What We Learned: Process Over Product

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This is the second article in a series called “What We Learned”, documenting the evolution and growth of the DESIGNATION program over four years of operation. You can find the first part called “Imposter Syndrome” here.

This article will be about how we evaluate designers’ work. To put it succinctly, we believe that the process a designer used to achieve the final outcome is more important than the quality of the outcome itself. Or, more specifically, process over product.

How We Got There

Something we discovered fairly early on in the program was how much the designers compared themselves, and their work, to one another. Everything was an arms race, and the weaponry was their output.

But if you’ve ever glanced at a UX artifact like a customer journey map or flow diagram, you probably know the problem with this: It’s basically impossible to assess at a glance the quality of the content.

So even though we have a lot of evaluations throughout the programboth peer to peer and staff to designerwe found that what ended up being evaluated was not always what we felt were the most significant elements. It was easy to get hung up on the aesthetics or some minute little detail. And while the details can be important, they’re not everything.

This led to the implementation of what I consider the most important shift we made in our conception of the DESIGNATION pedagogy: the 3 P’s.

Sounds corny, right? Yeah, yeah, I know. But it’s the backbone of the entire DESIGNATION evaluative process.

The 3 P’s are, roughly in order of importance, process, presentation, and perspiration.

These are the three primary metrics by which work is evaluated. And it means that, rather than just looking at the final product and saying, “Yes, this is right” or “No, this part is wrong,” we had criteria that placed greater emphasis on how the designer arrived at that result, how it was contextualized, and how much work actually went into it.

Let’s dive a little deeper into each of these qualities:

Process

This is probably the most important part of evaluating a design artifact. When we talk about “process,” we mean producing work according to an established and formal methodology. Product design is about being thoughtful and purposeful in your workflow. It’s about having a rationale in place for why you do what you do. In this regard, design can in some respects be likened to the scientific methodology: hypothesis, experiment, result.

So in engaging with the designer, we encourage both staff and their peers to ask, “What was the methodology by which you arrived at the deliverable? Does it display solid craft and understanding of the methodology?”

It is possible to utilize good process and still get a bad end product, as well as bad process and a good end product. But the odds are greatly diminished. Most of the time, the good process produces good results. Bad process, at best, produces inconsistent results. Good process is the only surefire way to consistently deliver high caliber work.

By evaluating the process, we’re instilling in the designer the most repeatable and reliable way of achieving a meaningful outcome.

But when you evaluate the end product in a vacuum, you can often get lost in all the little details. You focus on things that maybe don’t really even matter.

Presentation

Second in order of importance is presentation. A catch-all term, this broadly refers to neatness and attention to detail in the visual characteristics of a design artifact. How is the material presented? Is it orderly, purposeful and neat? Is it legible and well organized?

Presentation is critical because internal order and hierarchy facilitate comprehension. Not only am I positively predisposed towards work that looks polished, but well-organized information is just easier to understand.

Conversely, sloppy work is not only harder to parse, but it negatively predisposes the user to the content as well.

Perspiration

Finally, there is perspiration, which might be best understood as asking, “Did I put in sufficient effort in pursuit of my end result?”

Your first idea is rarely your best idea. Not only will any professional designer readily agree to this, but there’s scientific evidence to support it as well. Our brains simply don’t like coming up with new ideas, so the first few things that tend to come up often resemble the water liquid that comes out of an un-shaken bottle of ketchup.

To get to the first-rate stuff, you need to work a little harder. It’s only through iterative problem solving that truly novel and exciting ideas are found.

Putting The P’s Together

Clichéd as they may sound, the 3 P’s represented an enormously influential evolution in the way we understood and evaluated the work our designers produced. And its implementation was significant in producing designers that worked faster and had better outcomes than prior to its implementation.

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