Fergus Hurley is an Irish entrepreneur working in Silicon Valley. We have written about two of his projects before; Clixtr and PicBounce. Fergus has agreed to share his observations and experiences in the form of a three part series which we will feature on Technology Voice every Wednesday. The subjects he will discuss are design, development and distribution. These are the three most important elements in the process that brings a project from just being an idea to being a product in the market. This week Fergus will talk about design.
When you are coming up with a web concept design is probably the most important part of your success. Because if you don’t have good design people are not going to be able to use your product. The first part of design is need finding.
Finding out what do people want and what people want to do with your product. You might have the best idea in the world but if nobody wants to use then is it really a great idea? Once you have the idea about what people should be able to do with new technology then you need to be able to take it and come up with the best incarnation of that.
Historically, design has been less important in the web and in engineering in general. But we are now entering the era where design is number one. It is a space that is evolving all the time.
It is much harder than engineering in the sense that there aren’t any fundamental principles that that you can count on to remain the same and stay constant. The fundamental laws of gravity don’t change but design philosophies are changing all the time based on what is possible with technology and what people actually want to do with the technology.
Who to hire first, a designer or engineer?
I would say that one designer can keep many engineers busy. In the first early stages what you want to have is a really awesome designer who is committed to your product. The impact that a designer can have in a few hours is much larger than an engineer can have in a similar amount of time. That is not to devalue the engineer’s time but it takes a long time to build out the applications because it takes time to code.
Getting a designer that is really awesome is crucial. If you try and hire a designer that matches your salary constraints as a startup you might end up with a designer that is not the most awesome one out there. It is a false economy. An awesome designer will produce better work in a much shorter period thus you may even ultimately end up with a lower cost.
How to find and what to look for in a good designer?
Finding good designers in Silicon Valley is a very difficult thing. I would say that to find a really, really good designer there are probably two ways:
- One, is that you look at a really good product that is tangential to your space and you find out who designed it. Then you contact that designer and try and recruit them to work on your stuff. That is probably the best way. That designer has experience. They have already proven how good they are and you are impressed with your work.
This approach also works with personal connections. You can ask your friends, “Do you know any designers?” When you get their recommendations you can look at the designer’s work and then you can reach out to them.
Also, since good people have a tendency to associate with others that are as good if not better then themselves, if a great designer is not available it may be worth being referred to one of their associates who may be available.
- The second way is to put a job posting out there and to try and get someone through that mechanism. But I think that is less effective than going out to try and find a product that is brilliant and was conceived by a great designer.
Good judgement has to be used
There are many facets to design. Just like in engineering you may have one engineer who is good at iPhone development. You may have another who is good at Ruby on Rails development and another engineer who is good at front end development. Each one of those skill sets is specific in itself. Probably all three of those engineers understand the other two area but only one is going to be really good at their particular speciality.
The same with design. A lot of the time one designer won’t be able to do all the different parts. User experience design, laying out the flows of how people will go through the application, is a different skill-set to those possessed by the people who put the skin on that and make it look beautiful.
The different steps of the design process
- Need finding: What to people want?
- User experience: Paper prototyping. The application I recommend to use for that is balsamiq.
- User testing: Once you have the balsamiq mockups you can show the flow of the application to people. At this point you ask them such questions as, “Here is the homepage, what button would you press?” “Is this what you were expecting when you pressed this button?” “If not, what would you have expected to happen?” And so on.
- Take it from the mock up to the UI. This is where you use the photoshop documents that look really good. The hi-fidelity prototypes. Then you do more user testing.
- Turn it into an actual product. Now you do usability testing. You are not asking the person, “Would you use this?” anymore. Now you are asking very specific questions and you are giving very specific tasks to your testers. Asking them to find a specific route through your application to a specific goal, etc.
We have talked about the design process in this article. Next week we will be discussing product development and working with developers and the week thereafter we will be discussing distribution.
Inspired: How to Create Products Customers Love by Mark Cagan
Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug