The solution should always consider the user in its widest definition and breadth. In this way, we should strive for inclusivity and accessibility no matter the scripted, finite personas, approximated circumstance, or researched use case. Microsoft has written extensively on this subject, making their philosophy open to the public through Inclusive Design. What this brings to the industry is an obvious, yet too often ignored, call-to-arms to unbar the exclusive experiences that riddle our products; allowing everyone complete access to products and not simply the binary, stereotypical ideas of abled and disabled.
In this fashion, I approach the ideation of solution(s) with these core factors:
- Intended Audience: It is crucial, in my approach, to separate the notion of simply “audience” and “intended audience”. There will always be an echo out to a broader audience, and that should continuously be considered throughout the lifespan of the project and product. Therefore, “intended” allows the entire team to remember that although we have a set agent objective there are still agents our decisions ripple out to and touch.
- Capabilities: This is the not-so-fun part, when teams have to think about entropy and limits. Clients may say “dream big, there is no limit” but there always are. For instance, although any and every idea is possible (so long as it follows the laws of physics) money and time is not infinite. Knowing your limitations allows you to develop a list of capabilities and fence in your solutions to better suit the problem.
- Tone: Branding, tone, and aesthetic are crucial to how a solution will take shape. It is important to consider a client’s personality as this defines how they would guide a user through an experience just as they would their other venues. Tone and aesthetic shapes content and if you are not designing function before form you are putting the impetus on form (the visuals) which creates a superficial and untrustworthy experience.
Device & Technology Agnosticism
Navigation is navigation, no matter the device or juxtaposition of the product itself. Therefore, when I design I design for digital; not “app” or “web” or “kiosk”. Medium, for a designer, should be a small consideration in terms of how they actually solve the flow and overall experience of an object — this isn’t to say that I ignore medium, on the contrary, I strive to know every aspect and detail of the final deliverable whether it is an exhibition booklet or an progressive web app. However, my philosophy as it pertains to design is that the device or object in which an audience consumes the product is merely a peripheral requirement and not a definitive objective.
This mode of operating results in many advantages:
- Scalability: If you are producing for a wide range of possible renderings (mobile, exhibition kiosk, large format digital, etc.) you will automatically produce scalable art that is not dependent on resolution, default and native object libraries (almost always stale and homogenous), or preconceived notions of usage (all mobile users are right-handed, exhibition spaces are always brightly lit, televisions are always at least 20 feet from the viewer, etc.). When you design to a wide range of possibilities, you design a scalable product that will solve the problem no matter the usage.
- Immortality: Ok, that’s a stretch of the term, I know, but think about the implications of the above advantage. If your designs are wholly scalable, that means it can last longer in the world without needing a drastic tune-up. No matter the deployment, if the design is agnostic to device and juxtaposition then it can be draped over any framework/platform and still solve the problem.
- A maze is a maze, no matter if comprised of corn in a field or ink on a sheet of paper. The comparative experience may be drastically different, but the flow/path a user takes to solve the puzzle is exactly the same between its iterations. This beginning ideation allows for a better product that is not only wholly scalable, but has the opportunity to provide experiences for anyone (no matter their unique situation, permanent or temporary).
- Simplicity usually results when solving for the lowest common denominator. This gives you a better chance of creating an experience that is legible and navigable by the widest audience possible.
- This is a principle that brings many of the philosophies already mentioned together, resulting in better experiences and aesthetic. Let’s use a stereotypical metaphor for this hot-topic term (in the parlance of our time, indeed).
- If not for the integration and consideration of different ideas, practices, traditions, and flavors we would all be eating stale, flavorless bread and potatoes. Diversity helps us fuse different ideas from wildly varying origins into syntactically better outcomes.
- When you are constantly, solely designing in a fixed space (a Sketch iPhone X artboard, for instance) you are producing “inbred” designs, anemic, sickly, and void of the flavor of diversity. Sometimes this is all you can do when designing in a static workflow.
Words to Visuals
From the discovery of objectives, audience, limitations, and requirements comes the actual ideation of the product contents and experience. There is no right way to proceed here, and often I change how I work based on the team I am working with or the client I am working for.
A common workflow is as follows:
- Develop a Content Strategy that serves the main objectives, brand messaging, and core personas (including the incorporation of the broader, universal audience).
- The Content Strategy will typically nod towards two bends: General & Optimized
- General Information Architecture (IA) is the McMansion of IAs. It’s the pre-packaged, one-size fits all solution. We’re all familiar with these and they are commonly employed precisely because the mass populous is familiar with them. These routes are often picked when a client distrusts the ability of an audience to learn new functionality on the fly, are unwilling to take risks, or are simply trying to cut the fluff and increase conversions (best in ecommerce).
- Optimized IA is a broader solution that can look like anything, but it often breaks the mold of a digital product (i.e., no global navigation in favor of in-page contextual navigation, search only information gathering, etc.). Since this is riskier and harder to acquire definitive test results from most clients favor the general solutions.