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Design by the yard


Authors: Monica Granfield
Posted: Tue, June 30, 2015 - 9:34:26

Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected. — Steve Jobs 

How do you build a common language with which to communicate design goals for a product and measure if the goals have been met? Organizations are moving faster than ever, leaving little time for long meetings, discussions, and explanations. Ideas, designs, and research findings need to be synthesized down to the salient points to sell an idea or discovery to the organization. So then, as user experience practitioners, how can we set expectations to align and achieve a common set of design goals, upfront, for all ideas, findings, and designs, to work towards?  

Establish a UX yardstick. A UX yardstick is comprised of a dozen base words that encompass what you want a design to achieve. The more basic, the better, which is one of the reasons why you need about a dozen words to drive designs. Words like “Clear” or “Procedural” are base words that are less likely to be misinterpreted. However, design buzzwords like "Simple" or "Intuitive" can mean different things to different people. John Maeda wrote an entire book on what simple means, The Laws of Simplicity. It turns out that describing or achieving simplicity is not so simple after all. Designers understand how the concepts of these buzzwords are surfaced in a design and what it takes to achieve them. However, how we define simple and how a CEO might define simple may be worlds apart, therefore driving the need to use the most raw and basic descriptive words possible, to set the design goals and establish a common language.  

The yardstick will not only establish a common language across the organization, it will serve as a tool with which to set and measure design goals. The words appear on the yardstick, left to right, respectively, from easiest to achieve, to the most challenging to achieve. The order of the words helps to determine the order of achieving the design goal, and weights the level of design effort. A word that appears at the beginning of the yardstick, such as "Clean," might be much easier to achieve than, say, a word further down the yardstick, such as "Effortless." Using the words on the yardstick will clearly set design expectations in manner that is commonly understood. To build a common understanding, the words should align with the company's product goals and missions, and the meaning and order of appearance should be understood and approved with stakeholders.

Milestones can be set on the yardstick and used as a mechanism to explain a grouping of words. Here I use the paradigm of metals—bronze, silver, gold, and platinum—to explain the level of design effort and the goals that design effort encompasses. So, for example, the design goal for "bronze" design coverage is that the design is clean and useful, and the design goal for "silver" coverage requires that the design is clean, useful, learnable, straightforward, and effective. Metrics can also be placed on the goals to further explain and measure the success of each design goal. The words build on one another, establishing more goals to reach as you move across the yardstick, grounding and guiding your designs, avoiding churn and disagreement later down the line. Returning to the goal words throughout the product development process will assist in determining if the design approach is meeting expectations based on facts, rather than consensus or opinion. Keeping designs focused and in alignment with company and product goals will result in more successful users and products. 

When it comes to project scoping or resourcing, the yardstick can be useful too. Not all features can or need the same level of attention for each release. The order of the words on the yardstick assists in weighing the level of design effort needed. Some may be small while others may be of high impact to the customer base or the market space. So the small upgrade feature may only need to encompass the first three goal words on the yardstick and a new, market-competitive feature may need to reach all the way to the end of the yardstick, encompassing all of the words as the goal of the design—a full yard of design. A feature that needs to achieve a full yard of design will need more time and resources than a feature that only needs a half a yard of design. The UX yardstick can set the pace for time and resources needed to achieve a commonly understood design goal.

Other inspirations, such as the company's business or product goals, can be placed on the yardstick for reference and guidance. I have placed these in the upper right corner of the yardstick. A quote or a motto for a design organization on the yardstick can also serve to inspire and guide the design intentions for the product.  

Creating a UX yardstick can assist in framing and measuring the goals and expectations of a design, helping to determine if a feature needs a half or full yard of design and what it means to achieve that level of design. The design goals on the yardstick should remain fluid and change, keeping pace with any business and product changes, yet always serving as the guide, beacon, and inspiration on design direction. 



Posted in: on Tue, June 30, 2015 - 9:34:26

Monica Granfield

Monica Granfield is a user experience strategist at Go Design LLC.
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