Career Primer: The Importance of Visualization In Design

design and visualization

“What exactly is it that you do?”

As a designer, I often get this question from customers, friends, and total randos. But it’s difficult and a bit frustrating to answer that question! After all, I should know how to explain the work I do every day. But I’m still struggling to come up with a short and simple answer.

Sometimes I bring it down to the following: “Well, we visualize stuff.”

OK, so that’s probably too simple, but it’s good start.

Here’s my longer answer: Designers help clients turn ideas into something concrete so they can see potential outcomes of their work and create better user experiences.” That works because it gets to the heart of the process. Designing eliminates the barriers between the message the product wants to convey and the person you’re trying to convey it to. 

After explaining what it is and what it does, the next step is to define the differences between good and bad design. Which is where I usually find the next question:

“What’s the secret to great design?”

Basic visualization is something anyone can learn, yes. But designers are hard to find. The reason for this is that visualization is more than the outcome of designers’ work. It’s also part of the process to discover and refine solutions to problems. Figuring out what to visualize and in what way can be tricky.

So we can pare down the definition of design to the following:

“We give clients the right visualization at the right time.”

Any time you create something new, you risk building something no one wants. Without the help of designers, teams risk investing in ideas that lead nowhere. Experienced designers know how and when to use different types of visualizations to answer critical questions and push a project forward. Different design techniques should be used depending on what a team needs to learn or accomplish next. 

The following examples of techniques describe how we accomplish this. 

Sketches: Exploring Many Variations to Ideas


When teams are in the early phases of ideation and meetings, the best way to get started is sketching. It’s the fastest way to visualize many different ideas and to help clients explore variations to promising ideas. As the project progresses, designers can move gradually from lo-fi to hi-fi visualisations.

Experiments: Does Your Idea Solve Real Problems?

Innovation teams need to conduct experiments to verify that their product solves real problems for customers. To speed up this kind of learning, designers create inexpensive prototypes to use as conversation starters in interviews. Teams might also need help designing minimum viable product experiments to measure how customers will react to different solutions.

Videos: Do We Share the Same Product Vision?

Once a team knows more about what they want to build, storyboards and videos are excellent for showing the context in which the product or service will be used. Videos like the one we made for Spiideo are powerful tools that help teams align around a concrete vision. They save teams from a lot of confusion that might emerge once they start implementing their product. By visualising the end result before the product is built, teams also get a powerful tool for fundraising and presales.

UX Design: Create the Best Possible Experience


A digital product can generally be launched early, while the team behind it is still finding out what customers value. When products only have a few users and evolve quickly, designers should not waste time on pixel perfect visuals. Eventually, when teams know who their customers are and what they value, it’s time to create a more polished product. Designers then craft all the touch points that influence the user experience of services or products, such as this user interface for Connected Gym.

Communication: Let the World Know About Your Product

Finally, it’s time to spread the word about your new product. Some designers can help clients with communication and marketing material, such as this video we created for Minut’s latest Kickstarter campaign. After being involved in the design of a new product or service, designers know what customers value and how to talk to them. Launching a product is a fun way to end a design project and hey, there’s no biz like showbiz!

To sum up, visualization is both a process and the end result of designers’ work. Disposable sketches and experiments should be used until you know enough to start building real products. Use visualization iteratively from lo-fi to hi-fi to reach the next level of understanding of your customers. By creating the right visualization at the right time you will discover value faster and reduce waste on your way towards a useful and desirable product.

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Written by Dan Gardenfors

A founder of the design, communication and innovation studio Nobiz, Dan has also worked in concept design at The Astonishing Tribe, which was acquired by BlackBerry.

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