Leaving Artifact Behind

Adam Thompson
3 min readOct 3, 2019

I recently attended Artifact Conference in Austin, and listened to talks from some super talented people like Jen Simmons, Brad Frost and more. Over 3-days at Artifact I learned a lot, and was inspired in many ways. One quote that really resonated with me as a front-end designer was when Jen Simmons mentioned in her talk that:

The design is always going to be finished when the CSS is being written — Jen Simmons

There was also a lot of discussion about the performance of modern Javascript, and how we’ve made the web—a platform that’s accessible by default—largely inaccessible through bloated frameworks. Tim Kadlec mentions that the size of Javascript files has increased over 6x in the last 5 or so years. Progressive enhancement was also a theme of the week—the idea that we should design and build smart defaults, and ensure our apps are accessible by default.

But perhaps the most important thing I got from Artifact conference was:

Stop making so many artifacts

The Minimum Viable Artifact

Brad Frost and Dan Mall both spoke about delivering the Minimum Viable Artifact. As someone who comes from the world of Sketch mocks, Zeplin handoffs and Agilefall this was eye-opening. But they’re right—if our goal is to make working software over comprehensive documentation, then let’s keep our eyes on the prize, that is, a working piece of software. What are beautiful pictures of software but just very comprehensive documentation?

What if we didn’t make any mockups?

This is a paradigm shift for those with The Mockup engrained in our workflow.

The idea behind the minimum viable artifact is that when designers and developers work together and speak a common language (in the form of a design system) you no longer need to handoff pixel-perfect Sketch files. To start building a feature, a conversation and a few sketches on a whiteboard should be enough for a developer to get started. The feature is moldable like clay in the beginning, and solidifies as usability testing results come in, requirements change, and design elements get more polished. Designers, developers, researchers and managers each change the product in some way, then pass it back to their coworkers—the Hot Potato or Ping-pong method.

The minimum viable artifact doesn’t mean that there’s no place for Sketch—the opposite actually. The less time a visual designer spends making pixel-perfect pictures of the whole UI, the more time they can spend on exploring illustration, iconography, or typography and polishing “spot-mocks” for parts of the design.

The less time a UX designer is focused on the same, the more time they have for usability studies, improving usability and accessibility, and refining the information architecture.

And the less time a front-end developer spends creating UI components and pages from scratch, the more time they have to spend architecting the app, building more-than-MVP features, or experimenting with new technologies.

Communicating and delivering only the minimum viable artifact allows teams to iterate quickly and build the right product faster. It gets you working and prototyping in your final environment sooner, and find out what will and won’t work in a design.

The minimum viable artifact gets you focusing less on the ephemeral, and more on the concrete. After all, our end goal is building great software, not beautiful pictures of software.



Adam Thompson

🗽🇨🇦 | Sr. UI Engineer @ MongoDB | Formerly at New Visions for Public Schools | SYDE @ University of Waterloo