Design Process is Human, All Too Human

written by andrew

guard rail and road

We always design a site in stages. Our process is built to facilitate the production of highly usable, scalable, and engaging websites that endure. First, we spend a substantial amount of time talking with our client about their business, the way they work, their challenges and opportunities, how much time they have to write and produce content, and where they want their business to live in three to five years.

We think and plan for the long term; I tell clients that the very last thing I want for them is to have to redesign their site in a year.

After many hours of discussion, which we call Discovery (after the legal activity), we’ll start to build a wireframe for the site, which then gets reviewed by our client. Depending on the size and nature of the project, we will also write a creative brief, develop a technical and functional spec, provide a sitemap document, and create a mood board.

Then we hit design. Typically, designing a new site concept takes between three to four days of work. A few months ago, I created a design concept for a client in about 7 hours.

It’s the sixth day of the #YourTurnChallenge, a Seth Godin gig. I should probably link to his new book, which inspired the challenge. It’s called What to Do When It’s Your Turn and It’s Always Your Turn and I’l be ordering a copy next week. After the challenge.

The question for Day 6, on a day of rest (also known as Shabbos among Jews), is this: Tell us about a time when you surprised yourself.

I surprised myself because that initial design concept took so little time to execute. It came together in a period of a few hours, over coffee and probably some Interpol or Kurt Vile. And it did so seamlessly, with very little pain or gnashing of teeth.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t be surprised by this. I had actually spent many hours not sleeping over the course of the previous two weeks just thinking about the site and how it should look and work. I remember thinking in the middle of night about the imagery, the messaging, and the key calls to action the site should take on. I would get up out of bed, create a sketch, write some notes, and try not to forget the feeling of it all in the morning.

I also had purchased some new and expensive typefaces for the project and coupled them with the very best imagery I could find. I had figured out the relationship between the various components, how the colors would work and what the navigation would look like. I remember this occurring at the gym, on a walk, or while reading in the evening.

In other words, I had already spent two or three days of work on the project either ruminating about it at night or unconsciously planning for it during the day. The site design came together in a few hours because it was already constructed, invisibly but palpably, in my mind through a variety of anxious sleeps and over-anticipated deliberations.

Nietzsche writes in Human, All Too Human, that we are but rational creatures amidst the turmoil of everyday life.

Everyone knows from experience how fast the dreamer can incorporate into his dream a loud sound he hears, bell ringing, for example, or cannon fire, how he can explain it after the fact from his dream, so that he believes he is experiencing first the occasioning factors, and then that sound.

The point, for me, is this: Sometimes, design is nothing but struggle. Even after hours of phone calls, emails, research, writing and planning, a given design can look like the finale of a classical tragedy. (When that happens, I’m thankful to have an extraordinary team that will reset the stage and enact a new production.)

But sometimes, design is a breeze. It’s not because it is easy, however. The breeze is just the sweet breath that is left over after the hurricanes weaken and depart.

Above photo by Arthur Pokusin via Unsplash.

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