June 8, 2017

Interactive Design on Brand Teams

I’ve spent the past couple of years working with digital design teams both as an in-house designer and as a freelancer. Some of my experiences have been pleasant and some of my experiences have been…rough. I could list all of the things that make a team great: the people, communication, shared understanding around objectives, etc. But this post is about a specific problem that I see with in-house design teams, and it centers around the responsibilities of a web/interactive designer on a brand team.

Working on a brand team can be confusing. Depending on who you’re talking to people might have a different idea of your responsibilities. Some people think you’re responsible for visual design, some people think you’re responsible for systems design. Marketing might hold you responsible for conversion (UX among other things), and other stakeholders might hold you responsible for the narrative of a webpage (content). If you’re working on a sign-up flow or a plans page you’re basically working on product, even if you’re not on the companies product team.

The easiest way I can visualize this is with this chart:

interactive design chart

The web designer’s responsibilities touch both brand and product. Splitting these into two different disciplines could be disputed, but for this we will treat them as separate disciplines. If a company is organized in a way that separates these disciplines into different teams you might run into some problems. Teams might be categorized by certain responsibilities. (It varies)

Brand:

  • Art Direction
  • Content
  • Identity Systems
  • Visual Design
  • Interaction Design
  • Product:

  • UX Design
  • User Research
  • Systems Design
  • Visual Design
  • Interaction Design

As you can see, there are some overlaps. There are also some questions like Who owns the design system? Who defines interaction patterns? What team owns the information architecture of the website?

There are also larger implications to the way this structure is broken out. It implies that one could design a website that doesn’t involve UX. Art direction, content, and the brand’s identity have major implications on all necessary facets of interactive design. If a web designer isn’t responsible for how a user interacts with a design, he/she is only responsible for a conceptual artifact.

I often come back to this chart:

design thinking pyramid

When an interactive/web designer is forced to design at the artifact level the project is destined to fail. The design will eventually fall apart for the user, not reach it’s predetermined goal, or create confusion within the larger design system.

One could put the responsibility for this failure on the designer, but unless the designer has control to shift resources and priorities within his/her design org, you could argue that other forces are contributing to this failure. I’m still thinking this through, so I’ll elaborate on that in the future.


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