How to get away with zombie designs

by Ash García — Sr. UX/UI Designer at UTAG

The digital world implies so much immediacy and change that concluding a design can become a never-ending task. It challenges designers to keep in mind that every idea can be revised over and over again, spiraling into a creative continuum. It may very well end up becoming a zombie design — one that eats our brains out. There’s a risk you can never get it off of your mind.

In Graphics Design school, the way you get evaluated is through assignments. You get real-world tasks and are asked to develop a branding, a teaser, an online newspaper or whatever piece is required. We call them presentations because you present what you’ve devoted hours and hours to designing, polishing, and correcting over numerous classes up until deadline.

I came across so many people repeating “designs are presented, not finished” through the college hallways, I began to consider it a proverb. I think it truly condenses the question us designers face all the time — how do you know when you’re done designing something?

Every time we work on a static piece, the end is tangible: billboards are printed or final versions of 1,000 beautifully-designed notebooks get a thumbs up. The world of physical objects forces us to put an end to the designing phase. It needs to be finished so we can see it and then correct, adjust, and make changes perhaps more than once, even thousands of times, because everything can be perfected from a maverick designer’s point of view. And that’s the same kind of person who wonders what can be improved constantly, and of course, I’m one of those.

The final design is static because it simply just is and it must remain that way, as the tangible concretion of a process. It’s susceptible to change not in itself but in that it can potentially be recreated and improved in a close or distant future.

The digital world introduces designers to a new range of possibilities when it comes to the final versions of our designs. Not long ago, digital was associated with interactive as their main and distinctive feature. But I don’t feel it’s necessary unique to that realm; that’s not what makes digital products special.

Design is first and foremost a form of communication. It’s more than a simple act of aesthetic. It’s conceived to be interactive in a variety of ways and with all kinds of purposes, regardless of the piece. That’s why I believe that the singular aspect of digital is its changing nature because we can observe how it interacts in real-time with those who view it whatever format it’s in. It’s like a zombie design that keeps coming back no matter how much we try to destroy it with “this is the final design.” It comes back to life through modern rituals from the pixels in a website, that show us how the elements in an interface are working, to new behavioral indicators that tell us things like how long an app remains installed on users’ phones.

Beta phases are also worth mentioning. They are the next to get infected and they allow us to see ahead, understanding a certain performance. Or A/B testing, where we literally test two different ways of doing the same thing.

Digital feels more ethereal, more malleable. Far from the ingenuity of believing these changes are harder to make than redesigning something in the physical world, they open the doors to a new type of design. I think that’s what makes digital products unique: design has become dynamic and volatile. Going back to college hallways, the phrase “designs are presented, not finished” is truly embodied; redoing and redesigning is at the core of digital.

The act of designing a digital process from scratch introduces us to the potential idea of change as a component of the creative process. That’s why these zombie designs, just like this film character, remain alive beyond the end, It really invites us designers to approach things under the premise that they may change anytime… and come back.

In conclusion and in my opinion, we’d better get used to this — to constant change. Flexibility and responsiveness to our surroundings have to be at their peak. These are the qualities we need to acquire and hold as dear as our favorite typefaces. The answer to the question “how do you know when you’re done designing something?” may very well be never. We just have to pay attention to that zombie when it comes back, and possess the tools to attack it until we find a way out and hide somewhere safe until it finds us again.

Let’s travel the post-mortem world of the benefits designers obtain as a result of the immediacy and fluctuation of digital, which restrains us from being able to reach the culmination of our work, leading to an eternal creative process that never dies — like a zombie feeding off of us that keeps coming back for one more bite.