Early on, even great UI's suck

And that’s okay…

In fact, that’s the way it should be.

Consistently great UI designs must be crafted through a process. This process will vary from designer to designer, and will likely change over time. Here’s the process I lean towards these days:

  1. Gather data (who is this for, what are they trying to do, what scenarios should be considered)
  2. Based on the data, I sketch out lot’s of rough low fidelity concepts
  3. I’ll spend some time stewing on these concepts
  4. I’ll then select one concept (the one that best fits all of the criteria outlined in step 1), and flesh it out in more detail (usually still sketching with pen and paper at this stage)
  5. Get feedback
  6. Build out a rough interactive prototype (usually coded by hand, but I’ve been playing with Macaw and I’m liking it for rough prototypes)
  7. Get feedback
  8. Code it up right and add polish
  9. Get feedback, make tweaks – rinse and repeat this step until everything is just right

Myth #1: as you get better at design, you can skip some steps

Great UI designers do not skip steps just to save time.

Myth #2: the sooner you can get to a hi-fidelity design, the better

Great UI designers do not jump to high fidelity designs sooner than is necessary. In fact, they tend to delay it as long as possible. Great UI designers recognize the benefits of lo-fi designs, and leverage those benefits extensively.

Up until around step eight (more than half way through the process) it’s perfectly fine for your designs to still look unfinished. The longer you can stick with lo-fidelity the better. There are a couple of reasons:

Early on, all UI’s suck, and it turns out, that’s the way it should be. If you outright skip steps in the design process, or if you hop straight to hi-fi mockups, your designs will tend to suffer as a result. Great UI designs follow a process, they take time to craft, and early on, even great user interfaces are going to suck.

Note: inspiration for the title of this post came from Ed Catmull who said “Early on, all movies suck”, speaking candidly about the state of early movie concepts at Pixar.


I don’t do comments on this blog, but if you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them. You can email me at designpro@gmail.com.