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about design management

Good design is about process

We recently attended the end of year exhibition by the Communication design students at RMIT. They had chosen to exhibit finished work but also to show their developmental process and the things that inspired them.

They set out the room with rows of school desks and then arranged some of the things they used to generate ideas. In many cases they showed their visual diaries. Rather than just being sketch books these often showed the process they used. They analysed the things shown to them in lectures and then put them into their own work flow process. This was reassuring to see as so many end of year exhibitions just show slick finished pieces of artwork.

It was coincidental that Carol sent me a link to Jared Sinclair’s blog where he outlines why he thinks design process is more important then the almighty rush to produce a cleaver ‘creative’ solution. Jared’s expertise is in app development so I have modified his approach to the following points.

Open vs. Closed

Open (creative) and closed (execution) modes of working should be kept cleanly and formally separated. This means that once the design is approved you move to the artwork phase which should not be used to constantly redesign the project.

Creativity is a way of operating, a habit of the mind — not a talent. Creative sessions should be kept separate from the hurried every-day process of getting things done. When we need to solve a problem that requires creativity, we should deliberately shut out all of that noise and stress. In this time we strive to think of as many ways to view a problem as we can muster.

Be indecisive

Delay decisions until the moment they must be made. There’s no value in a decision itself.

It’s during this time of indecision that you roam amongst the most outlandish solutions. It’s in this stage of indecision that you fire, aim and then get ready to examine the impact.

Intervals and iterations

 A short time interval between minor revisions is a more effective measure of your productivity than whether or not you will complete a project by its deadline. The constant, rapid iteration of ideas is the mark of a Lean organisation that understands the need to have small time gaps between iterations in order to roll the project forward.

In thirty years of working with designers I am yet to see a great design that was the first option offered.  Don’t accept a first — or even a second or third — revision as final.

Opinionated principles

Opinionated design is successful when it is based on clear principles. Before the project starts, set out the principles you are trying to achieve. For example the iMac has five guiding principles:

  •  An all-in-one computer and display.
  •  Looks friendly and approachable.
  •  Minimises distractions.
  •  Hides rarely-used features.
  •  Feels like a screen and not much more.

The designers take these as givens and then develop designs for each generation of iMac. Look at the diversity of solutions and you will see how successful this approach has been.