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In 1967 Ronald Barthe published Elements of Semiology, which stands as a temporal marker of post-structuralism, where he gave rise to the idea of “Meta Language”, which in fact “beyond language” or “Second-order language” which is used to describe, explain or interpret a “First order language”. Each order of language implicitly relies on a metalanguage by which it is explained. And it is obvious that the translations between the first order and the second order never loss-less and the true meaning of the first order language is lost or deteriorates when it is represented in “Second-order language”. Design process involving multiple intersections of information communication and sharing through translation of the value (e.g. vision, idea), loses its original meaning while being translated through different tools into various forms of expressions. Also, the different roles (e.g. Product stakeholder or product manager, information architect, interaction designer, visual designer, prototyper and developer etc. ) contribute to the infinite regression of “meaning” of the value.
That’s why one of the key factors that working with developers in terms of the realization of the design has always been a big pain and non-stop iterations, and this turning in favour of the term Full-stack Designer that shares the same spirits as that of the term Full-stack Developer.
(Download PDF from http://desops.io/2018/05/10/infographic-the-full-stack-roles-in-desops/ )
Typically the phrase “full-stack” (or full-stack developer) refers to someone who is someone comfortable and could single-handedly tackle every layer of software development. Typically DevOps engineers and full-stack developers share the same philosophical traits — they strive for greater agility and flexibility and hint at a trend towards greater generalization in the skillset of technical professionals. In case of the full-stack designer, he grows into a cross-disciplinary professional who can handle across Interaction Design, Visual Design as well as UI Development or prototyping. This helps to reduce the gaps between the outputs from these different and the effort that goes into the translation of concept flowing from one stage to another, where there are many roles assigned to more than one persons are involved (And remember that one of the key principles of DesOps is to remove waste by applying practices like Lean models).
So if we see that one of the major focus of DesOps in this aspect involving the work-culture is to reduce the gaps between the roles and wastage thereby. The translation from one role and discipline to another makes the meaning second-hand interpretation and such process is never loss-less. Something or the other gets lost in translation, as we progress towards the realization of the value or the product.
So by implementing Lean methodologies and by striving towards having minimally sized team members with as diversified expertized to help to minimize the intersections or touch points among disciplines and roles where the translation happens. In short less need to translate the value, the less information gets lost and less is the waste in terms of value, effort, cost and time.
Going “full-stack” is one approach to avoid the waste that happens in the process that Barthe has termed as indefinite regression or Aporia . This is mostly from the roles perspective. The other approach is through process or work practices redesign to reduce the number of intersections where the translation happens. In the context of DesOps, this is significant, as it involves the interactions at various levels between the primary two entities i.e. human (i.e.people or user ) and machine, namely — from human-to-human, human-to-machine, machine-to-human and machine-to-machine.
So one of the key factors involved while implementing the DesOps in the organization is to look for process re-design to “minimize the touch points of interaction” through the principle that advocates to minimize the gaps between the roles.
Sometime back, I was evaluating some of the design systems and tools available to study the pain-points while transitioning the design concept from one tool to another and moving from one role to the other. I got in touch with many of my friends who were designers by profession in different enterprises and were at different levels of comforts with existing design and wireframing toolsets, starting from Adobe Suite to the Sketch based eco-systems. Based on the discussions, the interesting thing that I found was many of the tools being used at different organizations, are selected based on the pricing and what the team is comfortable working with, rather than with a focus to have a seamless workflow. In many cases, the cost played a bigger role and due to licence cost, some had switched from most popular design tools to the cheaper replacements. However, the biggest struggle that was there was never solved i.e. the iterations in the design process remained challenging despite the change in tools. Every change in design aspect that was iterated was facing the overshoot of the effort, time and cost. The transitions of value from one set of tool to the other e.g. the quick wireframe created in Powerpoint during the stakeholder workshops were being translated into Photoshop was actually about relooking at the layout due to the constraint that popped up while working with the specific widgets in a specific resolution that never went well the wireframe concept. In one organization, the team replaced the Powerpoint with Sketch and tried to use that to complete the process, which turned into a nightmare as the sessions ended with the people struggling with the tool.
In search of a tool that can minimize the translations of values, I was toying with an idea of Ditto, a simplified version of the tool that can look familiar to the different roles involved in the process and at the same time it will align with a process that is about having the same source files at any of the stages of the process and can align with any design system with easy configuration mechanism.
