The tool is not the design

I witnessed a conversation recently between two designers about tools, things like pattern libraries and Style Tiles. These are all awesome tools which help us designers create wonderful layouts more efficiently. This got me thinking about how these tools can distract us from design.

Note the keyword here, tools. They are not the deliverable, they are not the design. As a designer I have always been looking for ways to define a workflow and improve it. It’s something that’s particularly difficult with the creative process because every project is different, every problem that your client wants you to help solve is different, so generally speaking your process will be different on each project. You, and your process, need to be fluid.

Pattern libraries are a great way for designers and developers to work together. I see them as a kind of brand manual for the creative and production team to use. They help make the process more efficient and unify the design’s graphical, or visual, touchpoint. However they do not solve the communication problem that your client has hired you to solve. These tools do not directly increase sales for Client A or raise awareness for Charity B. It’s the idea, the core of the design, that is the hero here and let’s not forget him. He is merely supported by the execution.

By focusing too much on the tools that we use we risk loosing focus on the issue at hand. We must, as designers, focus on solving that original problem. If our UI/UX is more coherent and our code is much more efficient then the end product, the deliverable, is all the better for it but if we have these things based on a poor idea which doesn’t solve the problem then we have nothing.

So next time we are handed a creative brief, let’s think about the problem at hand and focus our efforts on solving that problem with a solid idea. Then, and only then, can we start creating our layouts, Style Tiles, libraries, etc. Let’s use our tools wisely.