Developing web apps with no design requirements

Developing web apps with no design requirements

Miro Lehtonen

Project Manager & Lead Developer

There’s a lot of room for misunderstanding when those who need a web app (the customers) communicate directly with those who will develop the
web app (the devs). They may go through all the important topics, like the requirements and the budget, not fully aware of the differences in their languages: same words but different meanings. Sometimes we need a bit of interpretation between the customer’s language and the developer’s code. The discussion about front-end design is a typical example.

“No design required”, “no front-end required”, “it’s B2B so no UX design required”, and the list customer wishes goes on. How should we actually understand the customer? Remembering the differences in the semantics, taking the words literally is out of the question. So let’s go deeper to figure out 1) what the customer wants, 2) what they need, and 3) how to communicate it to the devs in their language.

Common reasons for not requiring much in the design front include budget constraints and development schedule which are both related to the amount of work expected from the devs. In other words, customers want to save both timeand money – well who wouldn’t? But would these customers be ok with a website that looks like a cheap and dirty hack? Maybe, as long as it’s easy to use and navigate. But no good developer wants to deliver less than impressive quality to the customer. No good developer takes pride in quality that didn’t impress the customer. So we conclude that, even at the minimum, 1) design decisions are required because the page building blocks don’t just naturally fall into their most intuitive places, and 2) design implementation is required, most often with HTML + CSS stylesheets, because a unique style cannot be copied, even by definition. 

So much for the literal meaning of “no design required” but it directs us to aska more relevant question: _how much_ design is required? A safe bet is that a customer with no design requirements doesn’t expect newly designed fonts, logos, color schemes or anything else that an experienced designer would mention in their skill set. Another educated guess tells us that they do need a web app design that lets your eyes rest and is easy to use. Now we might be interested in the minimal design requirements that make the
web app good-looking and user-friendly, but we might as well skip this step and jump right into design planning, assuming that by doing the right kind of design work, we can meet the minimal requirements without spending too much time on unnecessary design decisions.

Without getting specific on any web development project, we will stick to moregeneral developer guidelines that will satisfy customers with no design requirements.

  • Designer apps and toolkits. Let’s forget about these as we don’t have a designated designer working with any designer tools.
  • Reusable design. Focus on this. The web is full of open source, free-to-usebits and blocks made my real designers. That includes web page skins, userinterface components, fonts, icons, color schemes, …, date pickers, range selectors, slick sliders. Decent implementations for any of the commonJavascript frameworks can be found in a few seconds of googling.
  • Previous experience. Take advantage of what you learned from your past projects. Learning how to customize the customizable UI component always takes time that may include a fair amount of debugging and code inspection. The documentation of free code is far from perfect and not always up-to-date.

Still not feeling confident? Make screenshots and seek confirmation from the customer that the “no design requirements” still holds.

Miro Lehtonen · Project Manager & Lead Developer

Academic scholar with a research focus on information retrieval and web technology, educational and team leader experience at several institutions in Finland, Thailand, and Australia, Miro is currently also an adjunct lecturer at the Mae Fah Luang University, Thailand. He has been applying his academic expertise in a number of different projects at Outsourcify as the IT architect of web portals.

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