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On the dismissal of design tools

We can talk about the design process all day long, and many articles have been written about what is a “best practice”. Just recently, Andy Budd wrote down his balanced thoughts on the use of personas.

The crux of his argument was that personas can be a worthwhile tool in your tool belt. Dismissing tools is not useful. I thought his clear argumentation was refreshing in a sea of Medium posts arguing that one tool is better than another.

I must admit that I am guilty myself of dismissing design practices as a whole. After sitting in some – in my opinion – terribly useless stakeholder workshops in the past, I had dismissed the “large stakeholder workshop” as an effective design tool. With “large stakeholder workshop” I mean 12+ people designing together, whether they have any design experience or not.

Now, a few years later, my new opinion is that it’s actually a company politics thing. It’s not about the outcome of the design exercise but about aligning everyone on the importance of design.

Last week I read a blog post about wireframes that basically said that wireframes have less and less use. This argument was coming from a product designer who, has been working for the same company for a few years now. Typically after a few years, you have established a design system, and you have your ways of doing things.

In this case, it is only natural to forget that wireframes were once useful. I argued on Twitter that the author missed the point of wireframes – they are a low-fidelity, low-effort way of visualizing an idea; of visualizing content structure.

Moreover, a wireframe can be created by anyone. You could create a wireframe in Excel if you wanted to. People laugh at this, but the person who has the business knowledge to express his/her ideas visually is a pivotal part in a successful project. It is then up to the user interface designer to translate the business person’s ideas into a great user interface.

What the author of that blog post was probably trying to say is that wireframes are becoming less and less useful to him personally, and presented it as a blanket statement for everyone.

I suspect what happened to him is that, as he refined his process over the years, he discovered a lot of extra tools in his belt to work with instead.

Using a woodworking analogy – it’s like investing in a CNC machine to have your wood cut for you, at exact measures, and then saying that hand saws are not useful anymore. For anyone.

I believe in the power of wireframes as a design tool. As a designer, it’s a useful tool in your tool belt, one you should use when appropriate.

Johan Ronsse

About the author

Johan Ronsse is an interface designer who is trying to find the balance between aesthetics and usability. He tweets as @wolfr_2.

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3 thoughts on “On the dismissal of design tools”

  • No avatar

    18 Mar 2019 at 15:47

    A helpful perspective. There is so much variation from one environment to another in that it can be a gross error to presume too much. While principles are universal, best practices for embodying them are not.

  • No avatar
    Dustin Hodge

    18 Mar 2019 at 20:37

    “What the author of that blog post was probably trying to say is that wireframes are becoming less and less useful to him personally, and presented it as a blanket statement for everyone.”

    Moreover, it’s becoming more and more expected that we “establish our brand” by writing stuff on Medium and one of the easier ways to do that is by writing highly opinionated think piece articles like this, to become the “I don’t use wireframes” guy or the “NPS is for sissies” gal. And that sort of thing is what a lot of companies look for when hiring and what they encourage designers to do to grow. So, as a design culture, we’re sort of doing this to ourselves.

  • No avatar

    19 Mar 2019 at 23:54

    @Dustin Screw what companies are looking for this in their hiring. I will always be my authentic self and not put out BS medium articles as clickbait and to sound opinionated. I will let my great design work speak for itself. Let’s be the change the industry needs.

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