The Importance of Dog-Fooding
Felton says the main lesson he learned from the experience of designing and iterating Timeline is that “Photoshop lies.” “You can come into a meeting with a very beautiful comp and it’s like, ‘Oh yes, we should do it that way,’” he says. “But you’re never going to know if you can do it that way until you pump in the real data and live with it for days or weeks.”
To make sure they got it right, Facebook released Timeline to its own employees during the development process, to make sure that the paradigms they were developing worked for all users, those with a ton of status updates, for example, as well as those with just a few.
“As a designer, you have your baby that you want to try and sell. To make it saleable, you might pick someone who has really nice photos in their profile and use that to make your mockups,” Felton says. “But you’re ultimately just lying to yourself and the rest of the group if you think everyone’s page is going to look like that.”
I remember working on my first graduate school design project, a RSS feed reader for Mozilla firefox. My team worked hard to come up with a really solid design, that fit the aesthetic of firefox and managed RSS feeds in a very clean way. It was not until our presentation however that we realized that though still a good solution, there were many kinks in the design we had not accounted for because we used data that “fit neatly” into our mockups. We had not accounted for links and blog titles that went above our expected average character count nor had we really pushed the boundaries of how our tool would scale.
This is on top of the fact that even if you feel like you consider all of the options, and it still looks great in photoshop, it might end up not working as well as it looks like it should. This just exposes the value of building prototypes, not necessarily fully coded prototypes, but just something to get your hands on to start to evaluate the design as it is used, not just as it looks on the surface.