How design and engineering combine to create the Modus DNA



Our approach is centered around building consensus from the start

At Modus, we specialize in designing and developing creative products that impact and improve a company's digital business transformation. Our north star is delivering value to our clients and value for their customers. The success of our clients is vital to us; if they aren’t successful, we aren’t either. From Gibson Guitars and Sesame Workshop to Moody's and Novartis, we build products that move businesses forward. We listen to our clients, teaming up with them to envision their future. Then we build it. That's what we do, and we do it well. 

Doing so requires two distinct skill sets: design and engineering. Good design requires clear thinking about the issues at hand, creative and elegant solutions, and an understanding of the ultimate user. Brilliant design is simple and effective, intuitive and refined. It takes hard problems and makes the answers seem obvious. Good engineering ensures all that good design doesn't go to waste. The most beautiful product in the world is a hunk of digital junk if the code fails or if it can't scale from half a dozen users to a million or more. 

Many firms can do high-quality engineering or high-quality design. We do both. It’s in our agency DNA. Literally. We began life as two separate firms, one focused on design and one with engineering expertise. For a decade, we collaborated on projects together—invaluable opportunities to perfect the delicate balancing act of bringing our skill sets together. About six years ago, we formally joined forces after realizing that combining two strands was a natural and obvious step. 

There are very few shops like ours, a boutique outfit where clients get senior resources and a very hands-on experience from partners as well as day-to-day contacts who have a high level of skill and an understanding of both engineering and design capabilities. When we come to a new project, we bring decades of success and a wealth of institutional experience, as well as fresh ideas and enthusiasm.

Design plus engineering equals progress 

Building a successful digital experience means getting both design and engineering in as early as possible. We'll sketch out an idea with the client—a loose statement about what the product might do. Then we engage senior leadership on design as well as engineering. We think of this as our initial delta force: a combination of senior UX lead, senior tech lead, product lead, and digital strategy lead working as an advisor and a partner with the client, building out the team as the project progresses.

What makes the Modus way unique is that both disciplines are engaged in formalizing what the product might end up becoming right from the early stages. Our goal is to achieve a shared consensus across every major discipline. In the conceptual phase, design and creative play a more prominent role, but a senior engineering lead is always involved. Later on, when the transition from detailed design work to detailed coding work occurs, no one is surprised. The groundwork has been done, the foundation laid. 

We do about 70 percent of the heavy lifting up front in terms of cognitively building a shared consensus. That saves so much time and effort further down the roadmap, but you have to have that shared understanding and trust between teams to make this process work. 

Client-focused results required

We take this approach with our clients, too. When we talk about building a shared consensus, it’s between our design and engineering team, yes, but also between the Modus team and the client. In the end, we’re one team, trying to reach the same goal. We’re always validating ideas with the clients and their customers. It’s a conversation about what to build and also one about what not to build.

Building world-class technical, creative, and useful products is an iterative experience. Sketching something out then sharing it with the clients and users gives them something to respond to. This process leads to more valuable discussions and feedback, and provides a concrete foundation. We iterate on the collective response. Only then can we achieve the right user experience. 

Imagining and creating products that impact digital business change and deliver insights at scale is a little bit art and a little bit science. If you don't have both sides, you'll fail to create something that delivers transformative results. Weaving design and engineering together is a puzzle, but we think we've figured it out here at Modus. Build early. Build often. Build smart. 

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