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Securing a design in an Agile process

November 7, 2012

Over the last few years I have ran several times into the situation where people inside or outside the team suggest to create a style guide for the graphical design of the application. And I have responded to that question in different ways over time.

First time, approximately 7 years ago, I got confronted with this question, I looked at the problem and believed that a style guide could be a solution to get rid of the detail differences in the implementation of new functionality. So, having that believe, we made a guide covering each type of GUI component and how the look and feel should be for the application. Great piece of work with two major results:

  1. Within 3 months after completion we were confronted with new GUI components that were not covered in the guide.. now what?
  2. Within a few months no one looked at the document anymore

Conclusion is that the work spent was wasted and the original problem still existed.

The second time I was confronted with this situation I did not wanted to run into the pitfalls of the first time. I understood that evolution of the application will go faster than the evolution of a document. We made a number of concept screens. More or less a number of mood boards providing more an atmosphere the screens had to comply too. Nice idea and it dealt with the issues I ran into before. But unfortunally, every developer had its own idea on how it looked and felt like the mood boards. As a product owner I also gave my opinion and had the final saying on what was released. But I am not a graphical designer, so a little more successful, but still a huge opportunity for improvement.

And, of course, I did get confronted with this issue again. And I decided to rely on people, instead of artefacts. Instead of creating document, mood boards or examples, we decided to pull in the graphical designer. We decided to, as far as that was possible, make the graphical designer part of the team. This way, an esthetical eye was constantly watching us while we created functionality. Making sure things looked like they should, with the highest level of consistency.

Now this graphical designer was not a full time member of the team, but we did made sure he felt like he was part of the team. That each team member knew him and had access to him, he was also part of the skype group so it was easy to quickly share a screen with him and solicit feedback on what was created. Needless to say that this worked as a charm. Of course the vulnerability of this solution lays in what to do when people are absent or choose to leave a company. But however much managers dislike it.. companies are made out of people, and have to be special people if you want to achieve special things.

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