Once we’ve mastered designing for a single surface, that single surface becomes an element in a larger composition — perhaps an entire screen in a product.
Then, that entire screen can be part of something much bigger, like a complex flow, feature or product. This is what we ask of mid-level designers. The units of operation for a more experienced designer may be entire screens, and what we expect them to compose is an entire “make me happy” flow, feature or product. The patterns we ask them to recognize are no longer arrangements of an icon and text, or an action applied to a single screen, but the flow and interaction patterns that make up a whole feature or product.
Those same skills we used as a beginning designer of creating balance and simplicity, reconciling tensions, and so on, also apply for designing a complete flow, feature or product. Is the functionality balanced across the screens, so there isn’t too much activity on one screen versus another? Are the tensions in the product, such as finding the right trade-off between clarity and brevity, resolved? Is the flow as simple as possible, so that people navigating the screens can do what they want and need to do?
If we fast-forward a few years, we might find ourselves in a place where our units of operation are entire apps, and the composition we’re creating is a company strategy that spans multiple apps. But again, the ability to answer the same questions apply: Are we balancing the roles of apps across our user base? Are tensions between how the apps are designed or overlap in use cases resolved? Is the strategy as simple as possible? It gets harder each time, the complexity increases, the teams get larger and the stakes get higher, but it’s the same design process each and every time.