The Top and Bottom

by Luke Wroblewski August 26, 2009

Whenever I interview designers, I look for two things: an ability to understand and speak to the rationale behind a design (the big picture) and a focus on the nuances of the design (the details). A skilled designer adds value at both the top (the big picture) and the bottom (the details) of a design problem. When the top and bottom are thought through, the middle naturally works itself out.

Only focus on the bottom and you "can't see the forest for the trees". Only focus on the top and your "head's in the sky". Only focus on the middle and you don't know what's driving your design (the big picture) nor how to optimize it (the details).

Being able to operate at both the top and the bottom -that's design. Some interesting "examples":

  • When working through a product design, many details are uncovered that often adjust or enhance product strategy.
  • ZURB's process diagram illustrates how understanding goals (the top) and how to implement them (the bottom) allows you to turn opportunities into tangible products.
  • In the documentary Objectified, Dan Formosa states: "What we need to do to design is to look at the extremes. The middle will take care of itself."
  • In my Parti & the Design Sandwich talk, I describe a system for making informed design decisions that consists of design principles at the top and design considerations at the bottom. Design principles are filters for making decisions. Design considerations are the factors you learn about and weigh when considering options.