The Nimble Process by Jason Santa Maria

New Adventures 2013 promised to be a great conference and it didn’t disappoint. One of the talks I was most looking forward to was Jason Santa Maria’s on “The Nimble Process”.

Jason started by talking about how we, as in an industry and as individuals, always like to see how others work and we’re always looking to improve our own processes. He talked about how his process has changed a lot recently, from something that used to be quite rigid and linear to something much more erratic.

Jason questioned if there actually is an ideal process or the right tool that we should all use,
concluding that there is no right path we’re not all assembling the same thing and coming up with the same results. We are individuals and work on different projects, so we’re always going to have different processes that work for us and processes that don’t.

One thing I loved that Jason said was that finding a process that works for us is all about trial and error and making mistakes something I can relate heavily to, as I’m trying to encourage others to make mistakes more so that we can learn from them.

Jason’s old process went something like this: Plan > Design > Code > Launch. He explained how this process was perfect at the time as the amount of options we had as designers and developers was limited.

However, Jason’s process now is much less linear and includes version upon version of design, lots of iteration. It looks much more of a messy process as you are constantly going from one stage, back to the beginning and all over time after time, until you have your “finished” product.

Using his time at Typekit as an example, Jason talked about how he was scared of putting his work on Typekit live as he wasn’t used to showing someone a design unless it was complete, a whole. But the idea here was to test it out on people, change it, ship the changes and then test again going back to the iteration after iteration.

Explaining Design

“A design process is also about communication.”

Jason talked about MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and how he is adapting this to become a MVU (Minimum Viable Understanding) how can he quickly get his idea across.

Causing a few chuckles across the room, Jason talked about how clients aren’t idiots and rather than present to a client, present with them and express your ideas so that they can understand and participate.

Being nimble

“Good design happens with or around good constraints.”

Jason advised us to early on in the design process, have fewer constraints so that you’re not restricting your ideas or your creativity. Later on though, constraints are good as you’re tying things down and making decisions.

Jason told us to avoid details (such as grids and using UI Sketchbooks for wireframing and sketching), as they are your enemy. Instead, he asked us to try and think of something as if it is very out of focus you don’t need to think more than roughly. Later on, further down the process, everything starts to come into focus.

Jason said it was alright to play around and sketch lots of ugly ideas it also gets a lot of the crap ideas out of the way at the beginning.

Using the Alphabet 100 challenge as an example (where you have to draw 100 versions of the same letter), and how he had to do the same at school with a phone (100 different sketched versions of a phone!) Jason talked about how at first, it’s difficult but after 20 or so versions, you start having to be more inventive and come up with new ideas. Jason explained how he feels this is what sketching and the beginning of the design process should be like getting as many versions down, good or bad, and to be as creative as possible. That way, you can get some great ideas that you can develop further.

Interestingly (as its one of the first things I usually start with myself when designing) Jason says he works backwards into a grid, as he feels that a grid is one more constraint you don’t need at the beginning of the process. This is definitely something I’m going to try more of and instead focus on the design, feel and typography more.

Visual Prototypes

Jason went on to talk about visual prototyping, and how he doesn’t necessarily think this has to be in Photoshop or a graphics program anymore.

He talked also about how wireframes are very limited by paper wireframes need to show content hierarchy and how the interplay of all the elements work together, and with paper that is one extra constraint (due to the size).

Jason talked about how we need to use wireframes and prototype layouts to help our clients truly understand and think about what the context is of the design. The idea here is to also really keep moulding, changing and evolving your ideas and the layout.

What is the best vehicle for an idea?

Here, Jason talked about style tiles. Here, Jason brought up points I’d never really thought about before style tiles are like a directed mood board, and while they can be really useful internally in a design process for help and ideas (such as typography, colour, etc) Jason feels that giving a style tile cheats a client out of what they’re going to get.

Jason doesn’t like style tiles, because it doesn’t focus on the real thing or the tangible product at the end and it’s a dangerous expectation to give to the client.

To quote, they are “the right tool for the right audience.”

Jason moved on to say about designing in the browser and how he feels it is great for responsive design as you can quickly see content changes. However, Jason really does feel it restrains you early on in creativity, quoting “The right tool at the right time.”

Jason said he used both a mixture of Photoshop and the browser in his process. In an example of the new A Book Apart website, he talked about how they very much had to focus on a lot of the decision making by designing in the browser, due to going straight from the old website into a prototype.

Interaction Prototypes

Jason then went on to recommend two tools that I absolutely love: Gridset and Typecast. He recommended that these are very easy to use and super fast to port into your real design or  build.


Jason finished by telling us how it’s easier to “revise than to create” again touching on the idea that we should be iterating , revising and refining, rather than always trying to create a finished product.

“Understand that getting out of that mindset will make you a better designer.”

Get the tools you need to create

Get your hands on a wealth of helpful design resources for Windows 8 right here.

Published by Rachel Shillcock

Rachel is a “very Northern, very talkative and very twitter-addicted” freelance web dev and designer. She is becoming a bit of a conference addict and is already heavily addicted to Twitter, technology and reading. You’ve probably seen some of her work about, (she's the designer of this year’s WebDevConf website), and regularly appears in .Net Magazine as a panel expert.

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