There are some projects where significant design input is not required in the early stages. Perhaps the project is at such an early stage that you don’t even know whether the idea will fly.
Perhaps you’re trying to save money and just put something out there quickly, especially if the scope is fairly limited. To quote a startup guy I know: “I generally introduce (visual) designers to a new project pretty late, they cause big delays if they’re involved too early”. I have experienced this phenomenon: it wasn’t that design was unhelpful, we just did too much of it for an untested idea.
However, there’s a big risk involved that I’ve seen play out a number of times. Perhaps fundamental design flaws were built into the project, and it grew before anyone had a chance to ask critical questions. The structure of the product might be inappropriate, or the interface lacks consistency. In the race to get something working, the focus on actual use has been lost.
Suddenly a user base has grown around something that is broken. Perhaps the design inhibits growth. Redesigning is expensive (i.e. the problem is not just cosmetic) and may present the users with a pretty big change in design (never a happy event, even when the new design is better).
Its also clear that a certain level of design can be important when you’re looking to sell or advocate an early idea. I enjoyed Aza Raskin’s talk about rapid prototyping which touches on this.
In the corporate world UX designers are pushing to be involved earlier in the process, at a strategic level. I can’t disagree with that effort: I’ve seen plenty of projects that needed a smart design head much earlier in decision making (this is what makes Apple so successful: designers have the most revered role in the organisation, ahead of management). Often, too many assumptions about how people will behave were made by non-designers. The entire project might have been based on wishful thinking.
To solve this dilemma, I’d like to propose a framework for thinking about whether you need more ‘design thinking’. By design thinking, I don’t mean a visual designer, I mean someone who considers the *actual* use of a product, and understands the value of observing users, regardless of method (that isn’t limited to UX people, many others get this too).
Its just a first stab, so I welcome any feedback.