(Figure : The common pain-points in typical Design-process )
(Figure : Typical Design process based on various touch-points where translation happens )
Ditto is a conceptual vision of a design tool that uses UI pattern Library (which is configurable ) and understands the relationships among the components of the design system configured to create and maintain its own objects that can be rendered on a super simple easy-to-follow and familiar looking interface with drag and drop kind interactions enabling the users of different role to focus on their goal rather than figuring out how to use the tool. Conceptually Ditto was capable of taking any type of inputs and exporting different types of outputs on demand e.g. the wireframes, visual comps and ready to deploy UI coded with HTML/ CSS/JS.
(Figure : The conceptual solution, Ditto is based on a “Single-Source” based process )
(Figure : The conceptual solution, Ditto is based on a “Seamless Workflow” based process )
Watch a video demo that elaborates the concept in context to these use-cases —
The benefit of such a tool would be to reduce the critical – dependency on any particular role in the team in order to carry out with the project. For example, assuming a startup is only having a visionary guy with a developer, he can go into the tool to drag-drop few shapes and objects in a traditional Powerpoint / Keynote kind of interface which he is familiar with and export that as a barebone interactive code/prototype that can be tested. He can continuously test and get feedback, based on which he can tweak the same source and iterate. His developer friend can use the same source to export the code in a click to use in the production. And interestingly if he makes any change, that would be updated back to the same source. Later if a visual designer’s help is taken to customize the look and feel, it would allow updating the same source that’s running in the production where the necessary changes to the code will be managed by Ditto in the background. And despite the fact that the visual designer modified the source, (which affects the internal code) he is doing that in a Photoshop kind of environment familiar to him.
If we look at this “Single Source Based Design Eco-System“, any role can enter and come out with a production-ready code, be it a product owner or CEO of the startup, or an interaction designer, visual designer or a UI developer.
The benefits of such a tool are many:
- Seamless work-flow for Design – Developer collaboration
- Saving on license cost as no longer it is required to use multiple design tools
- Single source makes it maintainable.
- The omini-change process ensures that any changes happening at any stage of design stage will automatically take effect on other stage deliverables. (i.e. assuming at if UI html code is tweaked, it will also reflect in wireframe and visual design stages without any extra manual work!)
- Zero learning-curve
- Single user – Single Tool: makes it easy for any of the roles can login and generate implementation ready UI output.
- Significantly reduces Cosmetic / UI compliance issues
- Significantly reduces the time to implementation of the design concepts
- Boon for Agile projects where the changes are common.
Some of the components of the conceptual design tool Ditto, you might have noticed are already available in some of the design tools. For example, similar in Sketch, you can create a custom pattern library theme and use drag and drop to add them while you are designing. But, its more about customizing themes based on existing ones and exporting shapes specific CSS at the end, which is at a very lower level of maturity from a design system standpoint. Similarly, exporting existing design to HTML feature from Adobe’s Creative Cloud Extract in some sense does not take account into how certain design systems of high maturity can be fit into it so that the output can have functional interactions as a part of business flow for the UI.
But certainly, Bootstrap Studio is much closer to the concept of Ditto. It can be improved around the areas configurations and there is a need to move away from the traditional Application type UI and interaction layer so that it can align to one of the core attributes i.e. to make each user role feel familiar with the interface or rather making it easy to follow. The UI widget based WordPress-page builder tools like Elementor are closer in this regard. While talking about Eco-Systems the tools and technologies, I will write about what are the tool-chains that we can combine for different levels of DesOps implementation looking at the maturity levels of Design Systems in play in the organizations.
Well, the thoughts presented above is a practical example of conceptualizing a value communication using improvements in processes and using technology to applying regression to the touch points where the translation happens, and thereby reducing waste and avoiding loss of meaning of value throughout the design process. We will explore the aspect of communication aspect of human-to-human, that is an important part of DesOps culture. Stay tuned.
(c)2018 , Samir Dash. All rights reserved.
