Photo by Chris McVeigh (@ActionFigured)

How to Survive in Design (and in a Zombie Apocalypse)

Let's pretend for a moment that you are battling zombies, because you live in a post-apocalyptic world where the pursuit of immortality has led scientists to the accidental creation of brain-famished, undead creatures who can only be killed with a straight shot to their brain (ironic, isn't it?)

Now, you have a shotgun which you're pretty handy with. You're camped out in a rickety cabin in the woods with a few other intrepid survivors. The zombies emerge from the trees slowly, one at a time, so as long as someone's keeping watch, it's not hard to shoot them down before they make it to your door. You and your compadres also happen to have an unlimited supply of bullets and food in your cabin. Also Quentin Tarantino’s entire oeuvre,and cards and iPads to use in your downtime. You can keep up this lifestyle indefinitely. As far as zombie-apocalypses go, life isn't too shabby.

Until the zombies start to evolve.

And then, suddenly, their patterns change. Instead of stumbling forward one at a time, they come in waves. In fact, stumbling is now an inaccurate description. It’s more like speed-walking. The zombies are getting more advanced. They've figured out how to hold bonfire strategy sessions.

Fortunately, you're still pretty handy with that shotgun. Your skill is such that even with their new speed and numbers, you can shoot and reload and shoot and reload and clear the attack before it gets out of hand. It's not necessarily elegant, but it works. And your cozy cabin is still safe.

Then, one day, one of your cabinmates calls you down to the basement with excitement in her voice. You find her in a dusty, cobwebbed corner crouched around a giant box. Stamped across the top of the wooden lid are words INCREDIBLY POTENT ZOMBIELIMINATOR™. Below that, in smaller type: Warning: must read and commit instructions to memory before use.

A meeting is called. The entire cabin crew gathers around the new weapon. It comes with a 70-page instruction manual that uses big, complicated words like sesquipedalian and prolix and tectonically thermodynamic submergence that leaves you all scratching your heads. “It'll take us months to learn how to use this thing,” somebody complains. “Seriously,” somebody else agrees, “We’re pros at shooting zombies right now. Who even knows if this new thing is better. Why bother with it?”

Everyone looks to you, because somehow you’ve been nominated the leader of this ragtag band. What do you do? Pack the box away and return it to that dusty corner in the basement? Continue to defend against those zombies with your shotgun? Or take the time to learn how to use this new thing specifically created to eliminate zombies?

Don't be an idiot. Of course you should get comfortable with the ZOMBIELIMINATOR™. What if the zombies continue to evolve? What if they get faster, swell in numbers, then rush in to swallow you like a tidal wave?

Listen: the world around us is changing. We’re not at a zombie apocalypse (not yet at least) but we are stepping into shifting technological currents. Fifteen years ago, most designers worked in print. Ten years ago, web sites became the next big thing, and slowly designers learned how to make them more and more interactive. Now, the cutting-edge has transitioned to mobile. And mobile is a different beast. We’re only beginning to scratch the surface of its potential. While conforming to the web model of clicking to advance from one screen to another might still “work” on mobile, is “work” really the right bar? Mobile apps can be immersive and manipulatable and constantly changing. Mobile devices can know how you're holding them, and what gesture you used with how many fingers from what direction and with what velocity. They know when and where you are, and how you're moving.And they’re always with you.

So why do so many of us still use a series of static mocks to describe a mobile design? Why do we continue to describe in words how we think a particular interaction or animation should work? Why is Photoshop still the de facto tool? Most importantly—how can we expect to explore and push the creative limits of the platform if we aren’t using tools that can replicate what the latest and greatest technologies are capable of?

It’s true that learning Objective-C or Java is hard. Wading through a new API isn't without its costs. QuartzComposer, which many designers on our team use, takes weeks or even months to get comfortable with. And building better tools than these is even harder.

And yet. The tools that kept you safe thus far, that you've mastered well enough to use in your sleep—those tools will not always be sufficient. Even if you're not working on mobile now, there's a good chance you will. Soon. So invest in new tools. Take the weekend to navigate a 70-page instruction manual. Or take time to write a better manual. Or build a better ZOMBIELIMINATOR™ altogether.

Because when those zombies come knocking at your door, you'll want to be ready to kick some ass, Tarantino-style.

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