Abstract is a little software company founded by the unlikely lineup of two designers and one engineer. There are eight of us now, but a year ago, it was only me, Josh Brewer, and Kevin Smith chatting in the “studio”—a warehouse converted into tiny office spaces, concealing its city zoning violations by obscuring the front windows with props from local theater companies. It’s hard to say when things begin, but I think Abstract started when I sat down next to a cardboard cow and said, “You guys ready to air grievances about our design tools?” and Josh replied, “Always.”
Complaining gets a bad reputation, but with effort and focus it can be productive. You can take your complaints, make them specific, then use them as criteria for your own work. We’ve taken this to heart in the months since, doing research through interviews and surveys with large and small design teams. We ask about their needs to find patterns. Then, we ask if those needs are being met to identify opportunities. We want to make sure that the problems we perceive are actually there, because a successful treatment always starts with an accurate diagnosis. And, as any doctor knows, the first step in a diagnosis is listening to someone complain about what hurts.
There’s been one recurring theme in our research, and we were able to get to it on that first day at the studio. Here it is: Too much of the design toolset is focused on creating isolated artifacts instead of supporting connected workflows. Design work needs to be better connected, and designers need more support for the half of their job that isn’t drawing shapes, choosing typefaces, or prototyping interactions. The majority of a design job is orchestrating the team, ensuring visual consistency, updating stakeholders, documenting decisions, interpreting feedback, and delivering the work for implementation. When you look at it this way, it becomes clear. We don’t need more visual tools. We need help managing our work and how design relates to the rest of the organization.
We think there’s a huge opportunity in creating a new kind of design tool, one that designs the other half of design. So, that’s what we’re building and what we’ll be writing about on this blog. We’re glad to have you along!