Code versus Craft

February 20, 2015  

I’m lucky to work closely with two groups of talented people at Ologie—one more focused on branding, the other on digital work. So I can testify firsthand that developers and designers have never influenced each other more. But despite the close collaboration, the two disciplines have very different mindsets. Here are a few things I think they could learn from one another.

Dear creatives:

GET REAL. You may get the most energy from the conceptual phase of work. But it’s a surefire road to trouble if you delay thinking through how you’ll actually produce the final result. On digital projects, prototyping—early and often—has become a great way to avoid pitfalls later. Why not do the same with TV spots, print materials, and environmental installations?

DO LESS. “Good design is as little design as possible.” The words of designer Dieter Rams still hold true. Digital folks typically get this: they’re great about making sure details like buttons, typography, and image sizes are simple and consistent. But this same “less is more” approach is a good mindset no matter what your design challenge or medium. Coco Chanel said, “Before you leave in the morning, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” That’s good advice for your personal style and your profession.

BE AGILE. At Ologie, we’ve started holding daily meetings for creative that mimic software developers’ scrums. A creative team stands together (that standing part is important), and each member in turn answers three questions: What did you finish yesterday? What are you going to finish today? And what stands in your way to do those things? The 10 minutes we spend doing this empowers the team, gives managers a punch list, and makes us all nimbler.

Dear technologists:

USERS DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING. Take a lesson from your creative colleagues: Sure, people base decisions on familiar experiences—but that doesn’t mean you can’t be open to something different. What if Apple had listened to the iPhone critics who said that serious businesspeople would always need keyboards? Or if Facebook had heeded the “1 million strong” user groups that blasted every one of its redesigns? Make a vow to push the limits. That way, usability doesn’t become an excuse for unoriginality.

LEAD THE CHARGE. When something is put in front of an engineer, the typical reaction is “I can find a way to make that work.” But rather than seeing another’s idea as a challenge to overcome, why not influence the work way before it’s time to get down to coding? Advocate for experiences that are simple, intuitive, and beautiful, and do it proactively, shaping layout and interaction from the earliest stages, not just at the handoff from creative.

LOOK BEYOND YOUR MEDIUM. The best technology companies have created beautiful digital things by observing actual human experiences. Take Google Material Design, for instance. Too frequently, the tech world narrowly focuses on what’s been done before. (You can often tell whether a site is for a university or a startup just by squinting at its home page.) So make it a point to find inspiration in another industry, or another medium—out in the physical world. Your product will improve because of it. — The bottom line? Our industry—industries, really—have come so far, so fast. The more that technologists and creatives can see each other’s perspectives (and learn from them), the better off we’ll all be.