(This article is originally published at on May 12, 2018 at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/desops-next-wave-design-part-11-translating-value-different-dash/ )
(Originally posted on August 1, 2016 at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/specstra-20-my-experiments-cloud-based-design-process-samir-dash/ )
“Automation” is one of the trending phenomenon of the current technological world. Manufacturing industry has been pioneering it for decades. Other verticals are following it. In software development , testing and deployment field, automation is popularized by Dev OPS and Continuous Integration (CI) that helps speed up the software development life cycle (SDLC). But the SDLC is not only about the So what about the software design industry? What about the design phases of any SDLC? While design is getting more and more recognition across the entrepreneur world and many industry efforts like ‘IBM Design Thinking’ and similar frameworks and associated methodologies are trying to create a synergy between the ‘Agile’ approach of SDLC and the “Design Thinking”, it is an interesting crossroad in time, that can show ways of developing more usable and meticulously designed software and similar products. So when everyone is trying to bring automation to speed up process and speed up delivery, it is really interesting as well as challenging to come up solutions and tools that help in automation of designing phase of SDLC.
(Fig – It takes a minute or two for ‘Specstra’ to generate a print-ready 100 pages long style guide for any submitted design)
(Fig – The printable visual style guide generated within minutes from ‘Specstra’ comes handy for developers to make a pixel perfect UI)
In context of Software industry I always see “Design” as an intersection between creativity and the technology where both shape each with the help from user needs and blending of these results into successful products. This also is the reason automating designing process is a lot more challenging than building solutions for automation of purely technology driven process. I accepted this challenge 2 years back during my short stint at an R&D center at Bangalore, of a leading mobile brand, I was part of a large design team, where almost 70% of the crowd was visual designer and the rest belong to user experience and research team members. And many of these visual team who worked on different projects, complained about certain phases of the design process that involved creation of style guide of the app that they were working on. Every app project used to be developed for different flagship phones models with different resolutions as well as screen densities. And being developed in native languages for Android view-ports, designer used to develop each style guide for each project separately for each model of phone. Each style-guide has to be detailed to pixel level which the designer has to calculate and define taking calculation of the view port pixel density(PD). Many designers have to maintain different versions of the mock-up and the create specs for each version, which was more like a “drafts man’s job” with lesser creative moments for expressions and innovation than the previous phase where the designer has to follow the wire-frame and come up with pixel perfect mock-ups of the app screens.
Almost all the designers tried to grab their hands on the creative part of the job, getting engaged with the stake holders and
The senior designers prefered to avoid working on the style-guide, though they would love to review one. The not so seniors worked on the the drafting of the guide and churned out the specs document, yet do the crying that it is less creative even though it is one of the most critical part of the design process.
So I thought of calculating how much effort we are giving to a creative phase of creating a visual mock-up vs. a drafting work , i.e. creation of a specs document /style-guide. Roughly on average one view of a single screen to be mocked up in something around 4-8 hours. creation of a very detailed spec. might need 4-6 hours of job. But if it is designed for multiple view-ports of an operating system with significant pixel density change along with varied resolutions, then this drafting time gets multiplied. So by creating 4 generations of phone models running different generation of Android might need 16- 24 hours. So the designer actually takes roughly one week of work for a view in this case from wire-framing stage to finished design with specs ready for the developer. Averagely an app can have 10 views , so the whole app would need approximately a month of work to be designed and be ready for 4 different models. Even though this is a very haigh level bare-bone calculation, it indicates a few things —
So in this context for a designer —
1. for the designer 1/4th of his work remains creative and gives him the scope to explore, innovate and express through his designs.
2. remaining 3/4th of his time is a purely drafts-man job.
So a designers job is actually boring as the volume of his output is not creative or inspirational.
For the organization —
1. It is paying higher fee for lower type of work. To exlain it — a creative work like that of coming of new designs is typically high paid job, where as the drafting job based on a creative guy’s is a low profile job , and should be paid less.
But interestingly this is the same designer, so the payment rate is actually based on his skill of how he performs in the 1/4th of the job where the creative juice flows and he is actually innovates.
2. Even though the 3/4th of the job is lower profile job, which could have been automated,consumes more from the delivery time. if we look at the timeline of the delivery of the design deliverables, we see that 1/4th of the delivery time is actually spent in creative way. So actually if there is a scope to automate the low profile manual work, where the designer does not need to use his right brain, then the deliverables could have been delivered in just 1 week instead of a month! Also note that time is money for industry, so the organization is actually spend 300% more than it should and that too on a higher price point.
