Find Your Own Way to Design
By Yuki Gu
Meet two designers and you’ll find two different points of view on how to design. There are so many books telling us the right way to design, how the process should look like — but is there one perfect and timeless approach suited for everyone? I doubt it. At MING Labs, we have designers from all over the world, we have different skin tones, we learned different cultures, we eat different foods, we listen to different kinds of music, we use different design tools. Does a standard design method really matter?
We recently completed a website project for Bloc Productions, an agency representing photographers, stylists and illustrators here in China. We really enjoyed collaborating with them — building their site to best represent their collective of creative talent.
In this post, I want to share the stories behind this project — on the tools, the process, decision-making and design principles.
1. Design Tools
While I personally used (amongst others) Principle, Cinema 4D and After Effects in this project, I asked three of our designers what kind of tools they usually use. See if you can spot the difference. Every designer has his or her own way to make things happen, and we love the diversity.
Then there is Slack. We use channels to share thoughts, inspirations, gossip. People ask people if they’ve seen their wallet/cellphone/sandwich, and we share interesting articles talking about why wireframes are dead or why United has the worst onboarding. We all have different points of views, but this is embraced and celebrated.
While working on Bloc, we sought inspiration and validation from our colleagues. We shared early concepts on Slack, got feedback, got critiqued, gave critique, argued, made up, and sent a lot of stupid stickers.
2. Design Process
Fairly early in the process, we started mi-fi prototyping. As the name suggests, it’s a stage between low-fi prototype (wireframes) and hi-fi prototype (final UI with user flows). It shows how UI components and contents connect with each other, which lowers the cost of failure and increase the speed of early stage communication. It’s also a quite important approach to let our clients better understand digital design, showing them how we work differently from traditional design agencies.
After we finish UI, we have another round of IxD which is more about micro-interactions such as hover status, animations, etc. These little details are what make things awesome.
The difference between traditional design and digital design is all about dynamic interactions and designs. A mood board or storyboard may work for a branding project but not for a digital project because we need to let people try and feel the whole experience for themselves. We create an open space, then we let people come and think about what they want to do instead of telling them what to do, because our role is to engage but not persuade — that’s the beauty of interaction design.
Who are we designing for? The client? The client’s client? We care about usability, performance, implementation difficulty, backend efforts. We basically care about everything, and strongly believe that sustainable design will show its value throughout the lifespan of the product.
To make rational decisions considering all parties, we made a solution matrix, listed every detail that we prioritized, and tried to compare them with a holistic perspective. We want to help our client getting a clear view of everything, sorting out priorities and make the best solution for them and their clients. In this project, we provided several layouts, listed the difficulty of implementation, the effort for editors, etc.
4. Design Principles
We use a minimal approach not only for visual design. For us, it’s more about a philosophy to deal with such a messy world. In this project, we needed to show hundreds of artists’ work and needed to determine a healthy way to keep a balance: minimal, using no style to support all the individual styles of the artists.
Minimal design is also good for performance and implementation. We don’t want to design another fancy website which will load 5 minutes and make your computer scream. Imagine you are at an event, you want to show your brand new website to some potential clients on your phone, but the loading bar stops at 15%. You feel awkward, drink another beer, and your potential clients pretending nothing happened. If you’re lucky, they are nice and patient (unlikely). Anyways, finally it’s loaded and it’s not perfectly responsive — simply ridiculous.
So, that’s our “behind the scenes” for this project. We faced lots of challenges, including our client having a strong creative background. The vibes were quite different from our geeky digital style, so you can imagine how difficult it can get for us to find agreement on design decisions. But this is also what happens all the time, and it’s our mission to build the digital bridge between art and technology. Digital is always evolving — and so must we. We enjoy the process and strive to figure out how to adapt to rapid changes in the real world and design in dynamic conditions. We have strong skills, we think deeply, and we don’t want to just follow the trend and build something without its own personality.
We found our own ways to design. How about you?