This weeks guest author is Donna Spencer. Donna is a freelance information architect, interaction designer and writer who just published A Practical Guide To Information Architecture.
When we are working on a hard design problem (or even on a fairly easy one), we often realise there are many ways we could go – lots of options and lots of potential solutions. It can be frustrating to figure out which is the right direction to take, the right components to choose, the right way to sequence things. In other words, sometimes it’s really hard to find the right answer.
The more design work I do the more I realise that there is no such thing – there is no right answer to a design problem. Actually, I don’t think there are right answers to anything – even science regularly changes ‘the answer’ to things that were considered set in stone (poor Pluto!).
There are only bad, good and better answers for the current situation. Each of the potential solutions sits within a particular context.
That’s where things get interesting. To find the better answers for your design problem, you need to know the context it sits within. You need to know what you are trying to achieve, what a successful outcome is and what you have to get you there. For many web and application design problems, this means you need to know about the goals, what people want to do, what they already know and the content or data you are working with.
So how do you find the better answers? You don’t find them by thinking about what approach might be best. You find them by working potential answers right through. For each alternative approach:
- Design it to as detailed a level as possible: Some alternatives will disappear automatically when you start working with the nitty-gritty detail of real life and real data
- Test each approach: Some will fall apart when put to real-life use in front of real people. I don’t mean just by usability testing, but by getting an attempt out and seeing what happens.
- Tweak the ones that work best
And most important, expect the best answer to change. As the context changes, so do good solutions. Keep tweaking & improving; and don’t try to find the single right answer. It doesn’t exist.