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During a recent UI design project codenamed Mars, I had the opportunity to learn (or in many cases reestablish) some important lessons. Some of them are no-brainers, regardless, certain muscles can weaken when they’re not contextually important all the time.

The project was quite complex and the final design consisted of a few hundred screens. When a design gets to this kind of scale, even small changes in workflow can means hours or days of time saved or wasted.

Following this advice will most often mean a ton of time saved that can be spent on more important and fun things like conceptual development, visual polishing, and prototype testing. 

1. Establish a color palette early. Stick to it. 

2. Establish a grid early. Stick to it.

3. Establish spacing scheme early. Stick to it.

4. Establish font set/style/size early. Stick to them.

5. There’s almost always room for more whitespace. When in doubt, have more. It’s easier to take away then to get it back.

6. Visual design principles should inform the interaction design layout from the beginning. This is much more efficient and results in a more appealing and consistent design than when visual design is brought in after interaction design is already in full swing or finished. 

7. Start building a style guide from the beginning and add to it as the project progresses rather than putting it together at the end of the project.

8. Use Adobe Illustrator for UI design. Unfortunately Fireworks is dead/dying, however Illustrator is an incredibly powerful tool for UI design for a multitude of reasons that I won’t go in to here, but the biggest one is art boards and iterative power. Trust me, look in to it if you’re not already using it. 

9. Prototype early and test your hypothesis and assumptions before too much time and energy is required to change things if they’re incorrect. Always test in the context of the user experience, the proper setting (home, work, train, etc), and the proper device(s) (tablet, phone, desktop, tv, etc).

10. Collaborate and critique regularly. By regularly, I mean daily at the minimum, and if you can afford it, even more. Design for a day or a 3-5 hours, huddle for 15-30 minutes, repeat. This may sound like a lot to some, but the only way it’s excessive is if all design decisions have been made and you’re in pure production mode knocking out repetitive screens for a final push. Otherwise, this is absolutely the most effective way to take advantage of the collective brain power within a team for the benefit of the entire team.

A west wind blows, diving through the canyon, whistling by the trees. My heart beats in time with the dipping of the crowns. My freedom is a knowing, an understanding, which cannot be spoken, but hummed in a tune matching the turning of the moon.

A west wind blows, diving through the canyon, whistling by the trees. My heart beats in time with the dipping of the crowns. My freedom is a knowing, an understanding, which cannot be spoken, but hummed in a tune matching the turning of the moon.

Self study progress: Industrial design sketching. Still a long long way to go, but shaping up. Line weight placement is still not consistent with the cast shadows, and marker shading technique is quite poor. Also, my line control needs work, I need to get better at going faster to produce a more consistent ink flow. Despite all that, worthy to go up on the fridge?

Self study progress: Industrial design sketching. Still a long long way to go, but shaping up. Line weight placement is still not consistent with the cast shadows, and marker shading technique is quite poor. Also, my line control needs work, I need to get better at going faster to produce a more consistent ink flow. Despite all that, worthy to go up on the fridge?

Being a designer means asking “Why”. Perpetually seeking to understand what we’re making and why we’re making it. Why isn’t this better? Why is this problem still unsolved? Why do people need this, how will it help their lives, why is that important? “Why” is the knife we use to carve away the unnecessary until a simple and elegant solution remains.

Design is a careful balance of seemingly contradictory views. Asking why, but also asking why not. Always improving, but knowing when to stop fiddling. Striving to understand the audience, the medium, and the ecosystem, yet often bypassing permission and approval to put something in to the world on a hunch, allowing an idea to survive or fail on it’s own merit. 

It’s about venturing outside the known, to get away from a computer, office, or school, and exploring without restraint. It’s about surrounding oneself with the character, pains, and hopes of the world, to better understand the full system within which we find our purpose.

To become a designer is to learn that we don’t know anything for sure and that everything we think we know can and often should be thrown out the window to start from the beginning and rebuild a foundation.

But ultimately, it’s about reveling in the journey, finding beauty every place we can, and sharing that beauty. It’s about doing all these things to create empathy and form beautiful experiences to improve the lives of people and the world around us.