You Still Have to Do the Work

By Jeff Harrison

Here’s a common exchange when I’m talking to a prospective client (let’s call him “Steve”) about an Axure workshop:

Me: Tell me a little bit about how you see your team using Axure.

Steve: We’re using all kinds of tools today. Some people are using Visio, some are using PowerPoint. The designers are using Photoshop and OmniGraffle. It’s all over the map. Everybody’s stuff looks different. We have decided to standardize on Axure, so the purpose of this training is to get people up to speed.

Me: Okay, that makes sense. Is there anything you know you want to focus on?

Steve: I’m extremely interested in the custom libraries that Axure has, so we can all be working with the same components. We spend too much time reinventing the wheel today. I definitely hope that these libraries are part of the training.

Me: Sure, I can cover that. What are you doing today to try to standardize components?

Steve: As I said, it’s all over the map. We have no standards.

Standardization, collaboration, efficiency, reuse: these are ideals that teams strive for. I hear them a lot during these conversations, especially when Steve is a manager. Steve is sometimes surprised when I tell him that Axure’s custom widget library, a useful feature that’s specifically designed to help his team achieve Business Nirvana, is a short topic during my workshops. It doesn’t take long to cover the feature and how to use it, and when I am talking with teams that haven’t started thinking about standardizing their UI components, that’s as far as the discussion usually goes.

Acknowledging that everyone’s workflow is a unique and beautiful snowflake, Steve’s team probably does something that looks like this:

typical design workflow

What Steve needs is a workflow that includes explicit steps for the definition and use of standard components. That looks more like this:

standards based design workflow

Steve is hoping that his new software licenses will make this happen, but he’s going to be disappointed. A component-driven workflow takes effort to implement. In order to be successful, designers need to be on the same page about what the standards are and how to apply them, which means they have to spend time defining, publishing, and enforcing the use of the components in the library. Axure’s libraries provide a means for publishing and distributing components for use, but without a common viewpoint on standards and a shared willingness to abide by them, Steve’s team won’t see the benefit.

When I talk to people about this, I sometimes point people to Nathan Curtis’s Modular Web Design. This is not an Axure book. Nathan has his own tool preferences, and the book is old enough that any software feature insights are probably showing their age, but I still recommend it for the discussion of the roles and workflow involved in creating and maintaining a living component library, written by someone who has worked through every little detail.

Tools are enablers. The right tool makes a job much easier. But you still have to do the work, Steve.