Recap from Design Fireside Chat at IO16

At Day 3 of IO16, Mike Denny, a Google designer, lead a fireside chat session with some design leaders at Google.

I enjoyed the session very much as I have posted some questions on Mike Denny’s twitter thread earlier, and they were brought up at the session.

Here are some learnings and recaps from the session:

Communicating effectively across functions

It is a useful exercise to get developers, designers and other stakeholders into the same room for a sprint session at the beginning of the project, so as to set a common vision that everyone contributed to and iron out basic technical feasibility and other likely problems.

Once a common vision is set, we should then leave designers and developers to execute the vision, empowering them to do their job well by giving them trust.

Designing with Material Design Guideline

This was a problem that came out when I was ‘materializing our company’s Android App.

First, there were lots of rules and guides to adhere to, it is quite hard to keep track of all them then even ( especially ? ) with the detailed styleguide and resources provided by Google.

Then, after painstakingly crafting pixel perfect design mocks, a lot of design details were also lost during implementation.

Secondly, after all the adherence to the guideline, our app started looking more and more like a Google app.

The panel recommends using Material Design as more of an underlying foundation, and a guidebook rather than a rule book.

With the foundation in place, the designers are then free to inject more character and personality into the app through the use of custom colors, animation and typography.

Designing with technical constraints in mind

This is a twist on the ‘Should designers learn to code’ question that often comes up at design debates.

A big advantage of designers knowing how to code is knowing whether the design they’re working on is technically feasible.

This is a bit of a problem for Android development, where Java is not a language that designers are often familiar with, and there is also no ‘storyboard’ mode unlike iOS where designers can go into the development environment and play around the design themselves. ( Note: this may have changed in Android Studio )

Two of the designers on the panel do not code, and recommend having a close feedback loop with developers such as sitting down next to one, to get regular feedback on whether the design can be implemented.

As a side track, one panelist mentioned that regardless of whether one is a designer or developer, it is a very valuable to learn how to express an idea or concept effectively through storytelling, whether this is done through design or code.

Other takeaways

Value of prototyping

One common trap that people can often fall into is ‘guess-athons’, where people would sit around trying to figure out what a user wants by guessing their needs.

‘I think a four year old would want this…’
‘No, my friend has a four year old and she definitely doesn’t like that…’

It is meaningful and far more effective to quickly build a prototype and get feedback from real people, so you can evaluate and fail fast, if necessary.

Branding in a digital age

Traditionally, branding follows a rigid waterfall hierarchy where you push out a branding to the user, in order to induce them to react in a certain way.

Branding today can be much more fluid and interactive, and is more of an overall experience. Katherine Walker mentioned an example of an ad in Denmark changes based on the temperature of the day and other user environmental factors.

What is Google looking for in a designer ?

Strong concept – The designer should have a strong concept at the core of his/her work, a good idea that works.

The ability to express the concept effectively through storytelling is also valuable, but is something that can be learned over time.

T-type person – A lot of designers at Youtube has a hybrid background as both a researcher and a designer. This can empower them to be more empathetic and make better design decisions.

Comfortable with Ambiguity – On the Youtube visioning team, the projects are usually vague and not very defined, it’s the designer’s job to turn the mess into clarity.

Hence, the designer needs to be comfortable with ambiguity and be able to make sense of the the mess.

Strong design fundamentals – Attention to details, being very good at the basics, such as being able to design the flow of form very elegantly.

The speakers from the session are:

Nicholas Jitkoff – design lead on the Material team, a group that drives cross-platform design and implementation

Katherine walker – Design Lead with Google’s Brand Studio

Marta Rey-Babarro – co-founder of the Design Sprint Academy at Google and the lead researcher for Corporate Engineering’s UX team

Alex Cook – coordinates design and engineering efforts across Search, Maps and Identity

Kevin Dame – founded and leads YouTube’s Visioning Team

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