FOWD: Ryan Singer on the Future of App Interface Design


I am attending FOWD today, the Future Of Webdesign Conference. I was hoping to live-blog from the event but unfortunately there’s no Wifi. (I am sitting at a Starbucks down the street, using the morning break to get this first post up. A webconference without Wifi? Apparently, they would have had to pay the venue $12,000 for it. Outch! I can’t wait for the day where we will laugh at this silly no wifi-concept.)

The keynote speaker Ryan Singer of 37 Signals spoke on the future web app interface design. Two issues Ryan sees coming up over and over again:

1. Designers aren’t working with Programmers: The lack of communication between designers and developers leads to weak products. He explains how designers at 37 Signals get involved in the software process from the start. He believes in empowering designers by no longer having them just hand off pixelperfect designs but to take a stab at the code and therefore not giving up control. Like in so many of his talks before, he iterated the system they have in place which basically skips designing in photoshop files alltogether. They go straight to html and only use photoshop occasionaly by taking screenshots of their html mockup to quicky experiment with typography, colors etc. They then proceed to trash the psds.

2. Designers don’t explain their decisions:
There’s this perception designers are creative and therefore irrational people that can’t explain what they do and why they do it. Rarely do we find a designer that can explain. We, the designers, have to make things clear and we have to make sure we can explain our decisions along the way. Designers aren ‘t just making applications pretty, we have to make them useful. We have to inject usability and sense into an Interface Design. And while doing this, we have to always keep in mind WHY? We have to open the door to conversation and make an effort to explain ourselves rationaly.

His message to fellow designers:
Explain why. Identify arbitrary versus meaningful decisions. Explain cause and effect. We have to show our expertise above of making things pretty. Designers who can work directly with developers and explain their rationale are in demand.

6 Comments leave a comment below

  1. How to put a shiny gloss over everything, make it reflect and fade out, add rounded corners, link to your self-righteous twitter/digg/whatever, and place RSS icons all over your page kind of sums up this conference.

    Might I also add — their website is such an eyesore. And what’s with that 1999ish logo?

    Yes, I’m a hater

  2. I can’t believe that designers don’t work with programmers more, especially if digital is their medium. I mean, how can a designer understand what they’re designing for when they don’t fully understand what a programmer has to use their designs for?

    And designers don’t explain their decisions? How do they get away with that?! This is working to a brief, not art!

    I think having my own design business has shielded my (naive) eyes from seeing this in other designers, but these two things shouldn’t happen (shakes head) if digital design is your thing.

  3. I try to work as much as I can with developers, but lately have turned to coding myself. It gets done the way I originally intended, a much better result in the end.

  4. I agree that designers should have some basic knowledge about what programmers do but in my humble opinion, designers who program too much are not that great of designers and programmers who think they can design aren’t that great either. Unless you’re pretty even in the left/right brain departments, I think it still takes two brains to come up with a visually beautiful AND well-working product. And I agree with the first comment: their website is horrendous which adds fuel to my argument.

  5. I have SUCH a problem with number one. I would LOVE to work with a programmer. I have applied for so many positions in the last year that want a designer who can design for print, packaging, and ALSO be an expert at CSS, Flash, Java, and whatever else they have heard of.

    Employers don’t know and don’t want to hear that they need TWO people to do a website and all their other marketing stuff. They don’t understand why a designer isn’t also an expert at writing code.

    I am decent in CSS and I know basic action script. I understand many things that Flash and other programming languages are good for, but I myself can’t write the code for them. This is keeping me from getting jobs, because businesses want someone who can do everything from start to finish. This obviously doesn’t apply to agencies or larger companies, but I have come across it time and time again, and it’s frustrating as hell.

    I have a friend who is a very good programmer and I often have him look over my work and make suggestions because he knows things about usability that I don’t. I really wish companies could understand that they are getting what they pay for when they don’t use designers and programmers together.

  6. royally late, but anyway. designers do not need to explain themselves, the work should explain itself. there has to be an understanding – trust – openness between the client and the designer as well. if a design is not understood, the problems are mainly there to be found.