Month: October 2016

Why, What if and other stories…

I’ve always liked the idea of distilling a theory down to a few compact stages and this take on the “who, what, why” or “who, what, where” type approach to problem-solving is rather interesting.

“Asking Why, What if, and How, in that order, can help one advance through three critical stages of problem-solving. “Why” questions are ideal for coming to grips with an existing challenge or problem—helping us understand why the problem exists, why it hasn’t been solved already, and why it might be worth tackling. “What if” questions can be used to explore fresh ideas for possible improvements or solutions to the problem, from a hypothetical standpoint. When it’s time to act on those ideas, the most effective types of questions are practical, action-oriented ones that focus on “how”: how to give form to ideas, how to test and refine them with the goal of transforming possibility into reality.”

— Warren Berger

You can read Warren Berger’s full article here >

Also interesting relating to this is the inspiration for the 5 ‘ws – What, Why, Where, When, Who & How

“I Keep six honest serving-men:

(They taught me all I knew)

Their names are What and Where and When

And How and Why and Who”

— “Rudyard Kipling – The Elephant’s Child”

Work for free or for full price, but never for cheap.

I’d like to agree with this as it kind of looks right on paper, but I’d have to add a caveat regarding pitching for design based projects – in this case free is bad.

It’s an age old debate and covered so eloquently in an article by Andy Budd back in 2006.

Recent events have revived this issue and it’s one I’d like to deal with once and for all. 

Recently we were asked to provide a potential client with a’design boost’ for their marketing, some ideas for emails and site layouts.  Now the title ‘design boost’ already gave us reservations as to how this project may develop, but the view was taken that client would be a good fit and there was lots of scope to help them improve their on-going online presence.

So with the carrot of future work dangling in our faces and an initial meeting requesting design concepts and ‘ideas’ we were at a junction, should we move forward with our heads or our hearts. Our hearts told us to throw everything at it and invest in the opportunity. Our heads told us that if we design the solution now, the clients in-house design team could just take the ideas without paying a penny. By pitching in visuals we’d either solve the problem and retain our design kudos, or fail in the clients eyes. We chose hearts and a week of effort was used to produce a pitch presentation which was well received. The client loved the approach and design thinking and we felt happy that everything was well received and we’d done our best.

We received a request to put a cost together for the work based on a vague requirement. The team had a meeting and took a view on future work; client fit etc. and priced the job at almost cost, with our approach based on current best practice and the large amount of experience we have in a project of this kind. There was some initial back and forth communications with client and then… radio silence. That is until a promotional email arrives in my inbox from this company that I can only say was extremely heavily influenced by the work we pitched.

I personally felt very angry… Violated… How dare they take what we did for free and get away with it! 

Unfortunately this is all too common when approaching pitches in this manner. It’s a calculated risk that’s heavily weighted in favour of one party. Thankfully we rarely approach pitches like this.

A far more positive, respectful and productive approach for us starts with a receiving well considered RFP. We then invest our time in responding to this, engaging with the client through meetings and conversation, culminating in a final document which will outline our approach, expertise, initial costing and hopefully justifying why we are the right partner for this project. Ideally the team are then invited to present document and a selection/decision is made. This is the start of a relationship based on trust, transparency and respect. If appointed we can move forward together and start the design and project process in earnest. This enables the client to see how we propose to work, what they’ll get and what the project will actually cost. 

My view is that if we initially produced all the design and creative upfront, for free, the whole process has already been devalued.

From an IP perspective it could easily be used to boost flagging creativity, or highly influence another approach (something that’s subjective and costly to challenge legally) or equally as undesirable just discarded altogether.

The other side to this is if you are successful and win the work, it is difficult to recoup the initial costs and this work may need to be discarded/sacrificed once the project discovery phase begins. By solving the problem at the pitch stage it makes it very difficult to charge for it later on and the foundations of the client/agency relationship is already on shaky ground. 

So, why should we have to give so much away for free?

Simplify, then add lightness…


This fantastic phrase coined by the late great Colin Chapman inspires much of my thinking and approach to design projects.
To Simplify, then add lightness. So simple yet effective. Making the right choice with the minimum of options is tricky. Engineering the lightest most efficient solution takes skill. It’s years of experience that gives us and the confidence to successfully employ this strategy. To fine tune what works best, you need instinct feel and experience. It’s a process of streamlining and selecting from the massive range of ingredients and options we now have access to. After all it’s far easier to add than take away.

Perhaps the easiest thing one can do to ensure lightness and simplicity when working on a design project is to constantly ask,


Why are we adding this?

Why are we taking this away?

Why would users care?

Why would people share this?

Why will people do this?

Why can they do this?

Why will they still do this?

After all… the question is half the answer.

Less is more…

I’m not a fan of rules being imposed on designers. I feel it stifles creativity and the ‘question everything’ ethos involved in the creative process. But essentially this statement defines the design process in a nutshell. The process of researching, inspiring, channelling and filtering the options into the most efficient effective solution. This takes skill, talent and time to make effective and informed choices. This is of course essential in all areas of design but even more so in the fast pace of the digital world.

Efficient well designed ‘Honest’ experiences, products, applications and devices enable business and life in general to operate more efficiently and effectively. Good design feels good and makes you feel good. It’s this honesty that helps make the world a better place to be.

I recently read this great article on honest web design.

I was also quite surprised to find some interesting principles from the team working at Microsoft on Metro:

Clean, Light, Open and Fast

We took an approach that we call “Fierce Reduction” to remove any elements in the UI that we felt were unnecessary; both visual elements and feature bloat. It allows us to shine a focus on the primary tasks of the UI, and makes the UI feel smart, open, fast, and responsive.

Alive in Motion

The transitions between screens in a UI are as important the design of the screens themselves. Motion gives character to a UI, but also communicates the navigation system, which helps to improve usability.

Celebrate Typography

Our design inspiration is very typographic, and it felt like it was time for User Interfaces to be uncompromising about type as well. Type is information, type is beautiful.

Content, Not Chrome

It’s the content on the phone that people want, not the buttons. Reducing the visuals on the phone that aren’t content will help you create a more open UI, and it also promotes direct interaction with the content.

Authentically Digital

Finally, we believe in honesty in design. A user interface is created of pixels, so in Metro we try to avoid using the skeumorphic shading and glossiness used in some UI’s that try to mimic real world materials and objects. I agree with a lot of what is mentioned here and it’s great to see such core design principles great being embraced in the digital world more seriously that it used to.