Design It to Define It

More to come certainly, but I just wanted to mention the highlight of my SXSW experience was the 2nd discussion “panel” I attended: How to Make Big Things Happen With Small Teams. Basically it was all about the insights Jason Fried of 37signals gained from his experience building products and running a small company. Almost everything he said is directly applicable to the situation at my company with our product development team.
We use the agile method but we have been struggling for ways to really integrate the interface design and concept development into the process. Jason’s insights will help. Now I have to organize my thoughts on this and review his slides (PDF) once again. It figures that the panel I thought was the most helpful was also the one I took the least notes in.
My main take away will be to really attempt to stay away from verbal specifications in favor of visual ones. All too often, as Jason points out, written specifications are only created for the sake of creating them or in an attempt to cover our asses later. Every CEO and Director of Marketing I have ever dealt with doesn’t ever really “get it” until they can click on the links and see the site or product working. Why not start with that?
Recently, I have actually been pushing for a bit more documentation because I currently lack an intimate understanding of how our products are used. I was hoping by fleshing out the system on paper as part of user story creation I would gain this understanding. This has helped some, but it has also slowed our process down to a crawl and the only thing it is really doing is making me less timid to start designs. Maybe I should just jump in and be willing to make mistakes? I am beginning to think an approach that begins with visual design and prototyping with a greater number of revision cycles is the way to go.
To poorly paraphrase Jason:

“Really become your product’s user and then make the product you want to use.”

I hope to continue my evaluation in greater detail soon but for now here are some others’ thoughts:
Subtraction review (a bit more in-depth).
Ta-da list of other notes.
O’Reilly Interview with Jason

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