Wednesday, May 16, 2018

This Yard is a Roadmap


Last year my family and I were fortunate enough to buy a house. It’s about as old as I am, and I find a lot of myself in it. Some parts are fully remodeledothers exhibit shortcuts I might take if I wanted change to happen quickly without doing the hard-underlying work.

The backyard is one of those places.

It includes the essentials: a patio, a spot for a basketball hoop, grass that’s a little patchy but plays the part, a fence that could use some upkeep, and a big garden plot. There’s a shed along with a rickety swing playset. Oh, and did I mention the grapevines?

There’s a lot going on, certainly, but I have a clear vision for the yard. I see a nice big dog run so our two pooches can chase squirrels, roll around, and enjoy the sun. I see a big lawn that’s neat and tidy. I see a concrete basketball court for pickup games and practice. I see a seating area around the grill for friends and family. If you were to see my backyard as it is today, and you were polite about it, you might call it a “work in progress.” That would be generous.

Because I’m a designer, it’s nearly a requirement that I use a house analogy when talking about my work. Taking the work that I do with others and comparing it to something house-related makes it tangible for people who may not be familiar with what I do. But I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable with that analogy; it doesn’t quite capture everything that goes into UX, strategy, or visual design. Allow me, if you will, to take this analogy outdoors.

The Roadmap and the Projects

I have a vision for my backyard. If I had unlimited money, resources, and time, I could make ithappen in a week or two. And that would be great! However, I don’t. So I need to prioritize and decide what’s most important to me and my family and, hopefully, execute against it in an order that seems reasonable at the time. Sound familiar? While I haven’t made a PowerPoint for it (yet!) this is basically a roadmap.

My Metrics are Weeds

The first thing I tackled last year was weeding the garden. It didn’t go well, and I had to redo a lot of that work this year. My metric? The ridiculous number of weeds in the garden. I researched how to correct it and started that work this past weekend. Over time, I’ll see how it performs – if it becomes good soil, ready for planting. It’s going to take time, so I need to be patient.

There’s a direct line to digital work: you’ve got to know what the other side looks like. The vision is vital, yes, but there’s the measurement accompanying it. How will you know when you’ve achieved your vision? A combination of quantitative (number of weeds) and qualitative (aesthetics, feelings when we’re in the yard) can help keep you on track.

Landscape Inventory & Audit

Another example: I began to create borders at the edge of the lawn. The house’s previous owners had a lot of stone borders, but they weren’t very well organized. I took the time to put them in one spot, itemize how many types and shapes I had, and then work them into a new plan. There’s now a lovely border around one of the trees in our yard, and a border that runs nearly the length of the yard – it stops where the dog run will be in the future.

This, friends, is like a content inventory and audit. I assessed the borders I had in my possession, what types they were, and how many of each. I then began to put them into their new places – even though those places weren’t complete yet – so the future would go smoothly. A content inventory describes what you’ve got (essential before any redesign work), an audit gives a framework for the quality of that content (do we need to keep this, rewrite it, or replace it?), and a mapping – which often happens in tandem with information architecture work – dictates where it should go post-redesign.

Grapevines: A Known Risk

Lastly, the grapevines. I was floored by the possibility of having fresh grapes right outside my back door – but the upkeep of the grapevines was far too much for me and my family. In addition, the wooden trellis was an eyesore: it hadn’t been cared for very well. A few weeks ago, I removed the trellis altogether, opening the yard significantly. This past week I took care of the vines’ roots themselves. We have a little less separation of space, but it’s great for long-distance shots to the basketball hoop.

These grapevines are a little like projects that don’t go as planned or don’t work out. While I didn’t choose to put them there, they were a known risk when we bought the house. And, ultimately, it wasn’t something that was in line with my day-to-day life nor my vision for the backyard. While it did take time and effort to remove the trellis, it was ultimately a lot less than I had estimated. With any digital redesign, one must assess when a project ultimately doesn’t deliver value – and put that effort in a place that makes more sense.

What It All Means

My backyard is going to take several years to get to a point where I feel good about it. At times, it won’t be happening as quickly as I’d like – or I’ll find a pocket of time in which I can do a lot of work. But I can still have a quiet moment with the pooches, or dine with my family on the patio, while that work is happening.

Whether it’s a backyard or a website redesign effort, it’s extraordinarily tempting to try to solve every single problem in one fell swoop. But thinking about things in the long term can be much more rewarding – and sustainable.