Design Judo : Just Enough Design

Time is precious while designing a giant product such as Photoshop. How do the two (now three!) product designers on Photoshop stay sane?

We practice Design Judo. We try to harness momentum and translate it into the maximum amount of action while using the least amount of personal energy required. *

*I have never trained in Judo — so this attempt at a metaphor is based entirely on my remedial understanding.

1. Produce what’s needed. Nothing more.

We all know there there is a vast gradient in the fidelity of design artifacts:

Full Prototype
Hi-Fidelity mock-ups
Fully realized specification documents

but sometimes all you need is a …

Phone Call
Video Conference
White-boarding Session
Or maybe just a sketchbook cellphone snapshot emailed to an engineer of some chicken scratch drawings like those posted in this article

Knowing what level of fidelity is required is not always as cut and dry as saying — ‘Early in a design you on you need a wireframe, then you move through to high fidelity as questions get answered’. We find it can be more nuanced…

2. Leverage your team’s diversity

Basically this boils down to the ‘know your audience’ adage but with a Design Judo spin — if your audience can get by with less time spent on an artifact, spend less time.

Some collaborators can finish my sentences. We’re completely vibrating on the same wavelength. On teams where there are a high concentration of this sort of folk we can get by with fewer, and or lower-fidelity, design artifacts. Quick conversations, co-coding sessions, or phone calls take their place.

In some cases, however, investing in a higher degree of fidelity up front can actually save time down the road, as it would be more work for everyone when the wrong direction gets implemented.

To be clear — a team takes all kinds — those with whom you vibrate at the same wavelength those with whom you do not.
Number 82 is a self portrait.

Diversity of thought increases creativity and is central to great product design. Working with people who aren’t like you pushes you to articulate your point of view more clearly and completely, to be more flexible and to listen more carefully. I cherish that part of working on a diverse team.

3. Spend the time to learn what’s important

I’ve been told that when you go to medical or law school — the professors throw more work at you than is humanly possible to complete. Supposedly this is to help prepare students for the prioritization exercise that will become their real-life after graduation. The successful students figure out what’s important

Design Judo pop quiz : “What is most important (right now)?”

A product designer on Photoshop has responsibilities for multiple feature areas at once, and many of those experiences extend beyond the boundaries Photoshop proper.

We must make it our mission to understand how that work fits into the larger strategy and user experience for Adobe Customers. We need to learn how our work relates to data being gathered and business goals being set. All while tirelessly advocating for our users’ best experience.

We each need to be able to speak with informed clarity to the priorities within our product, our organization, and our company. All resting gently on top of our most basic responsibility — to understand promote and execute to the priorities of our users.

If we’re expending effort that is out of proportion with the importance of the work — we’re wasting precious energy that should be spent elsewhere.

It would be far easier to hide within the microcosm of a single feature area. But as product designers we’re an integral part of the product owner team. To reserve the seat at that table — the above are the stakes.

So — go ahead and prioritize researching what’s going on in the rest of the product, elsewhere in the company, tracking down the data gal/guy, hanging out with users, and checking up on competitors over a higher level of fidelity of the feature-level design. That’s good Design Judo.

4. Document more, design less

In order to keep ‘what’s important’ in view — we have to attend a lot of meetings.

This week’s not as bad as usual… look! I can make stuff on my computer from 11:30 to 1:30 on Thursday.
Spending less time producing design artifacts things up front and more time documenting what was discussed is a time saving treasure trove.

In addition, instead of doing a revision on your design — you are simply documenting what you all designed together. Which means that the engineers, product management, product marketing and whoever else are all bought in from the ground floor, which saves yet more time! Design Judo Achievement Award. (And you can avoid having spent hours on a precious workflow only to find out in your first meeting with the entire staff that there’s a technical limitation that renders your workflow moot.)

Note : It is important to have an opinion, and perhaps even some initial sketches prior to participating in the above referenced working sessions. Running good productive collaborative design sessions may be my favorite part of the job.

5. Invest in a system

If we have to “draw” basically the same thing more than twice, that is not good Design Judo (see above— Know what’s important. That header, that button, that avitar… not important. Stop drawing them.) It should be a “symbol”, “smart object” or “library item.”

A system is often something we have to invest in on our own time. A weekend here or after hours there. But working with a flexible molecular set of components to play with is THE BEST THING EVER. If you’ve done it before, or had the privilege to be on a team that has invested in one, you know what I mean. Hug your system librarian today.

If you have a system of components — you can go higher fidelity even when it’s not absolutely required and still be fast (Good Design Judo). Read this article on Stateful Design to get some ideas for doing this sort of thing in Photoshop.

In Conclusion

We all are practitioners of Design Judo. It’s a lifetime vocation. The above are samples of what I’ve learned from my personal study thus far, I hope you at least found it entertaining. I would love to hear how you practice Design Judo where you work/play.