Published by: Erik Ralston
Much like when writing a book, writing software can be a rigorous process of drafting, evaluating, and rewriting. Inside the LiveDev team – the software development team inside of LiveTiles – we go through these same iterations when mocking up and implement user interfaces for our products. Much like when writing a book, we rely upon a process of creation, comment, and editing to achieve the best possible work. Instead of the process centering on lone geniuses manipulating pixels by themselves, it is a collaborative process fulfilled most critically be a meeting we call the “Design Studio”.
Design Studio is a meeting that helps the development team examine and improve designs as a team. It is a bi-weekly meeting, built into a sprint calendar, for the entire development team to review user interface design and offer improvements, organically sharing best practices. These designs may include simply the most recent work of a developer, the handcrafted mockup from a designer, or one draft implementation of a whole new feature. These meetings present the interface in detail and enable refinement through collaboration.
One presenter walks through a current product or mockup, which can consist of a PowerPoint presentation, a Photoshop creation, example alternatives, or a branch of a current product which has had a new feature implemented into it. The presenter describes its use case, features, and details. The presenter also touches upon the technical constraints and underlying architecture whenever necessary to understand the behavior of the interface.
Another part of the process is ensuring at least one person has never seen the changes presented and getting their reaction as a “new user.” The presenter then starts over with their scenario and there is feedback given on perceived improvements. It is an open forum where everyone on the team can engage a respectful debate around the reasoning on how or why certain aspects in the design can be improved.
This couldn’t be any truer in the sense that when designing a UI, many drafts are created. Developers are constantly writing and rewriting and until it is perfect. There are minute details such as font, size, or color which can cause concern and plausibility for redesign. There are also more complex issues such as consistency with other products.
Respectful debate is commonplace as we struggle to reconcile between differing opinions – most often trying to strike the balance between form and function. We attempt to always lobby based on user-interface and human-computer interaction best practices, common discussions including whether or not actions are discoverable and ensuring visual design or interactions are consistent across products.
For existing products, we usually come away with a stack of bugs and backlog items in Visual Studio Team Services for the development team to implement in the next sprint for the product. For mockups, it most often means a litany of small refinements that will be made before passing them on to a developer for implementation. It also exposes everyone on the team to best practices and organically educates individuals on the team on best practices.
The LiveTiles Design Studio a great way to make one structured, impactful meeting where you focus on incremental improvements on designs. The LiveDev team believes that it’s a simple and easy-to-use format that can help anyone aspiring to make great design understand that it’s not the work a lone genius, but iterative refinement in a team environment that makes the best user experiences.