Do you think as a design community that we are building the right tools for ourselves? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
Answer by Adam Michela, Designer and Engineer at Facebook, Airbnb, Dropbox, Last, Gowalla, and more, on Quora.
In the practice of interface design for digital products, I do not believe that designers are building the right tools for themselves.
With software, we have the distinct advantage of having design and production in close proximity to one another. In an optimal process in which we'll leverage our advantage, you can imagine a smooth workflow between design and a working implementation of tangible outward value.
This is possible. This workflow was historically common and remains practiced by many. However, few tools are optimized for this process. The tools that are do not readily enable the creation and interoperation of the many individual pieces of software that comprise most modern products.
Because (in large part) of this inefficacy of our tools, this process is no longer most common. Instead it is more common for designers to spend the vast majority of their time creating artifacts which are of no tangible value and which are unrepresentative of reality.
For the majority of the design processes today, we spend our time in graphic or photo editors creating high fidelity -- "pixel perfect" -- representations of our interfaces in an idyllic state. More recently, we've adopted high fidelity prototyping tools to take us farther down that path, creating interactive software to represent our interfaces in their idyllic states. These tools have adopted implementation paradigms such as code and rule-based layout to take us even further, but are no closer to working implementations of outward value or even close to true representations of reality.
It is within these later stages of the contemporary software design process that many errors are made. Our designs do not well consider the constraints or capabilities of our implementations. They do not consider common use cases, edge cases, or the typical pressures of real world use.
It is within these later stages of the contemporary software design process that organizational tensions and non-meaningful specializations are created. We expect production implementations of our interfaces to correspond directly -- "one to one" -- with our graphics and presentations regardless of their quality in reality. We, as design practitioners, demand ownership of our interfaces but eschew the responsibility of ensuring they are realistic, robust, and complete.
It is within these later stages of the contemporary software design process that incredible amounts of time and capital are wasted. We spend weeks or months producing graphical representations of interfaces, and then go to extreme lengths to keep those graphics and interactive presentations in close synchronization with our interfaces as they continue to evolve outside of our purview.
It is within these later stages of the contemporary software design process that we are often ensnared in a vicious cycle of endless iteration and internal review, failing to deliver value to the world.
I believe that going forward, there is opportunity to create tools that blend (rather than bridge) design and implementation. And I believe that, going forward, the seemingly inevitable inclusion of three-dimensional interfaces in the typical digital product design process will demand this.
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