Tell your design story

I think the future of sharing design work will be more about story and less about visuals.

This is my new favorite page on the Web. The Story of our Company by Teehan & Lax.

I like it for two reasons.

First, it’s 45,417 pixels tall. It’s an absurdly long page, yet I was not bothered in the slightest by it. Why? Because page length doesn’t matter when you have a compelling story to tell. People read on the Web. People scroll. The reason why we think they don’t is because they scan before they read. The next time you hear someone say “People don’t read on the Web” you know you’re talking to someone who writes poor content.

The second reason I like this page is because it’s a great fusion of design and design thinking. Not only do you get insight into who Teehan and Lax are, you get a really good sense of what they value. The page itself is a showcase of their design work, and after hearing the long story of how they came to be you really get a very good sense of what it would be like to work with them. Maybe you like their style or not, but you know what you’re getting.

I think pages like this are the antidote to the valid concern that people over-emphasize visual design on sites like Dribbble. I personally have no problem that Dribbble is all about visual design…I actually think it’s proof that Dribbble is a successful community. Among the jobs-to-be-done of Dribbble is to show off visual design skills, to impress others, to feel part of a community, and to get work. Almost all design is judged visually, for better or worse, and so it makes sense that designers are focusing their efforts and sharing their best work there.

However, as Paul Adams recently pointed out, beautiful visual design is only part of the battle. What’s more interesting, from a design solution standpoint, is the design thinking and making that subsequently happened. And that design thinking includes the constraints, requirements, hurdles, and other barriers to design. The making includes the actual building of the product…was it actually built and did people actually adopt it? It’s one thing to imagine a beautiful interface in Photoshop: it’s another to build it and get people to use it.

I think the future of sharing design work will be more about story and less about visuals. You’ll have to tell a story that differentiates you from the thousands of other folks who can very quickly copy a cool navigation bar. You’ll have to explain the constraints you were dealt. You’ll have to talk about the trade-offs you made as a designer. You’ll have to communicate what you learned from your users and how you then used that knowledge in building a better product. In short, you’ll have to describe the entire process from conception to reality, going way beyond a beautiful mockup. The future belongs to the designer who tells a great story.

Published: September 24th, 2013