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DEALIN
G
WITHDESIGN
DEBT
NEIL
TURNER
Photo by Doug Maloney on Unsplash
The gun that won the west
Ongoing
build
No master
plan
Constant
remodellin
g
Winchest
er house
Agile
software
DON’T DO
THIS
DO THIS…
Design debt
Tech debt
DESIGN
DEBT• Inconsistent UI and styling
• Unaddressed usability issues
• Differing design patterns
• Sprawling navigation
• Shifting terminology
• Wasteland of ‘MVP’ features
HAVE A
STRATEGY.
#
1
“In this world
nothing is
certain but
death and
taxes.”
Benjamin Franklin
“In this new
Agile world
nothing is
certain but
death, taxes
and debt.”Benjamin Franklin (from the future)
CREATE & VALIDATE
HIGH-LEVEL
DESIGNS.
#
2
RELEASE
2
RELEASE
3
RELEASE
1
USER GOAL / JOB TO BE DONE
STEPS
USER
TASKS
NARRATIVE FLOW
USE A DESIGN
SYSTEM.
#
3
LEVEL UP THE
TEAM.
#
4
WE ARE ALL
DESIGNERS…
CATCH DESIGN
DEBT
#
5
AT
REVIEWS.
KEEP A RECORD
OF
#
6
DESIGN
DEBT.
FOCUS ON KEY
USER
#
7
TASKS.
•Things that must be addressed now (high
priority)
•Things that should be addressed soon (med
priority)
•Things we can live with for now (low priority)
PRIORITISING DESIGN
DEBT
FACTOR
TACKLING.
#
8
DEBT INTO
PLANNING.
FEATURES
SPRINT
FEATURES
SPRINT
DEBT
SPRINT
FEATURES
SPRINT
FEATURES
SPRINT
FEATURES
SPRINT
DEBT WORKSTREAM
DEALING WITH DESIGN
DEBT1. Have a strategy
2. Create & validate high-level designs
3. Use a design system
4. Level up the team
5. Catch design debt at reviews
6. Keep a record of design debt
7. Focus on key user tasks
8. Factor tackling debt into planning
THANK
YOU
www.uxforthemasses.co
m
@neilturner
ux

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Dealing with design debt (UCD Gathering)

Editor's Notes

  1. Thank you for joining me As it says here I’m going to talk about how to deal with design debt If you have questions then please post them as we go along and I’ll try to answer them at the end But first, I should introduce myself
  2. Before I do I want to tell you a story Our story begins in the American Frontier of the late 19th century, more commonly referred to as the Wild West As the name suggests the Wild West was indeed a very wild place The sort of place where it paid to have a good gun
  3. In fact, a gun like this This is the Winchester Level Action Repeating Rifle It’s often referred to as the gun that won the west because over 700,000 were sold
  4. Which made Oliver Winchester who founded the Winchester repeating arms company a very, very wealthy man Oliver died in 1880, passing ownership of the company to his son William Winchester Unfortunately William died from tuberculous the next year meaning that the vast family wealth passed over to this lady…
  5. Sarah Winchester, wife of William This made Sarah a very wealthy lady with a fortune worth about half a billion dollars today Of course an incredibly wealthy lady needs a very grand house, so in 1884 Sarah started construction of Winchester house in San Jose, California
  6. Winchester house was a magnificent Queen Anne Style Victorian Mansion It had some of the latest technology of the day, such as push-button gas lights, hot showers and 3 elevators Unfortunately, Sarah had a rather unusual approach to building Winchester house Popular legend, holds that she was convinced that because of the many people who had been shot and killed by the Winchester Rifle, she was cursed by the Winchester fortune The only way to alleviate this curse was to continually add to her California home. If construction stopped the curse would claim poor Sarah.
  7. Which explains why the house was continually built and remodelled from 1884 until Sarah's death in 1922 – a period of 38 years It’s fair to say that Sarah had a rather haphazard approach to building her home She had no master plan, nor did she ever employ an architect
