Ten questions that lead you to better design process

Great design starts with understanding the problem. Changing from an editorial designer to creating his own design studio, Mike Swartz, partner at design and engineering studio Upstatement, started to think more about how design work is valuable to clients.

“I started to think about designer as a problem solver,” Swartz said at his Saturday Morning talk at the SNDSF conference. He shared the ten questions and key principles each with a case study of a project Upstatement built that helps illustrate the process of building a better design.

Principle 1: Interrogate the premise

Why are we doing this?

Case study: Penguin Random House

Swartz said this is usually the basic question that people skip. He explained it with a case study of Penguin Random House, a website to promote books for authors and connect them to the readers.

Principle 2: Know your audience

Who’s my audience?

Case study: The Star Tribune

Swartz said one of the key things they discovered during the research process of redesigning the Star Tribune website was to find what would be more valuable for their audience. If a new design did not have any underlying value to this page, users would be “pissed off.”

Principle 3: Consider every part of the experience

How can I add value?

Case study: MIT Technology Review

Before designing website, Swartz asked what the website was for and what the role of the homepage is. He also asked what MIT would like to promote and how they could let the content express itself with design.

Principle 4: build work that works

What can I make to test this idea?

Case study: Grantland

Swartz showed what was behind the process of making Grantland. “Testing your idea is super important especially when you are doing a longtime project,” Swartz said when showing the site’s prototype.

Principle 5: Always try something new, even just a little bit.

What can we learn from this exercise?

Case study: Snacks

Snacks is still a prototype tool Upstatement, built for design inspirations and what they learned from each project.

Principle 6: Be a force multiplier

How can I empower others?

Case study: Timber

Principle 7:cross-process your idea

What ideas are working in other contexts?

Case study: WBUR.ORG

Before the redesign, WBUR.org was a public radio site that looked like a newspaper website. Swartz said they started to do research, learn and got inspiration from other audio websites, such as Spotify before the redesign of WBUR.org.

Principle 8: Build things with personality!

How can I create an authentic experience?

Case study: The Hechinger Report

“The biggest thing we did for this project is to figure out who are you and who do you want to be,” Swartz said. “How can we take what you are doing and make it shine.” He said the key is to try to find the personality that the client wants to represent with this website.

Principle 9: You should be able to release it tomorrow

How can I build in a way that is constantly releasable?

Case study: TheTrace.org

TheTrace is a news platform focus on gun violence by Bloomberg.

Principle 10: Embrace the limitations

How can I use constraints to my advantage?

Case study: Harvard Law Review

“This is a good example for building something that is so typographically,” Swartz said about the website they build for Harvard law review. They found there are hundreds of footnotes for each legal text. The solution they made was to combine the design of these footnote with the square elements they used at the top of each article.