Using the design process

Computers & Mobile Craft & Design
Using the design process

In engineering, programming, web design and most other creative work, many people consciously use The Design Process. The PBS show Design Squad provides some great examples of how people can work with this system. There are also plenty of resources for working with students and other learners on their site.

The Android G1 is pretty much ready for the public to use, but it is still not done. One of the reasons I wanted the G1 was to follow the process of developing a product from initial release. The phone and its systems work ok, well enough for product release. In a few years, months or weeks, it will be much better. The fact that the phone and its systems are being developed in an open manner is one of the most powerful aspects of it for me.

The innovation of the Android system and G1 phone is not limited to just employees, but explicitly involves the community of users and developers to make it a better system. If we decide that it should be better, we can change it without waiting around for some research group at corporate to get the resources to identify, solve and implement a solution.

Consider the the original ipod. If you put that collectors’ item in the hands of a recent ipod touch user, they would experience little other than frustration. With a low res black and white screen that had no touchscreen interface, small mechanical hard drive, short battery life, heavy clunky form factor, drm locked music formats, lots of tactile buttons and a wide collection of other currently unacceptable design traits, it was enough to transform the music industry and modern culture. Apple had to start somewhere.

Often, the

Design Process

is presented as a series of steps that you go through in developing an idea or product. They (usually) include: Identify a problem, Gather information, Propose solutions, Choose the best idea, Test the idea, Evaluate and Communicate. There are many different versions, no set list covers all the ways people interpret the Design Process. As you get more familiar with the use of the process, you tend to skip around inside it as your project needs dictate.

In the image above, and in many other descriptions of the Design Process, it is shown as a loop. In considering a project to work on, you find a problem to solve, gather information, try out an idea, test it and evaluate. If you solve the problem, move on to another problem or aspect of the project that needs attention. If you don’t solve the problem, you have some more information about what won’t work. That information gets incorporated in your next go-round.

Making it right
As you cycle through the Design Process, your product should be getting better as you go. The more you identify problems, pose solutions, test them and implement them, the device, program, product or project gets better. New problems arise the more you work the process. If you nail the biggest ones first, eventually you have something that works pretty well and are fine tuning after a while. It is possible to over do this fine tuning part, causing the project to never see the light of day. It is also possible to short circuit this phase. Ebay, second hand stores and the dump are full of examples of products which did not get enough exposure to this phase.

When your product is sufficiently complete, and you have resolved the most pressing problems determined in the process, it is time to deliver. This does not mean that the project is done forever, instead, it means that it is ready for more testing in a real world environment. As you (and your team, as may be the case) see the product in the world, you will hopefully be looking at it for examples of where it can be changed and improved. As you find aspects of the project that need refinement, you make a plan for revision and implement it. Hopefully these flaws you find at this point are not tragic enough to seriously stall or ruin the project.

How do you use the Design Process? Have you introduced it as a development technique when working with creative people? Have you taught it to kids? What are your experiences with developing ideas partially or fully by looping through these steps?

Post your ideas, experiences and observations into the comments!

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Making things is the best way to learn about our world.

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