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Our current workflow has creatives receiving wireframes from a rather green UX designer. Our creatives then design too constrained to said wireframes. When I receive the design I find many UX flaws that I feel could have been caught had there been more collaboration among departments.

In a small fast paced agency, typically not all the information is known by the time wireframes are completed.

Are there any experiences that you guys can share with me to assist in helping my team work more efficiently? What do you all do when dealing with an incomplete picture with an approaching deadline? How do you avoid restricting the designer, or is that a desire?

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6 Answers 6

In a small fast paced agency

...waterfall doesn't work too well. Which you've experienced first hand. ;)

Agile is the way to go. Be it formal, or completely informal. The ultimate goal in either case is to get out of the 'step by step' mentality of wireframes -> visual design -> development.

The best way to get out of that is to make sure all 3 things are happening in parallel. Or, at the very least, all 3 parties need to be communicating from day one.

These 3 tasks can't be done in isolation as you end up with exactly what you've experienced.

I've ran into this problem in larger agencies, where I was acting as a Front End prototyper.

What would happen is that wireframes would get signed off before we'd see them. UI design would then happen before we'd see that. We'd then have to take the two and turn them into interactive prototypes which always led to us finding things on paper that simply don't make any sense in code/interaction.

The solution was simply that we were looped in a lot earlier.

creatives

You didn't ask about this, but did want to comment. I cringe at the term 'creatives' being applied to the visual designers only. A software solution isn't going to be succesful unless EVERYONE is creative. That includes the UX team. That includes the front end devs. That includes the back end coders. I always suggest that organizations not use the term 'creatives' to reference UI design solely as it only encourages a lop-sided way of thinking about creativity.

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I cringe at the term creatives being used about 90% of the time it's used, and I'm a visual/interactive designer and front end developer. –  Eric Jul 18 '13 at 14:06

Marty Cagan, on his product management blog and in his book, makes a very strong case for high fidelity prototypes, because using them…

  • forces you to think through your product to a much greater degree than paper specs,
  • enables and encourages the type of collaboration between product manager, interaction designer, and architect/engineer that is necessary to discover a valuable, useful and feasible product,
  • prevents the classic waterfall problem of doing design after the requirements, rather than realizing that functionality and user experience are inherently intertwined,
  • and helps keep the focus of the team on the user experience.

http://www.svproduct.com/high-fidelity-prototypes/

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In a small fast paced firm:

The requirements gatherers, UX designers, developers, supervisors and preferably testers should be kept in the loop as soon as the initial requirements document has been confirmed with the client. This is to prevent a communication gap and to facilitate flow of ideas to-and-from each group, under a guiding + controlling supervision.

Creativity is required at each stage and it should be encouraged, at the same time, the supervisors should ensure quick and steadfast decision making to prevent time-lapse in what can be called 'over-thinking'.

Agile and/or Extreme Programming methodologies will work wonders in a small firm or a self-sufficient project team.

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This is a common problem among many different organizations that have multiple teams working on multiple projects, especially when the deadlines are tight. The key is always to work out the best way to communicate with each other, and for team members to have similarly aligned goals/visions of the projects.

Rather than prescribing a specific method, it is much better to work out what is missing when the information is passed from one group/member to another, and work out the best way to provide the missing information, whether it is through a different process workflow or a different type of deliverable.

I would suggest reading some of BJ Fogg's work to understand how to use small changes to impact people's behaviour. In fact some of the principles apply equally to interface design as it does to people because it is about underlying motivations and triggers.

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I disagree that agile is the complete solution. Agile is a developement approach which, if hacked, can offers some good working practices. The danger is for UX to fit into Agile instead of agile adapting to UX. Also some times parts of a waterfall approach do work, it's not a black and white situation.

I do agree that the key, as you suggested, is to increase collaboration. Single location working for a project team where wall space is available is a great way to do things. The designers and developers should have visibility of ideas prior to a final wireframe or prototype or other final documentation (even if it's a white board of sketches).

In short the deliverable should be a reference to what has been agreed upon, hopefully over several iterations, rather than a primary means of communicating the functionality of the UX.

Collaboration with an element of mutual coaching of ideas leads to everyone learning. This works well providing you have no 'rockstars' who are not open to changing their ideas. The 'right' idea is of no use if the team do not understand or buy into it.

Lastly with short projects the key thing is to get a complete picture working quickly before dwelling upon screen level details. The interface design part of UX is the easy bit and only a small bit. Flows and IA are less tangible but more important to UX.

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Waterfall is somehow the past because it can not keep up with the market increasing demand, so the solution now it's to go for Agile and with it to make a switch to what we like to call it LEAN UX. (Lean UX & Agile will allow you to build your applications in time even if you don't know all the specs from the beginning)

The best skill to help you in collaboration with creatives & developers is communication. And the best way to do it is to organize collaborative design meetings where you get all the people together (whole team) and iterate on ideas. And when I say iterate on ideas, I mean getting together around a whiteboard with pens and markers and just do sketches based on everyone's opinion and change them until you all get on the right track.

Learn to use people's expertise and strong points and you will get outstanding results.

This way everybody will know the project details from the beginning and where the project is heading.

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