Thursday, September 1, 2011

What is Product Design?

As a programmer, how do you answer that question? What is Product Design? Not oddly enough, people have a wide variety of opinions what really is product design. Ask a product manager and they think they are designing, ask UI designers and they think they are designing, ask a programmer and you get the same answer.

I came across these two posts about the topic:

One is asserting that web designers that draw pretty pictures are really not doing the full round trip in web design. The other, which is a response, argues that programmers who do not do CSS and graphical design are not designing the whole thing either.

Both would be right, but the argument is just pointing to a dysfunction in typical design roles. There are so many aspects to design that people can't often do them all. However, if you are looking for some kind of ultimate solution, you want a virtuoso who can do it all. At the same time, it is probably not too much to ask  that people actually cross different disciplines. Often, that is better than mastery of programming alone, for example.

It is fine if a web designer draws images. It's a bit like making a rough sketch before the actual work starts, just get some idea about the web site. However, I would argue that there is still a big gap between that and actual design that is sufficient. Mastery of HTML and CSS should be required from web designers. And more than that, a real understanding of functionality and usability. This is the kind of middle ground that is very important but it is left in the no mans land, and that's a big gap in deed.

Programmers should know about HTML and CSS. Programmers can be a great asset in organizing and helping design here. Programmers are usually very particular about the aesthetics of organization, rules, practices. Programmers should know about usability, and how software translates to user experience. This is not important only because it makes user's life easier but it also affects how software is designed, and therefore it makes programmer's life easier.

There is a nice symbiotic relationship that can be created here where web designers, functional designers, and programmers can cross disciplines and interact in a positive way. It is easier said than done, of course. I have long argued that web designers should be integrated to the programming teams as full fledged members. In agile terminology, it is all matter of definition of "done". How can you really separate web design from programming, when all of that is in the cross roads that makes software great, or not?