It's rare that I make a particular design deliverable in the same way on more than one occasion. The folders of my work laptop are filled with diagrams, maps, sketches, and frameworks that were used, at best, two or three times. Often only once.

The most common deliverable I produce is a jig. In metalworking and woodworking, Wikipedia tells us, a jig is a custom-made tool used to control the location and/or motion of another tool. Jigs are typically improvised, temporary, and built out of whatever is lying around. Your chin and chest form a jig to hold the coat hanger while you unbutton your dress shirt. An upturned sweatshirt is a jig to hold the berries you stumbled upon on that walk in the woods.

An example from my stagecraft days:

Say you need a very long straight cut at a diagonal across an 8'x4' sheet of plywood. The best available tool to make this cut is a handheld circular saw. This is not an easy cut to make, especially for an inexperienced craftsmen. A jig levels the playing field:

  1. Find the longest straightest board (1x4 or 2x4 is typical) you can that exceeds the length of your desired cut.
  2. Measure the distance between your blade (accounting for blade width) and the outer edge of your saw (call this X)
  3. Measure and mark a new cut, at the same angle, X-distance further in from the original.
  4. Align your board to the new mark and clamp firmly.
  5. Run your saw along the board.

In this scenario, you're not really paying attention to the cut that you want, to the original line — rather, by focusing on the outer edge of the blade, and its proximity and perpendicularity to the jig, you're ensured a much straighter cut than if you'd freehanded it.

This is often how I think about my digital design deliverables. My experience with physical processes, with real-world crafts and the making of things, has given me the confidence to know that intentionally framing my attention within a particular set of constraints can yield a quality result, even if my attention is not directly set upon those results. Especially if my attention is not directly set upon the end result.

That's a long-winded way of saying: good design solutions don't have to be arrived at directly. In my experience, they rarely are.

Inexperienced designers have a tendency to focus too much on the particularities of a given deliverable at the expense of the particularities of the design need. Those in career transition — from print design to interactive design, for instance — are especially prone to this mistake. Lack of confidence in one's own abilities creates superstitions about how other designers have arrived at successful solutions.

Saying that "wireframes are dead" or "personas are king" sounds as silly to me as "torque wrenches are dead" or "pneumatic tools are king". The bad news is that the right tool for your job, for your current design problem, probably doesn't exist. The good news is that there are only so many types of design problems, and many of them are similar enough that you can learn a great deal from how others are solving those problems. Never turn down a chance to tour someone else's workshop, but never confuse it for your own.

The next time a tough design problem crops up, take a moment to consider if you could devise something new to make solving it easier. Consider building a jig.

Posted
AuthorScott Kubie

Welcome to Meeting Club.

First rule: We do not talk about meetings. We just have them.

Second rule: We do NOT talk about meetings.

Third rule: If someone says "stop", "I have another meeting to get to", or "the building is on fire and we'll all die if we don't leave right now", the meeting will continue.

Fourth rule: Only two people to a meeting. Plus anyone that's been involved in the project so far, or that might want to know about the project, or whose advice we might need in the last few minutes of the meeting, a project manager, and the other department's project manager.

Fifth rule: Only one meeting at a time. Ideally, right in the middle of your otherwise open afternoon.

Sixth rule: No agendas, no decisions.

Seventh rule: Meetings will go on as long as they have to, and then an additional 45 minutes.

Eighth rule: If this is your first time at Meeting Club, just keep quiet and learn how we do things, okay? There's a system.

Posted
AuthorScott Kubie

A quick thought on feedback and reviewing designs — perhaps of particular use to junior designers whose work goes in front of a more senior designer or manager before stakeholders see it.

Busy stakeholders and managers will often try to poke holes in a design or draft just to see if you're confident in it. The particular items that they highlight or question aren't necessarily a source of concern for them; they're just working quickly and tend to mention whatever stands out.

There's a difference between "people might notice this" and "this is going to cause a problem". Welcome the comment, but don't be afraid to ask if what's been pointed out is actually problematic, or is just a statement of fact about what we're all looking at. However empathetic your reviewers, they'll never quite approach things the same way a customer will.

Sometimes, the best response I can offer to comments like "this seems unusual" or "won't people notice [x]" is "Yes." Followed by a brief silence. Followed by everyone getting on with the work.

Posted
AuthorScott Kubie

I've been part of many great brainstorming sessions. I just wish the good ones outnumbered the bad ones.

It's been my experience that brainstorming is organized with the best of intentions. Yet many still suffer from an ignorance of -- or unwillingness to follow -- the structure of the brainstorming format. This leads to subpar results.

This frustrating reality led me to create this talk. I found the Ignite format surprisingly challenging, but also inspiring in the way creative limitations are supposed to be.

Many thanks to the organizers, crowd, and fellow presenters of Ignite Ames. It was a wonderful time and I hope to be back in 2014.

Posted
AuthorScott Kubie

Six buttons on the control panel of a silver-colored 80s VCR.

Snapped this pic at Goodwill earlier today. This control panel is sexier than any bullshit "flat" design I've seen people fawning over on Dribbble lately.

Icons + clear labels + large touch targets + clean aesthetic + visual and tactile feedback. Perfect buttons. They even made a nice soft "click" sound when pressed.

Posted
AuthorScott Kubie
CategoriesUX and Design