There’s a common perception that design, like other creative activities, is mostly driven by creative inspiration, that is the work of a genius with deep natural talents. This kind of a perception is often reinforced by the presence of artifacts such as the original iPhone, which so substantially moved its disciplines, that it’s hard to imagine that they could have done it without some deep talent or genius of their creators, in this case, Jony Ive.
Yet while in most fields, natural talent does play a major role. The reality is that what makes designers effective in solving problems is not their natural talent, but the fact that they have learned a process. The design process, that when followed faithfully, allows designers to solve very complicated Wicked Problems.
The design process can be carved in a number of different ways. But one way to think about it is that the design process is constituted of four main pieces: framing or articulating the problem, exploring the solution space, finding a good solution, and then refining that solution.
As designers, we know that design problems rarely come fully specified and pre-digested. Much of what the designers have to do is articulate exactly what the design problem is that they are going to solve. And, activities such as user research, competitive analysis, data analysis, and summary are fundamental for allowing designers to really get a grip of what design problem is that they’re working with, and how they want to frame it.
Besides framing of the problem, another key component of the design process is an exploration of the design space. This in the context of interaction design is called ideation. And it is often done through two basic activities, brainstorming and sketching.
The basic idea here is that designers never just come up with one solution which they just iteratively refine over time. Rather, they initially come up with many, many different solutions. And then try to identify solutions among that set that best fulfill the various constraints that their design problem presents them with.
In order to come up with a set of solutions that can then be refined into a much more robust and much more polished solution. This kind of selection among alternatives is often driven by the creation of process artifacts, such as scenarios, storyboards, and personas. That allows designers to concertize and visualize the various constraints that their design problem has so that they can easily think about specific sets of a problem and how the solution that they’re considering is going to fit within the constraints of the design problem.
Finally, at some points, all these considerations are distilled into certain prototypes. The actual artifacts that start iteratively resembling more and more what the final solution is going to be. That can be done by testing with targeted users, and slowly refined until the designers here come up with something that is a very polished, and very robust solution to their design problem. And although you might be under the impression that the design is a linear process, where designers slowly move in sequence through these four stages, it is actually not the case.
Rather design is highly iterative, where one aspect of the design loops unto the other. And many of these activities are done over and over again in different sequences as the person moves through the design process.
So for example, after designers articulate what the problem is, they often immediately jump to the creation of storyboards and personas and scenarios, to get a much more complete form of these constraints that they can work with.
Once that is done, they’ll loop back to doing sketching and brainstorming in order to come up with more solutions that better address this deeper understanding of the context.
And as soon as they can identify the components of the solution with which they feel relatively confident, they often jump directly into wireframing and creating of lo-fi prototypes that can be tested with target users so they can get feedback as quickly as possible.
In other words, all of these phases are done iteratively in various sequences and in various kinds of order, in order to create over time a solution that is as robust as the designers can come up with.
What this means is that design is fundamentally messy. One of the things that designers have to learn very early in their design career is to become comfortable with messiness. To become comfortable with ambiguity, and to allow themselves to trust the process, knowing that at the other end they will emerge with a sturdy art effect.
The sooner you become comfortable with messiness, the sooner you start learning to trust the process, the better off you are going to be as a designer.
Thank you ❤