When big groups really want to get things done, they make the group smaller Matt 24 May 2006

9 comments Latest by Dion Dock

Khoi Vinh, the Design Director for NYTimes.com and the man behind Subtraction (which is full of beautiful writing and crisp design), interviewed Jason for a feature at the Adobe Design Center Think Tank site.

So what do you talk about in an interview that runs at Adobe.com? Why you don’t use Photoshop of course.

We also sketch on paper a lot — much more than we go into a program like Photoshop. Paper is fast, cheap, and low resolution enough to get ideas out without having to worry about the details too early on. Worrying about details too early can kill you, and paper helps you skip the details.

In Photoshop you worry too much about pixels and alignment and colors. On paper you can get rough ideas out quickly without worrying about all the stuff that just doesn’t matter yet.

Khoi asks some good questions about Getting Real inside big organizations like the Times. Check out this bit from JF on small teams vs. big ones:

Another thing I find interesting is that when big groups really want to get things done, they don’t make the group bigger, they make the group smaller. For example, when Lockheed wanted to design the Stealth [bomber], they didn’t scale up the team, they scaled the team down. When Congress really needs to consider something important, they form committees. When the military needs to conduct an operation with absolute precision, they usually call on the best small team they have. I think there’s a lot corporate America can learn from that.

9 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Cheshire Dave 24 May 06

Slightly off-topic but related to Khoi’s comment about sketching rather than using Photoshop (or ImageReady): sketching only gets me so far when I’m working out a page design.

These days I prototype in InDesign instead of in PS or IR — the details can be worked out later, and it’s much quicker to move elements around and find the right balance, not to mention being able to greek potential text blocks much more easily. I can generate a PDF and then open it up in PS to show clients what it would look like at the actual pixel dimensions.

I don’t know why I suffered through ImageReady or Photoshop prototyping for as long as I did (well, maybe because I didn’t jump to Indy until just before I quit my web design job).

Cheshire Dave 24 May 06

Oops, sorry — that was Jason’s comment, not Khoi’s.

AdamB 24 May 06

I guess this is OK if design is your top priority. I find this way more comfortable now:

1. Overall Objectives-OneNote/Client Meeting.
2. Marketing tag lines/key selling points (actual production words)-In Word.
3. Persona Creation and User Stories (actual production words in the stories)-in Word.
4. Visio UI generation; just dragging my own set of elements around and adding real text (I have a visio set with combos/text boxes/lists, panels, etc).
5. Sending it to a graphic designer for the visual design in Photoshop.

I guess the visual designer could use paper to sketch out ideas. But IMHO paper isn’t the best way to prototype a site as I think the site should start with the Point, the Personas/Processes, and Words.

What are your thoughts on the balance between words and the “look”?

Anonymous Coward 24 May 06

For example, when Lockheed wanted to design the Stealth [bomber], they didn�t scale up the team, they scaled the team down.

Northrop designed the stealth bomber. My friends dad was the lead engineer.

Peter Cooper 24 May 06

Another famous example is Steve Jobs’ Macintosh team within Apple in the very early ’80s.

random8r 25 May 06

I just use illustrator and my wacom. It’s fast, and still looks good.

Luis 25 May 06

I used to sketch screens on paper. For me, the best way to start: you are completely free and you don’t have to think about the tool, Photoshop or whatever. But first, you have to educate your customers, that they won’t initially get the beautiful design. (Sometimes just to start talking ask for two graphic design proposals, with 0 information backgroud).

If I wanted to go digital I used HTML low fidelity or Powerpoint, this one kills design because it’s full of constraints, like screen real state but sometimes is the best way to send your work by email in a Corporate environment.

Now, I’m “back home” again on paper… if I need digital I’m happy using Omnigraffle. And of course, printing it and writting down some notes. But all the prototyping cycle is paper based.

Dion Dock 28 Jul 06

Frederick Brooks describes how adding more people to a project increases the communication overhead.

As Paul Graham says in Beating the Averages “because Lisp was so high-level, we wouldn’t need a big development team, so our costs would be lower”.

So, to get your small groups, you may have to change your way of working.