quickly develop a cadence for definition, creation, feedback, development, feedback (yes, again) and go live! Multiple sprints will lead to your marathon.

3. Who's doing what?

Align on external and internal stakeholders, with owners and decision makers. Nailing this step will avoid the hamster wheel of conversations that can waste valuable time.

4. Do we have anything we can re-use?

Before you start on your high-fidelity screens, dig back through your design system. Using developed design patterns speeds up the creation of a product and creates more time to craft new components where gaps have been identified. Remember high school chemistry? Yeah, it's fuzzy to me too. But there's a valuable methodology that can be applied to component design, à la atomic design.

Atomic design methodology
Atomic design methodology

Atoms are the basic building blocks of matter, grouped together to form molecules and then living organisms. An atom is akin to a button on a page — a button grouped with an input field and a label forms a component. Multiple components create a pattern, and patterns can be duplicated multiple times on a page. Voila! You designed have a cart full of products ready to be checked out on an eCommerce platform.

5. And speaking of buttons... can they just look like buttons?

There is a time and place for visual exploration of layouts — playing with color schemes, manipulating shapes, testing typefaces. And right now is not that time. Purpose over art. Substance over style. This is not an excuse to lower aesthetic quality, but more so to elevate the function of a product. Especially as your consumers are sifting through unfamiliar times, an experience that feels familiar comes as a great comfort. 

They want their form fields to be clearly labeled.

They want their fonts to be a reasonable size.

They want colors to have proper contrast.

They want to know that when they are tapping a button it is going to do what they think it's going to do. So give people the buttons they want, the buttons they deserve.

clearly designed buttons

6. What else am I missing? You will need...

  • Realistic expectations with technology constraints.
  • Close collaboration between designers and developers.
  • A quality advocate with accessibility at the forefront of all testing.
  • And excitement. You are creating something that can change lives, even if it is just cutting down the duration of your audience's grocery trip.

Designing for tomorrow: Scale

So now your product has been created. It was scrappy, it was quick and you still don't know what day it is. Take a deep breath because you've put the wheels in motion and need to keep the momentum going. The design of your product may be solving for a short-term solution, but now you need to consider how it can be used as fuel to meet your long-term goals.

short-term solution for long-term goals
Your short-term solution should be used as fuel to meet your long-term goal.

Your design components are like tools in your ever-growing, always organized toolbox. Design systems are at the crux of building digital products efficiently at scale. Continue to build out this system while assigning an executive champion to own and maintain the design system. The system can be used cross functionally across multiple groups to create a digital ecosystem of products that work together to better every interaction your users have with your brand.

By constantly learning from quick short-term solutions, businesses are able to change and improve their functions to accelerate achieving their long-term goals. And with that, design must be regularly evaluated and re-prioritized based on the consumers' ever-changing needs.

Like what you've read? Let me introduce you to the grab-and-goers. They may just become your next favorite target audience.

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