New Tech Talk: Enough Design

August 24, 2010 Sean Beckett

A great agile design process is complementary to a great agile development process and produces products that people love enough to generate real value.

The right amount of design, and how far ahead that design needs to occur, varies significantly by task. Knowing what it is you’re building before development starts leads to a much more focused (i.e. better, faster, cheaper) product. However, high fidelity, pixel-level design work is best done with the designer pairing directly with the developer rather than producing documentation that becomes ever more stale between writing and implementation. The investment in a 500 page PRD filled with pixel-perfect photoshop comps is one that tends to bring more rigidity than value to a product. Design ideas need to be tested as quickly as possible, so that the design process, like the development process, benefits from a short feedback loop and real user validation.

A great agile design is thematic and generative. It consists of a coherent vision, and a set of rules we can apply to new problems as the application develops.

There is a tension in the agile world between the notion of ultimate flexibility that agile proposes and the need for coherency and excellence that great design provides. This talk is intended to provide a framework to help yourself ask — as a designer or as a developer — “What is Enough Design?”, and to share our experience as to what has worked well in practice on our many projects at Pivotal Labs.

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