Design Tip 4 — Your work is not static, always think about its context

What and why?

Your work is not static. It is not a flat photoshop or sketch file. It is not a still image. It is a series of micro interactions, that build out to larger user flows that accomplish business and user goals. From the smallest level it is a dot on your interface. At the highest level it is to help the blind with their day to day lives as an example. And everything in between. Beyond the interface and flows itself, we must understand the context to which people are using our work.

Who are they? On this very screen what is it that they need to accomplish? What story do I need to tell? And how does this very screen fit into the overall context of the site and how the user will interact with it. Is a design pattern here the best solution? Or is there room for needed innovation.  How can I fit all of this in while making the execution and aesthetic fucking beautiful. That is the role of a Creative Director. The person that steers the ship, works this string of requirements together to create a logical and creative solution. A myriad of talented people come together to make this happen. You may be involved in varying stages of the design process, but even if you only work on a small subsection, if you can understand the overall process of how this works, your value will increase. When you get stuck you can think back to the above requirements. If people ask what value you bring, you can bring it back up to the requirements above. Context is everything. And clients and users will love your for it. 


How can I improve on this?

There is no magic bullet. It’s about being empathetic and thinking holistically about what you are doing. Get into the details, fret the pixels and alignment. But then scale out to the overall picture when you are working on your next design.  Try to provide context and empathy to your work so that it is not just a flat comp in photoshop or sketch. But see it as a jigsaw piece that fits in and contributes to a larger image. See if you can answer these things. The more you practice the better you will become at thinking and answering these questions.

  • Who will be using this?
  • In what context will they be using this?
  • What are the overall business goals.
  • How does this screen/page specifically relate to the overall business goals. 
  • What are specific user goals that need to be on this screen/page? 
  • Think about how all the visual and interactions can craft a story for the user. 
  • How does this screen relate to a previous screen?
  • What is the overall user flow that gets users to this page?
  • How will the interactivity work?
  • As you are designing imagine you are one of your users heading to the page. What will make sense and what won’t?  

There are many more questions to be asked. You can even craft your own. Then over time you will automatically be thinking of these things as you design, giving you context and rational value to your work.