Refining the design process at inKind. Or: Why did you choose the path of a designer if you’re not enjoying what you do.
As I took the leap from full-time to “consulting”, there were a lot of aspirations I had for what Kaloupek Design could become. One of them was to work with good people on impactful projects with a great team. By design or accident, I’ve found that with our team at inKind.
Amongst many values I scribbled down last year was a reminder to myself: Enjoy the process of Design (again). Often work is rushed, and you’re looking for a means to the end. Time will always be a factor, but why are you a designer? Why did you choose this path in life if you’re not enjoying what you do. And a lot of what I enjoy isn’t always the result, but the process of collaboration that achieves that result.
What I do can be most easily segmented into 3 buckets of:
- Research & user concepts
- Wireframe, prototype & visual design
- Implement, test and iterate in code
And as a designer, you know when you’ve found the right team when they respect that first bullet of research; what you put into the design process is equivalent to the result you’ll achieve. Especially when you go from a novice at understanding of the nonprofit industry and how to trigger empathy in a potential donor. I’ve had to do a lifetime of learning in the past 6 months. As we’ve accumulated a body of work at inKind, we took time to step back to diagram how we we’re working, and how this collaboration was working.
There are two bubbles floating off to the side, that help generate the features we design. Business needs – things we learn from our users and drive product market fit. And Design Sessions – we have a distributed team, so when we’re together in Charleston we reserve time for a design session that builds to team alignment.
A great example of this is our persona design that evolved during a design session. The goal of the session was to understand the concept of “engagement” on the platform, and how to create a push/pull between donors and nonprofits. In order to get to engagement concepts, we needed to do the research to best understand “who” these users are. An experience design session helped us define these personas: thinking through a day in their life, how technology impacts them, positives and negatives.
I created some generic persona posters and decorated them with descriptors that came out of the experience design session. I’ll give full credit to the UX team at Mailchimp for this idea. These posters have stayed up on the wall, been modified, and remind us who we’re building the platform for.
The right time for Feedback
Some of the most important parts of this process are where and how we elicit feedback from the team and actual users. Because we’re moving at light speed, we need recognizable points for team feedback. Otherwise, “get out of our own way and execute violently” per our co-CEO Nick Black.
Broad vision with Narrow focus
Another concept that arose is broad vision with narrow focus. We’re a startup, at the beginning of building a billion dollar company. There are many things we could do, but what’s the right one for today? Our process let’s me explore broadly during the research phase and capture the full scope of a feature. Then narrow focus in the second sprint. Design lean for what we can accomplish in a MVP.
Design Concepts vs. a Coded User Experience
There is a chart at the bottom of the diagram – it’s purpose is to remind us that design is just a concept, an educated guess, until it’s developed and goes live. Because I also handle front-end development for the team, it affords me the opportunity to bring enough visual resolution to a wireframe so it can be understood (this is what we’re building). Then iterate and refine the feature in code. This helps us move fast and not get stuck in a pixel-perfect concept that doesn’t execute well.
Conclusion: Enjoy your Design Process
We’ll see how long this latest diagram lasts. Like any agile company, we change quickly. As a designer, you need to realize that nothing is so sacred you can’t let it go and start over. What is working today will change as the team grows. So enjoy it while you can.
Would love to hear some thoughts from other design leaders and how this fits their experience.