Sunday, May 08, 2005

Thinking about design

Update: (May 24, 2005) I have added a few skecthes of what Molly and I scribbled on beermats: One with the streams from business to users and back, and one with my t-model's business layer added (with terms generalized from "IA" to "design").

It's Sunday afternoon and I'm sitting at home after a night out drinking with Molly Steenson (after a great unexpected dinner party at BlastRadius' Lee Feldman's beautiful canal-side house). Beside me on the couch is a stack of 8 beermats with scribbles on them. They are the result of an inspirational talk with Molly about the question: What kind of freelancer will I be?

The core of our discussion was about the choice between business and design: Business is about money, design about users. The ways in which information crosses this chasm are through delivering content and services (from businesses to users) and through understanding usage patterns (from users to businesses).
business versus money, circle with streams
A designer who 'gets it' considers how a service will make money for a client and be useful for users at the same time. A client who 'gets it' doesn't ask for "some usability for our web application" but asks for "a succesful service". Design doesn't come as an afterthought but is core to the concept of a service.

The addition of a business layer to my t-model for user experience acknowledges that there is something in between business and user experience design. Like me, the layer focusses on thinking about design, organizing design efforts and managing designers.
business layer on top of circle with streams

My efforts in the last 4 years have been aimed at establishing standards for UX teams, standards in the way they operate, deliver and communicate.
Once a company has established standards, they can be used in at least 3 ways that businesses will appreciate:
  • increase rates: if you have found an appropriate, proven and repeatable way to do your job there is less risk for your client and they can decide to hire you at a higher price than a less reliable competitor.
  • win more clients: even if you don't raise your rates, you'll still be able to deliver higher quality work at the same price, leading to more clients choosing you. Having a documented way of working then allows you to scale-up quickly, educating new hires by teaching them about your templates, process charts and examples.
  • lower rates: if competition is fierce, having an estimation model that is based on measurements from previous projects (that also used your standardized process) allows you to propose a lower price with less room for unforseen activities. Here educating new hires about your process allows you to hire less experienced (=cheaper) designers next to your experienced ones.
Molly encouraged me to label myself business consultant because I can teach businesses how to organize design departments (as opposed to what the people from MIG5 do; they organize entire businesses using design knowledge). I on the other hand think I want to keep the label of designer because I want to stay in touch with the people whose work I help organize. But will I be allowed to think about design as a freelance designer? I have seen job descriptions for senior designers where organizing the department is part of the job. Is there such a thing as senior freelance designer?


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