“People who take on complicated creative projects become lost at some point in the process.” – Edwin Catmull

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Design Proofreading

December 10th, 2017

In books, proofreading for grammar and punctuation is a tool for creating clarity and simplicity in a text, so that big ideas are not clouded by small confusion. In the past 15-20 years we have begun to publish many more things: websites, apps, videos and even print 3D objects. What creates clarity in these?

While the possibility for error is as common as ever, in networked media a tool to help you improve the clarity and simplicity of a design does not really exist. The need for a proofreading tool for designing these new forms of media and objects seems necessary. 

With this in mind I have created a framework I call “design proofreading,” to allow people to navigate this new world of mass media and object production.

There are four core elements to the design proofreading framework: Assumptions, Simplification, Scaling, and Consistency.

Each core element gets you to ask key questions about the product or service you are designing and helps unlock potential ways to improve it. This framework is for use at critical junctures when you have made a major step forward with a design: developed a new concept, changed out the content, added a new piece of functionality.

Design proofreading framework:

Assumptions can be deadly. It’s important to understand the assumptions you are making and see if they are realistic or not.

How to proofread for assumptions:
List out the major assumptions you are making about the project.
1. Who is the project for?
2. What information are you basing your assumptions?
3. Are those assumptions still valid today ?
4. How many assumptions are based on known facts compared to untested facts?

Do you your assumptions still ring true? Is there new information that requires you to update or refine your initial assumptions?

Less is more. By simplifying (but not making simple) a design you can  make the product more refined and improve the user experience with fewer elements. 

How to proofread for simplification:
1. What is absolutely essential for the project to work properly?
2. Can the same results be achieved with less?
3. Is there redundancy in the design?
4. Is the language used age-appropriate? Does is use the right vernacular?

Simplifying the design this way does not mean dumbing it down, but doing more with less.

How can you make things work for one person and 10,000,000 people? This is important in all forms of design, from the web to manufacturing. How will a product / service respond over time with an increased number of people using it?

How to proofread for scaling:
1. What are the variable elements of the design?
2. If any part of the design is variable, what happens to this part of the design at the lowest and highest ends of the variance? Does the design adapt, or break down and stop functioning? (e.g. if your design is created for multiple languages what happens when everything is translated from english to a more verbose language like german)
3. What must be variable and what can be fixed in the design solution?

You cannot know all of the answers when you start designing something. This exercise lets you consider what might happen and plan for some of the bigger changes.

Consistency in how something looks and works is an important part of  building a relationship with the person/ people using the design. While there always needs to be variability to allow for more intuitive ideas, the majority of the design should be consistent to create trust between the design and the user.

How to proofread for consistency:
1.How many variables do you have within a design?
2.What are the main activities that someone will use your design for? When you use the components that make up those important parts of the experience do they behave and look consistent?
3.Placement, size, behavior, typography, color, interaction, and meaning. Look at each element of the object, book, poster or website’s design: does it behave consistently when you apply the above parameters?

Do the basics, headers, calls to action add up? If not, go back and look at the system to see how to adjust or, better, simplify to create a more consistent set of rules for the people using your design. The simpler the rules, the quicker the adoption of a product.

By asking some relatively simple questions this process allows you to make rational choices about a project.The entire design process is about providing a vision for a project, understanding the content or functionality intimately, and delivering a solution. All of these things necessitate being close to the project, making it hard to take a step back and see an obvious flaw which could stop an otherwise great idea from taking off. Design proofreading is a way to take that step back while in the flow of making an idea real. 




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Kaushik Panchal

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