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This was our first cue to dig deeper into the possible shift in the approach to designing websites. The traditional “waterfall” method gave everyone a headache. Eventually, we have arrived at the conclusions shared in this article. We hope it saves you hours of research and pushes you in the right direction – no matter if you’re an agency or a business struggling with the endless delays of digital projects.

Agile design explained

Designing in agile is a highly collaborative process. In this fast-paced environment, tasks are broken down into smaller items. These items are actioned during short periods of time called sprints, which can last a few weeks.

In terms of agile web design, sprints usually need to be just one week long. As explained in the description of the agile web development process, building a website is not as complex as developing software – hence web design calls for shorter sprints to improve communication and the alignment of the team.

Principles of agile web design

The most important rule of agile is to ditch perfection. In the agile methodology, progress is much more valuable than lengthy discussions. The emphasis is on building, testing and iterating the solutions. Agile encourages:

  • Daily stand up meetings of the agile team (usually not longer than 10-20 minutes)
  • Tangible outcomes over documentation
  • Customer-centric approach with frequent user tests
  • Rapid prototyping
  • Continuous delivery by working on a Minimum Viable Product
  • Flexible response to change

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Why we need agile web agencies

We want to focus on giving you the rundown of the agile web design process in this article, but understanding the root of the problem is just as important. If you’d like to take a step back, we’ve explained the need for change in our article about agile web development.

The agile design process

When we decided on a transition to agile, we were extremely excited. We knew we were onto something, but we had our objections. We couldn’t fully embrace agile just yet.

Now, how do you write the copy for a website in the agile model?

What about the design?

Can we be part of something that was originally built to produce software?

Marketing strategy?

It’s getting crazy here.

The final thorn in the neck is the difficulty of pricing the project upfront. You can’t commit to a fixed price, because agile goes against the concept of being tied down. In hindsight, this is a great advantage of agile, yet many clients will want to know the cost before they jump the ship. They’re used to the traditional approach and you can’t blame them.

Using the Design Sprint in an agile process

It wasn’t long before we found the solution. Or, to be accurate, the inspiration for the solution. It was the Design Sprint workshops, originally invented by Google Ventures and used to build software and brands from the likes of Gmail, Red Bull, and more.

In short, our interpretation – a Web Design Sprint – is a way to build a user-tested prototype of a website in a week. Yes, you read that right. In just a single week. We always recommend running at least two iterations to iron out issues and action the feedback from user tests, but in extreme scenarios, it could take a single week.

We achieve that by running three workshops with the client’s team, which then help us build a prototype in just one day. On the final day, we test it with the target audience, and that’s a wrap. This article is not the place to go into the nitty-gritty, but if you’d like to learn more, here’s a deep dive into our agile process.

This gives us a solid foundation and the much-needed headstart for the designers. With a validated prototype, we can design the website in parallel with developers working on the backend features.

Estimating design in agile

There are well-documented ways to estimate development complexity in agile. But for us, the design was a bit of a pickle. We’ve settled for the t-shirt size estimation of designs. This means that tasks for our designers get assigned a letter from S to XL, just like clothing sizes. This is the typical scale, but nothing is stopping us from using XS or XXXL if needed.

It’s an internal metric and a rather abstract one. That’s because there are a few things that impact the “size” of a design:

  • the number of components – an MVP of a button consists of the backplate and text; it’s much smaller comparedto a navigation which potentially includes a logo, several buttons and other components.
  • the number of interactions for each component – a paragraph generally has just a single state, while a button has a hover over effect, on-click effect, a disabled variation, etc.
  • features of a component – estimating designs is the first step to developer estimates because design dictates the features that will be needed

Estimating creative tasks was never easy, regardless of the approach. The main benefit of t-shirt size estimation is to take the focus away from time. As you may already know, agile is all about the users. Design estimates are still important internally, but you don’t want team members to worry about committing to a specific timeline of each individual task.

Originally published Dec 12, 2019 9:37:00 AM, updated May 25 2022.

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