From Design to Revelation

From Design to Revelation

Five Commandments for Learning through Design

More than anything else, great storytellers know how to develop their characters. Early drafts are all about discovering the key character’s central purpose, their central desire. Once the storyteller starts their real script, novel, or game, they need to quickly show the audience the main character they’re following and what that person wants. Actually, that’s why so many successful scripts start with chase scenes.

That’s also why so many compelling software projects begin with a designer and a purpose-fueled prototype.

In software design, we make our customers the main characters. In our earliest drafts, we’re looking to discover whether the idea we’re designing lines up with our customers’ motivations. Can our idea make their stories better? That’s what I’m looking to discover when I design my early prototypes.

My design strategy can prove to myself, my customers, and my team that our prototype can grow into something that helps all of us succeed. Of course, my design work can also go off-course, meandering into any number of distractions, following the voices of perfectionism, gear obsession, fear, and insecurity. More than designing, I want to see things grow.

If you want to make sure your work serves your world, check out these five commandments I’ve learned to follow:

1. Start by designing the differentiator.

If you feel the urge to design the login screen, remember your purpose. You’re making this prototype to get feedback on your unique value proposition. Make the thing that verifies whether your idea is something people need.

There’s a good chance that skipping the peripherals will feel like procrastination or laziness, so give this part of the process an official title like testing. You’re building trust and connection with the people you’re hoping to serve.

2. Keep in mind that good enough is good enough.

You’ve probably worked with someone who wears their perfectionism like a superhero’s cape. Of course, you soon find out that these tendencies are more like kryptonite. In the early stages, a passion for excellence in the minutae can really paralyze a designer.

I want to excel at getting the prototype in front of my client or customers. That means I can hate my prototype and still succeed. For now, I’m gathering information, not accolades.

3. Use the tool that accomplishes your goal.

Often, people at startup events want to know my favorite software for prototyping. I love talking about design tools and I love trying out new gear — as long as it’s not distracting me from my goal. I want to create more than I want to consume.

What tool helps you get the unique value of your idea across?

My friends and colleagues have used very basic PowerPoint presentations to prototype. Others have used photos of whiteboard scribblings or napkins. If it helps you spend less and stay focused on your purpose, by all means, go analog.

4. Let design set up sales.

When you’re using a prototype to learn and connect with your market, you’re establishing trust. You have something to give and chances are high that you’ll be presenting that gift in the marketplace.

I want everything I send to market to feel like a gift, far more valuable than its price.

These early designs give me a chance to prove to someone that my idea has that kind of promise. Clients and customers connect with visual designs more than user stories, so I consider these prototypes the beginning of a sales funnel.

5. Makeup goes on last.

For me, design is a kind of thirst. As I dig into my work, I tap into more ideas. Over the years, I’ve learned that I can direct this flow of features and user stories and styles. I have to. Reality tells me I’m not going to be satisfied with the design for a long time — and probably never. Meanwhile, I want to prioritize ideas that refresh people the most.

In other words, I want my concept to prove that I’m addressing the problem. I don’t want to fill my portfolio with dead apps that have impeccable UI’s. That means my prototype must show promise that I can satisfy my market’s real hunger. Everything else goes in my Someday, Maybe list.

I hope these tips help you create things that resonate with people, that help them grow and help you grow. That’s the point, isn’t it?

If you’d like to team up with me or my colleagues on a project, we’d love to talk. Reach out. We’ll give you a free consult to get you on the right track.

Joshua Johnson

25 July 2019

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