What Are Your Project’s Design Pillars?

Caryn Vainio
May 3, 2013 · 3 min read

When I’m faced with crafting the proper user experience for a particular part of the game I’m working on, there’s one thing I do right at the start: I write a column header called “Design Goals” on my sketchpad, and beneath that I write down what this part of the game is supposed to do for the player. It should always be one or two bullet points — any longer than that and some deep questions would have to be asked in regards to whether or not we know what purpose this element serves for our game.

Having this column right there on my sketchpad forces me to evaluate every UX-related decision I’m making as I’m sketching. The question is always, is what I’m designing in service to this design goal?

In a conversation with my husband not long ago — who happens to be a designer and in the game industry himself — he mentioned the concept of “pillars” in a game or a product . There are usually two or three pillars that a project rests on, and everything that everyone does in the development of that project should be in support of those pillars. If it doesn’t support those pillars, it’s wasted work.

Essentially, my “Design Goals” technique is a way of reminding myself of what the pillars are in the project I’m working on, and the idea can be extended to whole products.

I’m working on designing an app in my spare time. (I know, who isn’t, right?) I’m a knitter, and this app is all about effective and easy counting for your rows, pattern repeats, and increases or decreases throughout a knitting project. I decided to tackle this project for three reasons: first, I was looking for a good non-game side project. Second, I wanted to get experience actually designing and creating an app in XCode myself. And third, I had looked at the knitting counter apps out there, and I found them sorely lacking.

While on my lengthy commute the other day, I was thinking about my project. My mind wandered, and I started thinking about how I wanted to display the knitter’s projects. Various display ideas floated around in my head, and pretty soon I was imagining that I could extend this idea — I could let people Like your projects on Facebook, and the projects with the most Likes would have the largest image. I thought of all kinds of ways that you could tie your projects into social media, and—

—and that’s when I stopped. I reminded myself of what my app’s design pillars were: be the best-designed counting app for knitting out there, and be effortless and joyful to use. I remembered that conversation about pillars. Is social media and like-clouding the knitter’s display in service to my product’s design pillars? No. All it would do is add clutter and water down the essence of my design.

Do you design in service to your project’s design pillars?

Design Bits

Thoughts and inspiration about design.

    Caryn Vainio

    Written by

    Was in astrophysics, now a UX designer. Also a belly dancer, alpaca farmer, yarn spinner. See my work at http://www.carynvainio.com.

    Design Bits

    Thoughts and inspiration about design.

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