In discussions with friends who work on collaborative projects in and outside of games, one question came to mind:
Can a QUALITY product be completed WITHOUT a designer?
The conclusion we came to was a conditional "yes", but only if either of these two things were true:
- Each member of the team was fully capable of cohesively visualizing the ramifications of their component before actually implementing it
- There was infinite time to iterate on the implementation of bad ideas until they become good ideas
Time is rarely infinite and trusting everyone on the team to maintain a cohesive vision of the product can be a gamble. For that reason, most projects will involve people whose role it is to supplement the team's ability to visualize the details before time and resources are spent on the implementation of those details.
Depending on the industry, the people that perform these functions hold titles such as Producers, Directors, Project Managers, Product Owners, Designers, or Planners. The idea behind these roles is two-fold:
- Thinking about ramifications warrants a fulltime job
- The cost of thinking is cheaper than the cost of doing implementation work that will be discarded
So... what are the metrics of a "product owner"?
I believe that every industry can distill the evaluation of this pivotal role into three distinct categories:
How good is the designer at running simulations in the brain before committing resources to the design? Nobody will be perfect at this... iterations will be a fact of life in any industry involving collaborative creation of product.
There are two ways to derive a solution to a problem:
- One way is to throw random darts at the problem until a solution hits... and hopefully they will recognize the solution when they see it
- The other way is to incorporate the problem into a mental model with an effort to define success and failure conditions so that experiments might be methodically mapped within this mental framework
The "methodical" designer will cost production less money than the "random darts" designer.
Sample Pre-Visualization Screening Questions:
- Design a product about X with constraints Y
- What would happen if you do X?
- Solve this open-ended problem
2. Converting Thoughts to/from Language
Pre-Visualizion takes place inside the designer's head, but that work needs a reliable channel in order be converted into meaningful tasks outside the head.
Team members (including the designer) may not have all of the information needed to perform their function. The translation of ideas into sequential words within a sentence can certainly have more influence on the product than the translation of sentences into code.
The best designers I know have a way of communicating not just their ideas, but also the philosophy behind their ideas to the team. These designers serve as a creative mentor infecting the rest of the team with a galvanizing aesthetic compass. This transferrence of philosophy in addition to details gives implementors an opportunity to incorporate the core values of the design into their own decision-making process.
Sample Communication Screening Questions:
- Describe a product you like/hate and explain why it is good/bad
- Teach us how to do something complex that you are an expert at
- Solve this open-ended problem... ask questions as needed
3. Managing Relationships
Even though communication may be clear, debates may still occur. People will not neccesarily follow blindly. Unless the designer is going to work alone, this person will need to deal with people factors.
I have seen many highly skilled designers felled by a fatal flaw in this particular category. The pattern was often the same:
- Person is highly skilled and competent (or just overly confident)...
- Person expects everybody to be like them (i.e. agrees)...
- Person antagonizes people who are not like them (i.e. disagrees)...
- An authority figure (or figures) realizes that the cost outweighs the benefit
... or in the other direction, people quit the team or become dysfunctional because of this breakdown in relationships.
Like othello, the science of relationships is said to take a minute to learn and a lifetime to master.
Few developers ever say that they are a bad designer. Most people on a development team firmly believe that they are good designers; I suspect that this may be the same proportion of people who believe that they are good at cooking food because they are consumers of food.
Whether in or outside of games, the design discipline is responsible for managing the target aesthetics of the final product. Design, Planning, and/or Product Owning is a skill-based discipline with three categories of metrics that serve as qualifiers of competency within that discipline.
If you find yourself in a position to develop an interview process for a design position, then feel free to incorporate three RPG stat trees into your interview process if you haven't already:
... and if you are in a position to interview for the position of "designer", then it wouldn't hurt to consider where you might fall within each of these three stats.