  8. This is what the house looks like today
  9. At one point it had 160 rooms, but an earth quake in 1906 destroyed 3 stories of the house
  10. On the outside the house doesn’t look too unusual, apart from of course being on a very grand scale
  11. But go inside and you’ll find no end of strange design features There are staircases that lead no where
  12. There are windows that face on to walls. There are doors that can't be opened. And even doors that open on to walls.
  13. One visitor described it as a house "where downstairs leads neither to the cellar nor upstairs to the roof.” A house that through years of haphazard construction and remodelling is almost purposely designed to disorientate and confuse its users
  14. Winchester house is certainly unusual for a house But it’s not unusual for software Ongoing building, no master plan and constant remodelling sounds a lot like Agile software development to me
  15. But wait I hear you say.. If we’re taking an Agile iterative approach we should end up with the Mona Lisa right? Sure we’ll start with a sketchy MVP, version 1 that needs a bit more work But after a few iterations we’ll get there But the reality is invariably very different Just like the Winchester house our agile approach leads to lots of design debt building up Instead of ending up with a bonkers house, we end up with something like this…
  16. And rather than starting out with a skateboard And nicely progressing to a car We end up with something like this
  17. A Frankenstein design that has been crudely put together I'm going to outline what design debt is and then talk about how to stop it building up too much And how to deal with any debt that has built up over time But first, what is design debt?
  18. So I’m sure you’ve all heard about technical debt If technical debt is the unseen cost of MVPs, early iterations, sub-optimal solutions and quick fixes, design debt is the very visible cost of taking an Agile, fast paced approach. If software debt were a huge hulking Iceberg waiting to sink a product, technical debt would be the ice lurking below the surface and design debt would be the top of the Iceberg, poking out of the water for all to see.
  19. Design debt are the UI components and design patterns that differ from page to page
  20. Design debt is the sprawling navigation that builds up and up like a giant Jenga stack I’m looking at you Facebook
  21. Design debt is the unaddressed usability issue such as The little ‘End Meeting’ text link on Zoom that was always so hard to find Fortunately this is now finally a button
  22. Design debt is the settings page which takes a full 20 seconds to scroll through Turns out that Zoom has a lot of design debt!
  23. Design debt is the primary button that’s styled differently on different screens. It’s the unaddressed usability issue that should have been fixed long ago. It’s the feature that uses a different design pattern for no good reason It’s the menu with a never-ending list of seemingly randomly placed options. It’s the terminology that differs from screen to screen And the feature that was release but never iterated
  24. And just like monetary debt Unless you deal with design debt it’s going to build up and up and up and eventually cause major headaches So how do you deal with design debt? And how do you stop it building up too much in the first place? I’m going to run through 8 tactics for dealing with design debt
  25. The first thing you need is a strategy
  26. Because whilst I’m sure you’re familiar with this all too true quote from Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s founding fathers "In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes"
  27. If Benjamin Franklin were still around today then he’d no doubt update his famous quote Now "In this Agile world nothing is certain but death, taxes and debt". There is no denying that in today’s world of MVPs, experiments, Sprints and Agile product development, technical and design debt is inevitable Design debt will build up whether you like it or not
  28. You need to be proactive when it comes to design debt, not just reactive You can’t just brush it under the carpet, or assume that it’s not going to happen to your product You need a strategy for dealing with design debt
  29. First of those tactics is to create high-level designs upfront And then validate these as early as possible
  30. Remember Sarah Winchester and her bonkers house? She didn’t have a master plan, meaning that she ended up with a house that made no sense. She simply added new bits, without thinking how the house as a whole worked together
  31. Whether you’re building a house, or a product you should have a master plan. A high-level idea of what your product will do and how users will get value from using it. You don’t need to know all the details but certainly you should know the type of product you’re building, some of the features you’ll need, and the sort of user experience required to deliver real value for your customers. Going back to housebuilding, you don’t need to plan out exactly how every room will look prior to construction, but you should know how many rooms to build and the sort of rooms they’ll be.
  32. Storymaps are a great way to do this A storymap like the one shown here shows the user stories that are necessary to allow user to carry out the tasks they need to do It didn’t include all the design details, but enough to be able to plan out the product design and to reduce the amount of ongoing redesign work required
  33. You start by defining the key user goal or job to be done e.g. Create a presentation Then you define the tasks that users need to be able to achieve that e.g. Create slides, import images, present slides Then define the steps necessary to do that You can then define release slices, as many stories will need to be released together
  34. If you want to find out more about user story mapping, I can recommend User Story Mapping by Jeff Patton
  35. Can use storyboard to start to validate tasks and ideas This is an example storyboard from one of the Redgate teams
  36. Then getting feedback via low fidelity prototypes can help to validate high-level designs This can help to reduce the amount of debt being introduced
  37. This is a team at Redgate reviewing some early designs with a customer Teams will regularly run user feedback sessions before a feature, or design change is released This again helps to minimise the amount of design debt being introduced in the first place
  38. Hopefully you’ve already got a design system in place Whilst it’s tempting to plough ahead without a design system in place, this invariably leads to lots of design and technical debt building up.
