Is it possible to entrust the product design to an external studio: work results for the year

    A year ago at Habr, our article " Hiring VS Outsourcing (in small business projects) " was discussed about what is best - to hire employees or take companies for outsourcing. In the article, our CEO said that for a long time we were looking for a balance between hiring and contracting, and as a result, we found an excellent studio contractor in the design matter.

    On August 30, 2012, we launched our service, and it caused quite a heated discussion and interest from the Internet community and the media. Many remembered our temporary stub, about the history of the creation of which and the girl Lena depicted on it, we will somehow tell separately:


    This time we decided to share our experience with a separate company, to which we entrusted design and usability issues, as well as tell how we created this product for a whole year together with Malgini Design and Web Development Studio (Tekhinform LLC) and what it ultimately came out of this.

    Based on the results, we will try to answer the question: is it possible to give the system design to a third-party company, is it not too important to trust its external team?

    Interface Requirements

    The user interface is what everyone who tries to work in the final product will see. This is exactly the “clothing” by which they are greeted. And if a person can make the very first impression simply by the appearance and quality of the graphics, then after a few minutes of work, his focus will shift to the convenience and simplicity of the interface. Spoiled by Apple and other companies, users today no longer want to learn, read instructions; they want everything to just work and be comfortable.

    In this regard, we can distinguish at least the following requirements for a modern interface. It should:

    1. evoke positive emotions;
    2. be convenient for work;
    3. not require (as much as possible) training;
    4. distinguish the system from the rest;
    5. adapt to the various devices with which the user works - from a laptop to a smartphone.

    It turns out that the concept of a good interface simultaneously affects the appearance (design - illustrations, design) and the logic of the user in the system (functionality and usability).

    If we were drawing a booklet, then the question “can I trust it with an external design studio” would have a simple answer: of course. In this case, it is only necessary to formulate the thoughts that we want to convey to the reader of the booklet, and a good designer-illustrator will make a perfectly designed layout on the first or second attempt.

    What about the design of the interface? How is that magic born that the user considers “simplicity and convenience”?

    Collaboration Methods

    The process of working with a contractor-designer can be built at least in the following ways:

    1. Designers participate in all discussions of new system features, offer their solutions and, in fact, affect the system’s functionality in the most direct way, almost merging with the team. Moreover, they should have an understanding of the purpose of creating a system, specific tasks, their significance, etc. This leads to the fact that they spend a lot of time, we begin to depend on them (on our contractors!) And should not make decisions without coordinating with them.

    2. The project team comes up with new functions and determines the answers to the questions “what are the scenarios for using functions by users”, “how to make functions simple and understandable to the user”, “how each function is interconnected with others”, that is, user workflows, needs, etc. . Then these requirements are sent to designers who find solutions in terms of usability and make changes to the layout of the system, adding the necessary functions.

    3. The project team comes up with the whole thing, thinking for the designers, and entrusts the latter only with the issue of designing the appearance.

    Each of these methods can be suitable for different cases, the degree of involvement of an external company, the cost of its services, etc. To determine the best option, we tried all three options for work, and in our case the results were as follows.

    How we tried different working methods

    When we tried to attract designers working in an external company to all discussions and negotiations, the designers became a deterrent to the development of the project, since the meetings were often held unplanned to identify problems, and the designers had other projects and customers besides us, and they couldn’t demand, having abandoned all matters, begin to discuss the system with us. Meetings began to be postponed, we were all nervous, and as a result, the residue remained with us and at the design studio. This also led to an increase in terms of work.

    Then we tried to follow the third option, as the fastest and most effective from our point of view, and faced with the problem that instead of a simple and easy interface, a large, clumsy monster started to appear, as if it were created by a large corporation in the 90s. Yes, I wanted to lick all the icons, but the overall impression of the system became more and more depressing. Moreover, the designers themselves began to hint that they would not want to use such a system in their work and, as a result, mentioning them among the developers of the interface is not the best idea. As you know, success has many parents, failure is always an orphan. This happened partly due to the fact that when programmers create any system, the result is a system for programmers - complex, powerful, but incomprehensible to the average user.

    Then we finally found a middle ground, and built the process of collaboration so.

