Wednesday, August 8, 2012

User Experience Design is Not a Sprint - It's a Process

One of the biggest problems I see in my design practice is the design "sprint". A sprint is where a designer (like me) will crank out a lot of various designs very quickly. I can do this, I am good at it actually, but it's a bad way to do interface design. Sprints came from the advertising agency world and really has zero place in web product development. I think a lot of people don't understand how to do SCRUM / Agile development and assume that you can "go Agile" with design by having your designer do sprints.

A sprint competition - vs. - a results oriented growth process. Which is better?
On the left are Olympic sprinters running for gold. They are competing with other sprinters simply to be fastest.  The one and only goal in this competition is speed. Only one person wins. On the right is a tomato plant from my garden bearing 50+ tomatoes and it's still growing, a lot. I think this is a good metaphor for technology start-ups since the tomato follows a growth  process to bear fruit.

The tomato starts as a seed (the founder's idea) and then sprouts to life with some water (funding). As the plant "starts" you have to nurture it carefully give it water, sunlight and nutrients (i.e. make strategic decisions about your business). Only by giving your tomato some love will the plant grow, the more sun/water/nutrient love you give it, the faster it grows. But you still can not rush the process. You must let the plant perform it's growth process naturally, be patient, and soon it will start flowering. Flowering is like launching your product and just because you've launched doesn't mean you're done! You're simply in the flowering phase, attracting bees (users). If you're tomato has started & grown well it will have a profusion of flowers. If you're stingy with your love to the tomato, it will show, and you won't get that many flowers, and it won't be enticing to the bees.  Incidentally it helps to have other flowering plants around your veggie because this really get's the bees excited about your tomato. This is like positioning your start-up well in the marketplace. User-bees visit (your website) & pollinate (interact with) your plant, eventually creating fruit. Once pollinated the fruit (revenues) still need to ripen. At first, the fruit is slow so you keep tending to your plant, ripping out weeds, eradicating pests, giving it love, making it and the bees as happy as you can. If you check-out for a week or so, you can undermine all the effort you already put in, and literally loose your fruit before it ripens. Just like If you're a good start-up gardener you'll have so many tomatoes you'll have to "put them away" (save money in the bank).

Over the past year I've encountered the sprint a little too often, and they never work out. Especially for complicated software products this is a stupid way to approach design. An interface is a visual and sensory experience. You NEED visual and interactive design thinking to translate the technical back-end components into something meaningful for human beings. In a start-up environment, is it the designer's purpose to compete with the rest of the team? Is their only goal to be fast? To "beat" other people in the company? Are the executives supposed to be like trainers? Constantly staring at the clock freaking out about time? 

Why do so many people like the idea of design sprints? I would LOVE to hear other people's thoughts. Is it about money? Do executives feel like their saving money by trying to rush the process? Is it about ego? Is it fun to make creatives perform circus tricks? When I meet a "hurry, hurry" entrepreneur I never understand why they are in such a rush. It just makes me wonder if they have a drug problem, seriously. I just do not get it. Somebody please comment.