The Agile method of software creation contains many principles of development that will help create good software. Some of my most successful projects have had as a key feature an agile designer. As Jobs said, design is how it works, and that means that to really deliver well in an agile environment, design and development have to be on the agile train together.
K-man Keeps it Alive
I work with a fantastic designer, the one and only Kendall Chadwick. He has many great qualities of an agile designer:
He's available - He lives with the cross-functional team. He is there to participate in discussions. It's not hard to get a hold of him, so answers to questions flow more freely.
He listens - He asks a lot of questions. He's not stuffy about his design sense. He realizes that many needs are represented in a project and product. He attends discussion meetings not necessarily focused on design but on the details of the product or process.
He's fully engaged - He knows his task doesn't end when he clicks save in Photoshop. He owns his designs and ideas all the way through the project, helping evolve them as we go. One of the most important things a software team member can do is remain fully engaged right up until the product ships.
Agile Experience Design
I just finished a book called "Agile Experience Design" by Lindsay Ratcliffe and Marc McNeill. I've read a fair bit on agile methods and currently live in a quasi-agile (hehe, let's actually call it mini-waterfalls) shop. This book was intriguing as its authors are speaking to designers as they try to integrate better in an agile environment.
Of note was their Agile Design Manifesto:
Agile experience design isInclusive rather than elitistEmergent with direction rather than up frontIntegrated and collborative rather than handed over the fenceConsiderate of customer, business, and technology needs rather than biased toward a single factor.
As a passing review: The book won't provide too much that is new to someone familiar with agile. It speaks in terms that I suppose are probably more well related to by designers. It's a somewhat lengthy and dense book. At times, it was hard to maintain reading momentum. The book is beautiful -- perhaps it had some real designers laying it out?
The Power of Design
It's amazing how much depends on solid design. The design will define the users' experience with the software. It will never not matter. To a great design in a software product is a difficult thing. Good people in the design discipline who are fully engaged in adapting to the changing landscape of software creation are invaluable. Agile designers rock. Find one and figure out how to get him on your project.
What have your best designers done to make great software on your teams?