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Designing in the Open

August 26th, 2014 by mdmcginnis

In recent years, web designers have been discussing a concept called “designing in the open.” That is, letting other people see the website in development while it’s still being developed. This can mean an “open source” attitude, where anybody can chime in electronically. Or it can simply mean giving your client the URL of your development site so they can keep up with what you’re doing.

According to Brad Frost, losing the “Big Reveal” is one of the benefits of designing in the open. You’re not staking a month of work on whether your client likes what you did all month, or wants you to start over.

Basecamp’s Ryan Singer explains why he likes designing in the open:

Instead of asking for 10 changes and waiting a week, you can ask for 1 change and wait 15 minutes. Evaluate the change, praise it or identify weaknesses, and suggest the next change. By asking for small changes, you take the pressure off the designer because you aren’t asking for miracles. You also take the pressure off the review process because the set of constraints and motivating concerns is smaller. The design is easier to talk about because there are a fewer factors involved.

There are disadvantages to designing in the open, of course. When seeing a work-in-progress, clients may criticize the details instead of evaluating the big picture. That’s why many designers like to show clients black and white pencil sketches instead of the current State of the Website. When it’s obvious that they’re not looking at the final version, clients are less likely to ask, “Uh, you do intend to do this in color? Just checking.”

But if designing in the open became a habit, maybe your clients would get used to looking at the forest instead of the trees. Maybe they would learn to accept your ongoing project for what it is – ongoing. Maybe they would appreciate the chance to participate in the creation of their website while it’s being created, and not at carefully orchestrated intervals.

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014 Web Content
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