I’ve been on the soapbox over here at The Theme Foundry lately discouraging too much “process” while we’re designing and building a new WordPress theme. What do I mean by process? I’m defining process as the steps you take to get from point A to point B. In a traditional agency environment this might take the form of: client meeting, client pitch, wireframes, Photoshop mock-ups, site delivery.
Who doesn’t like process?
Process at it’s core is a great thing. Without some processes in place even the very best companies will have trouble staying organized and productive. Process streamlines workflow so a team can be more effective. When clear and defined processes are in place everyone feels better and more confident in their work.
Process taken too far
Too much process can lock you in to bad decisions and kill creativity. Specifically, you start saying things like:
“We already signed off on the wireframes, so we’re not changing that.”
“We already scoped out that feature, so we shouldn’t explore this new idea.”
“I think I have a better way of doing this, but we’re already so far along… I probably shouldn’t bring it up.”
We always want new ideas and creative thinking throughout the entire process at The Theme Foundry. If we’re in the middle of a theme and someone has a brilliant idea involving a complete overhaul of the home page, we do it. The best ideas win, always. Process never rules over spontaneous creativity.
In contrast, this type of spontaneity usually doesn’t exist in agency land. In that environment, volume is important. Therefore, breaking down the process into specific steps makes perfect sense. If you’ve ever done client work, you know some sort of approval process is required to stay sane. In an agency, the process usually starts to form the roles of everyone working at that agency. You have a project manager, a designer, a front-end developer, and sometimes a back-end developer. Each person is a cog in the wheel of the process. Once something has been researched, scoped, and approved by the client, expectations are set. No matter how great the idea, substantial and meaningful change usually won’t happen. The process rules supreme.
A process that encourages creativity
Our design process follows this pattern: sketch and discuss ideas, rough mockups, design and build in the browser. The first two steps only take a week. Designing and building in the browser usually takes about six to eight weeks.
During the building phase the whole team checks in at least once a week and reviews progress and discusses important decisions. These meetings are where we see creativity blossom. Because we don’t have any rigid process in place, nothing is off the table. We may decide to go a completely different direction with the design or explore a new idea. Because we’re building the theme in the browser itself, we don’t have to worry about starting the process over. Everyone on the team is proficient with HTML and CSS. Not only that, we’re able to use Forge to leverage languages like Sass, which allows us to prototype new ideas much more quickly and truly make the browser our canvas.
I feel pretty strongly that putting creativity first gives us the freedom to do our best work and build better themes. It’s important to remember that process has it’s purpose, but it shouldn’t be allowed to stifle spontaneous creativity.
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