  39. And trying to retrospectively apply or even build a design system once a product is out there is like herding cats Once a product is out in the wild, it’s much, much harder to change than prior to release
  40. Having a design system in place makes it easier to ensure that the same design patterns and UI components are used across a product and to generally keep everything in sync. This is Honeycomb – Redgate’s design system
  41. At Redgate we’re in the process of updating our design system, including building out a Figma library for creating designs And React library for building the UI
  42. It’s important to not just include the components of your design system, but also to provide guidance for their usage The Gov.uk design system does a good job of this Otherwise will have the same UI components, but used differently For example, checkboxes and switches
  43. Next tactic is to level up the design know-how within the wider team
  44. Because the more a team knows about design, the less design debt a team will unwittingly release Collectively practising design is a great way to increase the design know-how within a team For example, this is a workshop with a product team at Redgate to create and review designs for a new feature
  45. We’re also running training courses covering topics such as usability, UI design and usability testing This all helps to level-up the product teams
  46. And also curate a monthly design newsletter to share useful design resources, articles, videos and books
  47. The next tactic is to catch design debt before it’s unwittingly released
  48. In the same way that code should always be reviewed prior to release, designs should also always be reviewed prior to release This is a great way to catch unwanted design debt sneaking through. For example, different terminology being used, inconsistent UI components or even obvious usability issues that should be addressed. After all, it’s easier to change code before it’s been released into the wild, and any design issues that are caught prior to release will never be seen by users.
  49. It’s a good idea to include a review step as part of your workflow board And if you use Github, to add a prompt for a design review to your PR template
  50. Next tactic is to keep a record of design debt
  51. Remember the film Memento from 2000 by Christopher Nolan Guy Pearce players a man who suffers from amnesia meaning he can no longer form new memories He is trying to piece together who killed his wife, and uses tattoos and notes to keep track of his investigation It’s a great film if you’ve not seen it Design debt can sometimes feel like this, it’s identified and then quickly forgotten Like Guy Pearce using notes and tattoos to remember what has happened it’s important to keep a record of design debt (although probably not tatoos)
  52. This is a Confluence page detailing potential usability issues for a product at Redgate We use it to keep track of design debt Each item is prioritised and has ideas for how to address it
  53. And we have a dedicated Kanban GitHub board for dealing with technical and design debt Product teams will pick up items as part of their ongoing sprint work
  54. Next tactic is to focus on key user tasks
  55. It’s often tempting to start with design debt that is the easiest to fix – the low hanging fruit But really you should be starting with the most damaging debt.
  56. A great way to identify potentially harmful design debt within key user journeys is through user testing or a UX review Walkthrough key user tasks and make a note of debt to be addressed and opportunities to improve things The post-it notes you can see here are the results of a UX review at Redgate
  57. And having identified design debt to be addressed it’s important to prioritise it 3 buckets to put things into: Things that must be addressed now Things that should be addressed soon Things that can live the team can live with for now
  58. Final tactic is to make sure that you factor tackling debt into planning
  59. Because all too often design debt falls to the bottom of the to do list Like technical debit, design debt related work can often languish at the bottom of a product backlog because there are always cool new features to be worked on
  60. Design debt sits at the bottom of the backlog It’s always the last player to get picked in the draft… There are two tactics to avoid this happening
  61. Firstly have dedicated debt sprints Sprints dedicated to addressing debt in the form of design and technical debt For example, prior to releasing a new product at Redgate a sprint was dedicated to dealing with design debt
  62. The second alternative tactic is to have a parallel stream to address technical and design debt It’s important to ringfence some resource to carry out this work
  63. So in summary, in today’s world of MVPs, experiments, Sprints and Agile product development design debt is inevitable. It’s therefore important as a team to think about how you’re going to deal with it And how you can keep it to a minimum in the first place Some things to think about include Planning a high-levels design to reduce the need for ongoing rework Utilising a design system and UI styleguide to help maintain consistency Collectively practising design to help level-up the team Carrying out design reviews in order to catch design debt before it's released Having an ongoing stream of work or dedicated sprints for dealing with design debt Keeping a shared log of design debt and Finally focusing on key user tasks and journeys where the most harmful debt will exist
  64. So let Sarah Winchester’s mystery house be a warning of what can happen when design debt gets out of control And whilst you might not end up with a bonkers house like this You will end up with something that is as equally disorientating and confusing for your users
  65. Will upload the slides to my blog – UX for the masses And also provide a link via twitter – where I can be found @neilturnerux Let’s look at what questions have been posted