    All key team members who participated in the formation of requirements and product development strategies familiarized themselves with the literature, articles and sites on usability and design in order to get a general idea of ​​the principles of operation of convenient systems. We especially note the book by Jeff Raskin "Interfaces: new directions in the design of computer systems." Such preparation made the process of communication with an external design studio much faster, we began to speak almost the same language.

    Our team wrote out a list of those functions that they considered absolutely necessary, described them in as much detail as they considered necessary, and passed the description to the designers. The guys from Malgini watched, discussed within themselves, asked colleagues, showed their neighbors and friends - and wrote a list of 10-20 comments and suggestions about what they like and what, in their opinion, needs serious revision. After that, we had a scheduled meeting on Skype and, going through a list of disagreements and questions prepared on both sides, quickly found all the answers that satisfied both sides. Satisfied, the designers completed the result, the programmers realized it - and we got a new version of the interface.

    For us, this approach has become the most effective.

    First, it turned out that the speed of thought and the depth of abstract thinking of analysts is fundamentally different from those of designers. If you “torture” a designer and shake ideas out of him “on the fly”, nothing works, as always with creativity, it doesn’t work. But if you clearly understand the ultimate goal, then give freedom to criticize and modify it, then the creative talent of the designers is included, and they take up with vengeance discussion and refinement, sometimes offering such cool ideas that without such a “creative pause” we would never did not think of it before.

    Secondly, the designers acted as the first users who tested our ideas “for lice”. They helped to skip a few iterations and immediately do functions quite well.

    Thirdly, designers got the right to defend their ideas, and this greatly influenced the final product: having an excellent understanding of usability and a sense of taste, they spent time persuading (rather than taking our demands at face value), for which we are very grateful to them .

    What else did we manage to learn?

    1. We found out that in order to create a convenient and beautiful interface, designers should “root” for the project no less than members of the team. That is, if you simply outsource the design, writing down the requirements in a beautiful brand book (which, in principle, is unrealistic for a startup that creates and re-creates its product several times a year), it will result in a “dead design”, without a soul. You severely limit the designers' flight of their imagination and reduce the degree of their influence on the result - but this is not possible with creative people. The result is sad.

    2. Work with an external design company turned out to be very effective, including because the designers continued to work on projects of other customers, and they did not blur their eyes, and also because they were able to play the role of “beating” our ideas . If an idea is born “at one table”, people are psychologically inclined to agree with a common opinion, and such a good and sincere verification of ideas does not occur.

    3. Attempting to pay “for each unit of work” harmed the project. Paying by the clock was very annoying and relaxing for the designers, and paying for each module complicated the requests for refinement of the previously created one. For example, during the year we redrawed the icons within the system five times - and if we paid money for it every time, now everything would look much worse. As a result, it was decided to switch to the payment model "according to the technical specifications for a period of time", where for the entire period (two weeks) there was a fixed price. This option turned out to be the most correct for us and allowed us to create trusting relationships between teams.

    As a result, we were all very pleased with the results obtained, and when the system started up, we all “rooted” for it together, not sleeping at night. We did not have to ask for this - the guys from Malgini felt responsible and involved, and acted as members of the team.

    So can you trust the design of an external company?

    In conclusion, let's try to answer the question “is it possible to give the system design to a third-party company, is it not too important to trust its external team”?

    Our experience has shown that such a work model can be very effective and enjoyable if you correctly build the process of work between companies and partially involve an external company in the design process of the system itself, and not just the interface.

    The fact that the design was given to an external company had its indisputable advantages - testing our hypotheses, attracting other people's experience from other projects, and reducing costs.

    Thanks to just such a scheme of work, it was possible to create a fundamentally new, simple and convenient interface - using layers instead of windows, common for desktops and tablets, easy and pleasant. Malgini convinced us to remove some functions from the system, some - on the contrary, add, for which we are certainly very grateful to them.

    There is only one mystery left for us: how do some other development companies outsource interface design development to external companies without such close interaction?

    We will be happy to answer your questions in order to highlight our principles of work in more detail.

    PS A detailed presentation of the unique interface elements that we found during development can be seen on the hour and a half video presentation at RIA Novosti here, and the Unicloud Business 365 system itself is available here .

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