The Cost of Design.

It was the HTML generation that first gave mainstream hints that with a good designer in the cubicle you could in turn have a positive effect to business. That is to say by opening a simple browser, navigating to an address and interacting with “forms” that you in turn could begin taking consumerism to a new level of shop-less input(s0.

Fast forward today the cost of design has not only increased but has also gotten higher in its requirement in terms of automating the shop-less facade. User’s albeit consumers are targeted in a variety of device ridden channel delivery and the cost of having a traditional developer and designer team has not been reduced.

Specialised Teams

Cubicles of tomorrow aren’t going to be housed with team members who can write  and design for multiple devices at the same time. They will be broken into specialised teams and the more and more business(s) begin to consolidate their branding into the device market(s) the more they will look to simplifying their product portfolios and brands.

A team of .NET developers who write HTML and WPF client(s) will most likely need to include an iPhone/iPad, Android/Blackberry team(s) who mirror their offering. Companies will aggressively recruit and look for people who are agnostic in one or mediums but realistically given the complexity involved in all the current UX Platform(s) it just isn’t feasible to find that many people on the market waiting for a job call.

Browser Forking

Having a specialised team isn’t restricted to proprietary solutions, it will also factor into a more traditional medium of HTML development and design. As strange as this may sound to hear, the idea that HTML5 will bring the industry into a global position of unanimous parity of it’s implimentation amongst all browsers is simply not correct.

The only browser that i’d argue has a vested interest in remaining pure would be Google Chrome and that’ simply because having the entire globe of online consumers still accessing HTML work’s to the search engine and advertising model of Google.

Having a browser fork in API and extend beyond HTML/JS works to Apple, Google and Microsoft’s favor as well. In fact, I’d argue Microsoft are banking on the ye olde embrace / extend model it’s had in the past (with great success).

Diverse a Product Portfolio

Once companies have audited and forecasted what their internal current development team models will look like for the next 2-3 fiscals, they in turn will need to reflect on which bets to place in which markets that are dictated by their choice of development. It will depend on their choice but even then they still need to figure out how they can leverage an iPhone more than they can an Android (or substitute your own technology bet here). For every device you target brings a variety of constraints and expectations that you need to meet prior to even beginning development.

Diversity in choice will ultimately have an impact on a companies brand and consistency model in how they want to broadcast their personality to their respective users. If you target an iPhone for example you have a pretty prescriptive UI design to leverage so it pays to run with it and not against it, given it will reduce your time to market cost(s). Same applies with Android and especially with Windows Phone.

Problem with prescribed design isn’t its ability to convey a uniform user experience with an end user it’s core issue is the reduction of being able to stand out amongst your consumer(s). If you spend more you can overcome the prescribed approach but in doing so you also need to ensure you can leap beyond the baseline of expected behavior.

Metro-style could winout

Prescribed user interface design in turn will slowly become more and more weaponised in a way to again have a single designer rule many device(s). If you can invest in a smaller group of design professionals who have custodianship of a brand and the personality that comes with it, you in turn can reduce your costs on having less investment on design and more on engineering.

A company may prefer the model of having a centralised design team that works with 3-4 device teams as a way of offsetting cost’s associated with multi-targeting.

Metro-style design in turn plays a comfortable role as Android and Windows Phone 7 pretty much lend themselves well to this vision of the way design should be. iPhone/iPad however goes in the opposite way that is to say the composition found within these devices are much more detailed and focused in around theming the experience as much as it’s about enabling an input driven experience.

The design(s) to date using metro oppose the idea of having real-world objects embedded into the 2D design composition (less turning knobs, wooden textures etc). The cost for design here is hugely decreased as a result meaning in reality a design team need only wireframe the composition of what they want a particular screen to look like, layer in color and ensure it adhere’s to some basic principles that relate to consistency, minimalism and lastly shape driven pictography / typography (pattern recognition 101).

Having a metro-style solution going forward can work on all device(s) and whilst it may go against the iPhone/iPad design grain, it can still sit within and more to the point it would reduce a brand’s chance of inconsitency and personaltiy (closer to the one design on all belief).

Designers did this to themselves

Companies like Microsoft, Adobe, Google and even Apple have reacted to a problem that was created by designer(s). The problem started the day when designer’s went against the developer grain, that is they forked off onto their own technology stack which was designed for them (Apple).

In forking their work flow away from mainstream development this in turn created a workflow issue and in turn fueled companies like Microsoft to invest in a lot of tactical decisions around how to solve this said problem (WPF, Silverlight etc).

The forking also gave way to a different approach whereby companies like Adobe began to also invest not just in a x-platform tooling but also for a while there in a x-platform delivery that works with the said tools that designer(s) had grown to love (Flex, Flash).

Once Apple had also moved to an Intel chipset this in turn gave away to what I would call the “Apple Developer” generation where over time more and more of a developer centric foundation was being build to which a series of tools could also now target the designer(s) (amongst other creative professionals).

Design for the better part still remained in its own cut-off from the rest area and the more and more developer communities that didn’t have a dependency on Windows began to emerge, the more they instead crossed the divide and began to work on Apple with their designer sister & brother(s).

The developer defection to Apple created a huge amount of issues and problem(s) from within Microsoft as now they are facing a massive problem around having developers target Windows but also ensuring there are the right amount of designer(s) ready to support such developers. The more applications being built on Windows the more they sell Windows is the simplified formula.

Google also now posed an issue whereby they have no real dog in the fight, that is to say Apple or Windows it didn’t matter provided you targeted HTML and helped fuel their Advertising & Search revenue streams of tomorrow.

I won’t go further into the various competitive back and forth that has gone on suffice to say at the heart of this entire issue around choice lies the designer. The illusive designer who often costs a lot and produces what will soon become the main differentiator in a companies offering – user experience.

Function is no longer important form is

As the industry reacts to the competitive changes that are ongoing, much like a teenage boy does around the time of puberty – design in will start to become the focal point of such change.

A designer will feel suddenly more wanted, targeted and will be taunted and attracted with some quite lucrative offers. Developers will also see this and start or have began to shift career gears and start looking into ways of becoming a designer. Some will fail whilst others will discover a suppressed design gene within lurking and waiting to be unleashed.

The designer will however become the leader of the pack, so used to being the one at the back or considered replaceable, they in turn will now become the most sort after as in turn what is replaceable is engineering (the market optimised for function instead of form for over 20years).

Here in lies the issue, the designer isn’t really equipped to decide the outcome of a generation of computing, they will always prefer to take the right amount of time to do the right job in a way that adhere’s to their internal principles around how the world should look.

Winter’s not coming, a Fork is

A designer today hasn’t gone down in price or time to market, the time it takes to produce a design still takes just as much time and effort as it did last year and the year before that. It however got a little more complicated as the canvas now comes in not just a 1024×768 screen (or there abouts) it now comes in a whole host of screen sizes and operating system level imposed limitations.

Once the corporations that fork their design teams figure this out, styles like the metro-style will begin to emerge as they in turn can bypass the designer if in some fairly competent hands. As in reality the importance of User Experience Principles has become weaponised with the more specialised teams making their work public for all to borrow/steal.

Don’t be suprised if a team in the near future had a designer but now doesn’t and solutions that look like Microsoft Metro were being produced.

Google and Microsoft have began and in parts Adobe’s tooling also adhere’s to this as well.

Having real world objects in 2D design isn’t a bad or limiting thing, it’s an ongoing design evolution around trialing & erroring deeper design beyond flat monochrome wireframes that have or haven’t been colored in.

Don’t knock it as the alternative isn’t as deep in its composition.