Computational Design: The Marriage of Creative and Development

April 3, 2017

The marriage of art and science is a beautiful thing.

Recently, we caught up with two of our creative scientists (Is that a thing? It should be a thing.) to get their thoughts on how design and development have evolved to morph into something that is one and the same. Our associate creative director, Kevin Carnes, and digital implementation specialist, Krystal Hayes, sat down to chat about how they are doing things differently today that results in better work and improved client satisfaction.

In your role, how has design evolved over the past five years?

Kevin: For me, the design being created for any given project needs to be flexible. By that, I mean any design solution should be able to be applied to multiple formats. From print to digital to social, the design should transcend the platform on which it exists.

Krystal: Websites were pretty much a digital brochure up until a decade or so ago. The way a site was designed was still based on the same thinking as designing for a print piece. Now with the increase of capabilities, tools and devices, we are seeing web become more personalized and dynamic. It is no longer about looking at—or reading—pages on a site. Users can interact with the site in multiple ways, creating better connections and engagements between the user and the marketing message.

A recent article in Wired references the move to “computational design,” where today’s designers are skilled in code and today’s developers are also designers. What are your thoughts on this?

Kevin: It’s important for any designer to understand how code works. It not only educates the designer on the limitations of how your design translates when it goes to code, but more importantly it allows you to see the possibilities of your design that you never imagined existed.

Krystal: I think this is an interesting and exciting thing that is happening. Computational design creates an opportunity for more fluid collaboration between designers and developers when there is cross-awareness. Design and development are two different types of thinking, and being skilled in both is pretty amazing. Having fulfilled the role of a full stack developer/computational designer in the past, I see how this is a great role for agencies to have.  Saying that, I feel that the computational designers need the support of a full web designer and a full developer. There are many benefits in having the skills to complete both, but without the dedication to focus solely on one discipline I think you lose out of the high-level skill that you receive when having a single focus.

Can you give me some examples of how the worlds of design and technology have intersected in your day-to-day professional life?

Kevin: The digital world is expanding very quickly. One of the most challenging aspects of design today is to understand that the text, color and images you utilize in your design are living elements. They will be scaled, stacked and repositioned to meet the final device it will be displayed on. Knowing this, and how code and technology work, will allow you to plan for the best design solution.

Krystal: Every day I get to experience both worlds at least a little. From the initial planning of a new site to the full completion, both worlds [design and technology] need to have a presence. I have a strong appreciation for beautiful designs as well as clean, functional code. I know this is a result of spending my days immersed in both worlds, more one than the other. Because of this, I don’t think it would be possible to do the high-level work we do for our clients if they were not intersecting all the time.

With this shift in thinking, there are tools that seem to bridge the gap that once existed between design and technology. We’ve been designing and developing websites in the beta Adobe Experience Design platform for a little while now. Now our clients have a better understanding of what they’re getting with their website before it goes live, as opposed to a flat PDF design. Since you’re in AdobeXD on a daily basis now, what do you like most about this new approach? In what ways does it benefit you, and how does it benefit the client?

Kevin: I like the speed at which design solutions can be reached. We are able to see some of the pitfalls of the design before it goes to programming, which saves time and resources. The final XD design result can be pretty dramatic when presenting to the client because they can also add quick feedback that will allow us to be nimble and make changes quickly.

Krystal: I like using XD for clients as it is easier for them to understand the creative approach and how the site will come to life. Giving clients wireframes consisting of lines and boxes is leaving too much open to one’s own interpretation of what the final piece will be. I believe XD is a great place to be able to easily get thoughts and ideas out of our heads and communicate it in a more effective way to the client. Using XD has helped us relay to the client that we heard their needs and allows them to give better feedback in a more timely manner and more efficiently. All of this ultimately results in meeting objectives and making them feel like they are a part of the process.

If you look ahead 5 or 10 years, what new trends do you think will start taking shape or stick?

Kevin: There will always be a new or better solution to get from idea to finished product, but one thing that will never change is the idea of telling a good story. Regardless of the technology available, it’s the messaging and story that will showcase great design.

Krystal: I think in the next decade we are going to see even more customized dynamic sites—each user truly having a unique personalized experience. Users will see and be able to take full advantage of the power of the web.