Bad Advice: “Design It First, Then Build It”

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When building a custom WordPress website, do you need to finish all the design before you build it?

You may hear this cliche from a WordPress website development company: finish designing the site, mobile app, or e-commerce store first… get all your mockups ready… then build it.

Put simply: this is poor advice. Our team at Wooster Creative has a much more productive method that we’ve honed over the years. It helps our clients get to market faster, and it saves time in the production schedule because we avoid doing pointless work, and we avoid needing to re-do work.

First off, why are WordPress website design and development studios preaching “finish the design first” with such passion? Historically, it costs a LOT to manufacture something. For example, creating a home, an electronic device, or a tangible consumer product is often one-and-done. Every detail needs to be painstakingly perfect before a factory takes on the production task. A mistake in the size, paint, or product material — well, that can be catastrophic to production and ruin the budget. If your blueprint for your house is wrong, it can be very expensive to fix your roof structure later. However, software is not a product on an assembly line. And approaching it like that does everyone on the project a disservice.

Is our mentality for web development living in an antiquated past? Perhaps there has been a delay in accepting our present reality. Our current design and development pipelines provide much more speed, at much less cost. 

So, how are we approaching our workflow today in a more productive manner?

Key 1: design only what you need now

As part of our process, we figure out what are the critical parts of your MVP or website and we create only those designs. Designing “wish-list” items to be used at an unspecified time is, quite frankly, a bad investment. It’s a waste of time during the initial phase of a project. Using a strict prioritization backlog, we shorten time to market, get more quickly in front of actual users, get feedback, and thus, understand your audience’s needs and pains.

Launching a perfect product with absolutely every feature is a waste of time, and an unrealistic fairytale.

Producing an MVP quickly, with key designs included, is a much faster way to success: user feedback will guide you on how to improve your product and users will tell you (with more authority) what is actually needed. In most cases, this invaluable feedback forces you to rethink many aspects of your product. Your users may ask for completely different (and perhaps unexpected) features.

One of our clients, a national children’s rodeo that needed a highly customized e-commerce and booking system, was a project we launched quite fast. Within 2 months, we had a functional checkout. However, over the course of the last year, we’ve taken user feedback into consideration and tailored the software to meet the needs of users more and more closely.

We implemented this approach of quick-to-launch for the MVP, and it was incredibly effective.

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Key 2: use lean design

Here’s another reason why this approach is so effective. Several clients have initially come to our product team with monstrous scopes (and huge development estimates from other companies.) Some scopes our clients approached us with have multiple focal points, and lots of heavy development functionality tasks. Through conversations with these clients, we’ve been able to really dive deep and hone in on what the most valuable aspects of their product are, reshape the scope with them, and help them launch in a matter of months (not 12, but more like 2-3). Truthfully, sometimes clients need an outside team to have these exploratory conversations.

Why is this so critical right now? Sadly, 9 out of 10 start-ups fail. And 70% of start-ups will actually pivot to a different market. So, the investment in good discovery, careful planning, and trimming down your MVP can be the most helpful service we provide our clients.

The brutal truth: there’s a big chance you won’t need those mockups for all those nice features. The real goal is to be the 1 in 10 start-up that actually succeeds. This means getting feedback very quickly, adapting to your users’ needs, saving design and developing funding for the most valuable features (which you may not even have imagined yet.)  But by designing just the necessity, you’re ready to pivot. It’s expected, not a slap in the face later.

I worked on a social network membership platform project that pivoted 5 times in 2 years. Our team kept things as lean as possible, which allowed for pivoting with minimal pain later.

Key 3: implement design fast

As previously emphasized, digital designs are code, colors, text, and art assets made in your design system like Figma… and they can be corrected, polished, animated or reworked now, later, or in parallel. Avoid the wasteful attitude of hoarding mockups. Give them to development sooner than later. For sure, there are hidden issues you didn’t think about in the design. There always are. It’s just part of the process. By implementing them ASAP, you discover the issues sooner rather than later.

It’s also critical not to design too far out on the project. Carefully work on only prioritized features. Designing anything far-off on your roadmap could easily become obsolete later. Stay a couple of weeks ahead of development. This gives you room to maneuver and shift.

Also, try to avoid the nagging desire for perfectionism. Trust me, I know it’s extremely difficult, but being overly meticulous in mockups creates bottlenecks that damage the team.

The good news is, because you’re saving time on design now, you can polish your design later. You can tweak your UX and UI once you’re sure your product will be what the market needs.

Key 4: break big features into smaller ones

Smaller items of functionality are easier to design, implement and test than larger ones. You get a sense of completion, your development is faster, and you end up with fewer bugs to manage all at once.

How do you accomplish this? Keep your iterations short. Make a schedule and push tasks through the Kanban board: design, develop, user test, get feedback, implement feedback, and repeat.

If you can release something every 1-2 weeks, you’ll feel a healthy rhythm. This shorter dev cycle also makes you feel more in control, it helps you stay accurate, it helps the client feel like progress is happening, your user feedback is fresh and implemented before it’s lost its impact.

Key 5: have a structure for communication between design and dev

Clearly organized team communication is critical. The designer needs to constantly show mockups to the developer. And the developer needs to provide clear feedback on any possible challenge (if they spot one) in the mockups they are shown. There needs to be a regular schedule for review, and a way to record comments and concerns. Designers need to (and do) care about the implementation budget. So if something the designer came up with adds a significant burden to the developer, this needs to be discussed openly.

Prior to completing mockups, a designer (who is leading the product team) needs to present them to the project stakeholders in a clear and consistent manner. The project stakeholders need to understand the best way to give design and development feedback in a way that will be helpful and actionable. 

Adopting this approach: why it’s worth it

By shifting to this approach, we’ll ultimately help more products succeed. It improves the quality of the quality and profitability of the end product, and it certainly improves the flexibility of the team.

Okay, so it’s a great idea. So why is it hard? Well, despite the benefits, traditional design and development approaches are familiar, feel safe, and are deeply ingrained. They’re a familiar rhythm. But as we bravely shift and adapt to the reality of what products need to succeed, I’m confident we’ll like the results. The truth is, design and development can become more affordable for many businesses. Understanding user needs faster will mean more start-ups can succeed. We’ll spend our clients’ development dollars more judiciously.

At Wooster Creative, we are industry veterans who have been creating website projects for over 18 years. We’ve seen how design and development processes can impact projects for the good and bad. Our goal at our WordPress website development company is to use our knowledge to enable your start-up to have the best chance of success. We have established solid communication processes, both within our own team and with our clients. We take great pride in doing quality work. Reach out to us if you’d like to discuss a design or development project.

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