Design after technology? Technology after design?

John Maeda said in an interview;

[…] When technology is the thing you want, you don’t need design because you want better technology.
When the technology matures, you don’t buy it just based on technology. In that case, the design comes into the foreground.d.

These lines have been etched in my brain, and come back from time to time. I wonder what “mature technology” does mean? Technology never becomes fully matured as it is evolving every day, every second.

1. One way to think about this statement is that technology and design always coexist. However, the more likely thing would be a company making a digital product by a bunch of programmers and business people without any designer involvement. Then, the product gets customer feedback, and the manager says with his best Hodor voice, “ah, we need a designer, the interface needs a cleanup, and it has to be user-friendly.”

In this instance, the product is functioning as expected and released to the public and has received customers (technology matured). The manager has seen a similar product that “looks” better and appearing, so he wants a designer involved, which is where design comes in.

2. Another way to think about it is that you have similar functionalities, prices products within competitors (technology). To differentiate the product from others, it needs to get value added to the product: which turns out to be design and services. Again, the manager says the product needs a better look and feel, so she wants a designer involved. (Enter design)

3. The last story is that the manager wants to get the product to look good first. Everybody is impressed by the product presentation. The design needs to be interpreted by technology so that this is the opposite story from the previous examples. Our imagination, aspiration is limitless, but the technology is limited. Creating an over-promise-under-delivered product that is more likely in a startup situation.

Which product do you think to become successful (establish as a business)?

I take “mature technology” to mean a development phase of a product when the development is mostly done, and then design comes in. There is a single timeline. Technology first, then design or the other way around. However, it should be two timelines in parallel. Technology and design have to coexist and progressing on the same timeframe, but I believe the most of digital products have either development or design kick off first, catching up with each other but never be far from each other.

The most likely scenario is tech first and design later situation with products using legacy systems. If this situation arises, the team or organisation should be prepared to have a painful and challenging time as a business, but overseeing the future. It’s time to get the timeline closer and sooner the better. You know you are in a vicious circle; sales are down, the budget is getting cut, the system is difficult to maintain, smaller team, and suddenly the design is easily ignored. As a consequence, the gap between these two timelines become larger again. Then, design is ignored, forgotten as Will Larche (Google) said “later never comes”, “Good design is expensive.”

A company, I worked for had a better process when I think about it now. The business team (feedback from broad channels) brings the tasks and requests that are all informed. Then the actual work goes to the design team to kickoff. The design has stakeholders and technical audits (visual, interaction, experience) how the function fits with the rest of the product and timeline. During the high-level talk, designers and developers worked together for details and agreed upon the requirements for each other. There is less gap between business, design, and development are all closely overlapped each other.

You shouldn’t wait until technology matures. It’s hard catching up with each other. You would struggle how to lead the situation on the track. It is easier to say start from scratch, but the case most likely will not happen because of cost and time. You never give a big surprise to customers to change the product overnight. It should be updating your product, progressing step by step.

So as system architectures plan for scaling at the earlier stage, designers must plan the same way. Designers should also prepare the design architecture, content, layout hierarchy, predictable feature implementation, and design consistencies to be proactive for creating customer centred products. Planning would help developers as well, not only with system architecture, but the frontend structure also needs planning.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.