Again apart from this there are other factor that contributed to a above problem. Being in a world of rapidly changing requirements, many industry are following “Agile” or “Iterative” approach of work. Which means in the short notice things can change even to the look and feel and UI aspect which would mean a change to the style guide if view of standard control lines are affected.This has a cascading effect that flows through the style guide work. So any change in such requirement means the wastage of effort and addition of new efforts to keep the specs aligned. Imagine, if multiple design centered projects are running on mission critical deadlines due to faster time to market needs, and such kind of scenario is happening to most of the projects. Looking at these kind of need, many design firms, keep a larger design workforce, to absorb such shocks. But that means more volume of cash burn at a higher price points for the enterprise and smaller startups do not stand a chance in such scenarios.
Another aspect that I think is important to notice here is that due to time crunch, many designers prefer to avoid granularity in the style guides. Provide common documentation and provide very high level change documentations to developers. Also in some cases there are gaps left in the document that go unnoticed, which forces the developers to get in touch with the designers during development phases. Also due to lack of a complete and meaningful style guide or specs, the software testing also gets impacted due to many blur lines among what is in and what’s out. Certain things the testers take as assumptions while completing the testing phases.
Specstra is a pet prototype that I had started working on, 3 years back (around 2013) to explore a possible solution for design related automation process.
The problem of design automation is most of the process blocks are related to creative aspect of the work the designer does. So I started with the blocks that were more aligned to less creative activity so that these blocks can be removed from the creative process flow . One of such area was creation of style guide design from the selected design where the designer has to spend hours to manually define specs.
SAMPLE STYLE GUIDE GENERATED FROM THE PROTOTYPE
The user can upload Adobe Photoshop ( PSD), Adobe Illustrator (.AI), or PDF formatted exported from any design tool (Corel draw, Paint etc.) and within minutes Specstra can generate style guide which other wise would have taken the user days to complete and that with prone to error.
Typical Pain-points of manual approach of style-guide or a specs document creation are:
- Tedious process
- Lots of manual work
no creativity – draftsman-ship work is not fun for designer.
- Time & effort consuming activity
- Not scalable
there is limit to how much a single designer can do
- Comes with cost
Creative guys are paid to do these non-creative tings – however charges remain the same.
- Threat to agile projects
last moment changes in design can impact the software delivery
Specstra addressed all of these along with some additional benefits —
- Completely Cloud based
No software to install
- Not restricted to Adobe software solution
Can support non adobe software
- Minimal user intervention is workflow
Design automation is possible
- Quick to Delivery
Reduces the designer time to delivery by 99% or more.
- Saves $$$$
Saves money by 50% or more.
- Supports creativity
Designer can save more time for creative stuffs and is saved from draftsman-ship.
- Multi-language support
Helps a global team
- Supports Agile SDLC
Quick iterations and design changes will not delay the time to development as style guide can be ready in a few minutes.
- One click User Experience
One click GUI guide makes the workflow super easy.
- Automatically handles multiple device resolutions and screen densities.
- Scalable for any volume of works.
- No need to pay to reserve people for the work .
Overview of Features:
Multi Design file support:
Outputs from Photoshop, Illustrator, Corel Draw, In-Design, Gem to be supported.
Super easy to use dashboard:
Dashboard that is easy to use and aligns with the design workflow.
Customized report builder:
Editor to add and remove details, renaming etc.
Font, Shape, Color, Grid, Absolute, Relative positioning. In every iteration the report is complete in all respect.
5-10 minutes delivery :
All reports will be generated in 5-10 minutes of upload.
Feature #1 – Complete details of the objects
- Supports text/font, shape, image objects
- Resolution dependent (Screen Pixel) units
- Resolution independent (Point) units (Auto conversion based on target pixel density of the device ) – example iOS Retina, Non-Retina, Android (LDPI, MDPI, HDPI, XHDPI, XXHDPI, XXXHDPI etc. ), PC Screen standard web resolution etc.
- Font formatting information – size , family, style, color,
Feature #2 — Complete details of color, shapes, images & font
- Supports text/font, shape, image objects
- Font formatting information – size , family, style, color,
- Web safe / Non-web safe color analysis
SAMPLE STYLE GUIDE GENERATED FROM THE PROTOTYPE