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Designing in the Round

Photo by Juliet Furst on Unsplash

Ancient Greece remains a bastion of influence to this day. From its philosophers, we have the concept of Stoicism. From its architects, fundamental ways to build modern structures. From its artists, timeless inspiration and standards regarding craft. Of the latter, sculptors of the time embraced a concept coined "in the round". If you've taken art history classes, this may ring a bell. The term is derived from the idea that 3D objects should be conceived and manifested in their full form. This means that even if a sculpture was intended to be viewed from limited angles, every angle would be considered when crafting the form. Ancient temples exemplify this concept. In niches, one could find that even if a sculpture had a side of it that was never to be seen by the public, it was truly designed all the way around.

This concept can be translated into design thousands of years later. In the time of "fuck it, ship", it's very easy to rationalize focusing on the key components of a product that face users. Money and time are at stake. Both are more valuable than ever. However, it can truly pay off to design in the round. Greek statues are timeless. They are revered and many sit in polished museums soaking in the awe of patrons. That is the sort of attention you want your product to receive. Of course I see the jump being made by comparing a digital interface to a hulking piece of solid rock. Obvi. Statues don't have to bend and shift to meet the demands of an evolving market. They don't have to convert attention to dollars (though this is arguable). It is purely their legacy that makes them a quality subject of inspiration.

Let's move from concept and into application. What does it mean to design in the round? It simply means applying the same diligence of the perceived cruciality across all aspects of you process. You can dispute the feasibility of this idea in action as diligence is often in a direct relationship with time. Time, of course, is not a luxury most designers have. We face the cold reality of maximum output in minimal time. This will never change. Capitalism demands it and I get it. All of this doesn't prevent a designer from operating with this concept in mind, though. Everything from buttoned up files, detailed notes, and deep research constitute as designing in the round.

It simply means applying the same diligence to the perceived cruciality across all aspects of you process.

You've most likely opened a file from a former designer or coworker. "We need you to do X," your lead says. "No problem," you reply. You answered too early. You open the file and look into the hot, dripping intestines of some horrible creation. Nothing's labeled. Hierarchy is non-existent. You've just done the maths in your head on how much time is now added. It's a lot. You're not going to make drinks with your friends, but you will be drinking heavily nonetheless. This is an example of not designing in the round. The attention to detail didn't exist and the process has been tainted by it. Every angle of its perception is no longer held in astonishment because there are broken angles.

Broadening the lens, we can observe how designing in the round can be applied in the grander scale of a project. Think of all of the aspects of a project the user doesn't see. They only care about and interact with their experience. That's their role. They don't give a shit about research, user interviews, data, wireframes, what design tool you used–nada. Of course, those things can contribute to their experience, but ultimately, the end (not the means) is what they care about. How do designers give users the experience they crave? Designers must design in the round every step of the way as much as possible. I will relent to the reality of timelines on this one. We can play with the metaphor of buying a house. Purchasing a home is a big deal. A home is also something that is intended to be lived in. Homes are our safe place, our comfort caverns, our chill boxes. They are sacred. Thus, when we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase them, we expect them to fulfill our mental model of what a home should be. This is the final user experience. However, there is much the user doesn't see. They live in the negative space of the structure. It's the positive space that requires designing in the round. The foundation must be level, secure, and steadfast. The studs should be straight and strong. The wiring should be tidy and well connected. These are the aspects of the house the user doesn't see. They aren't going to take their new home down to the studs to examine how the house was made. Same thing with digital experiences.

They simply expect the thing to work.

Designing in the round is how designers guarantee a quality and lasting experience. Taking a queue from the Ancient Greeks, we can hope to enable experiences that serve as idols of admiration long after we create them.

Cheers.

-A

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