Design sign-off, your days are numbered

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Author information: Ben Enright , Head of UX Design , Post information: 2 May 2019 , 3 min read ,
Related post categories: Digital products ,

Sign-off implies final, but digital products are never finished. They evolve. They flex with technology and adapt for shifting user needs.

We’re speeding up our design process by solving user problems together with our clients, and asking for feedback on the things that count…

Last year, I went through a lengthy design process for a health charity client. After multiple rounds of feedback and iteration, we had a polished, pixel-perfect, fully signed-off design. Handshakes all round! We did it, we got sign-off. Those cherished words!

I recently looked back at the mockups from day 1. They were pretty similar to the final outcome. Actually, on reflection I think they were better. I wondered why we spent weeks and weeks tweaking the design, when after just a week (or even a day), we could have asked: “Have we solved the problem? Yes? Shall we move on?”

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"Can you make the logo bigger?"

Too many cooks...

It’s human tendency to suggest design changes and offer opinions when asked to. On fixed-price projects people can think 'I ought to ask for changes since we have we payed for it'...and when asked for ‘sign-off’, they respond ‘well, I want it to be perfect before I sign it off’.

The process can drag and I question whether multiple rounds of feedback substantially changes things for the better? Maybe we’re just asking the wrong questions?

So I revisited the designs we produced on a few other recent major projects; our designers had already created some great work and a clear, cohesive vision very early on. However the process still became drawn out, where multiple rounds of client feedback pushed the concepts away from the designers original intentions, probably resulting in a less unified design system.

A rapid 'time + materials' approach to designing digital products is the way forward. One where we trust in our design experience, work collaboratively, ask for less feedback, and reflect on how successful our design solutions are, much earlier.

Establishing a shared design vision

It’s important to agree the design vision early on. We do this by running ‘design experiments’. We’re playful with the brand - we’ll try things out and mess around with interaction ideas. Some things work. Others won’t. But, that’s OK, we’ll share it all.

It’s a stage when no-one’s precious of anything, yet we come away with a sense of direction. It’s enough to get going on what really counts.

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Design experiments for MSF UK

Working together to solve a problem

Equipped with a brand toolkit and our shared vision, we start working in week-long design sprints. User Researcher, Designer, Content Designer and (client) Product Owner all in the room. We knuckle down and focus on solving a user problem.

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Working together on an experience map with Sue Ryder

Often a mobile interface is enough to test our assumptions, and with less layout decisions to make, we can focus on content hierarchy. So we prototype…

We don’t deliberate on trivial visual design choices, we have an experienced ux design team who go with their instincts. By focussing on the user need and working with real content, the visual design falls into place and we intuitively make good decisions. We’re thinking about people, not pixels. And then we test our prototypes with people.

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Mobile screens from our 1 week design sprint with Open Doors UK

Asking the right questions

By the end of the sprint we have a shared ownership of the outcome. We all vouch for it, even if we might not have cracked it yet. We have something tangible to reflect on and instead of asking the unrealistic question “are you happy to sign this off?” we ask:

  • “Have we solved the user problem?”
  • “Did it get the right emotional response?”
    (It is on brand? Does it represent the organisation?)

If the answer is “yes”, why spend more time tweaking something that won’t impact the overall end result? Yep, we’ll get the visuals more polished, but this is a digital product - it will evolve, so now is a chance to make a sensible business decision about what to do next…

  • Do you want to spend more money on this?” or…
  • Start building it and move on to the next user problem?”

More complex features of a product or website can take more time and consideration, but the approach can be the same - we reflect and ask the same questions at the end of each sprint.

Creating this shared ownership of a design solution with our clients, really changes the role of ‘sign-off’ in our design process. It gets us much further, much quicker. It frees up time and budget to solve more user problems.

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Author information: Ben Enright , Head of UX Design , Post information: 2 May 2019 , 3 min read ,
Related post categories: Digital products ,