Design thinking as a process for problem-solving

Cribbed entirely from Wikipedia – it’s a good meta view of a design process.

Unlike analytical thinking, design thinking is a process which includes the “building up” of ideas, with few, or no, limits on breadth during a “brainstorming” phase. This helps reduce fear of failure in the participant(s) and encourages input and participation from a wide variety of sources in the ideation phases. The phrase Outside the box thinking has been coined to describe one goal of the brainstorming phase and is encouraged, since this can aid in the discovery of hidden elements and ambiguities in the situation and discovering potentially faulty assumptions.

One version of the design thinking process has seven stages: define, research, ideate, prototype, choose, implement, and learn. Within these seven steps, problems can be framed, the right questions can be asked, more ideas can be created, and the best answers can be chosen. The steps aren’t linear; can occur simultaneously and be repeated. A more simplified expression of the process is Robert McKim’s phrase; “Express-Test-Cycle”.

  • Decide what issue you are trying to resolve.
  • Agree on who the audience is.
  • Prioritize this project in terms of urgency.
  • Determine what will make this project successful.
  • Establish a glossary of terms.
  • Review the history of the issue; remember any existing obstacles.
  • Collect examples of other attempts to solve the same issue.
  • Note the project supporters, investors, and critics.
  • Talk to your end-users, that brings you the most fruitful ideas for later design.
  • Take into account thought leaders’ opinions.
  • Identify the needs and motivations of your end-users.
  • Generate as many ideas as possible to serve these identified needs.
  • Log your brainstorming session.
  • Do not judge or debate ideas.
  • During brainstorming, have one conversation at a time.
  • Combine, expand, and refine ideas.
  • Create multiple drafts.
  • Seek feedback from a diverse group of people, include your end users.
  • Present a selection of ideas to the client.
  • Reserve judgement and maintain neutrality.
  • Create and present actual working prototype(s).
  • Review the objective.
  • Set aside emotion and ownership of ideas.
  • Avoid consensus thinking.
  • Remember: the most practical solution isn’t always the best.
  • Select the powerful ideas.
  • Make task descriptions.
  • Plan tasks.
  • Determine resources.
  • Assign tasks.
  • Execute.
  • Deliver to client.
  • Gather feedback from the consumer.
  • Determine if the solution met its goals.
  • Discuss what could be improved.
  • Measure success; collect data.
  • Document.

Although design is always influenced by individual preferences, the design thinking method shares a common set of traits, mainly; Creativity, Ambidextrous thinking,[5] Teamwork, User-Centerdness (Empathy), Curiosity and Optimism.

From Design thinking on Wikipedia

How To Think Like An Architect: The Design Process

This same thought process is used with Interface Design as well.

Santa Barbara architect Barry Berkus takes us through the process he used to design the Padaro Lane Residence in Southern California. He demonstrates his conceptual design process through a series of raw drawings and diagrams, along with a detailed explanation of the site conditions, and client needs. This preliminary diagramming stage is a necessary first step in creating a functional, and well thought out design.

Kurt Vonnegut’s Daily Routine

I’ve always been a sucker for process, especially formulating a daily routine. This sense of order was first drilled in me by my grade 6 teacher, who was a force to be reckoned with, and an expert on the to-do list, a craze of which still seems unabated. Her desire for order and structure in her classroom pails in comparison to my experience in trumpet studio at Humber College where Don Johnson would etch out our daily routine, forbidding any contact with the opposite sex until after a rigorous regime of long tones and controlled blatts and squawks.

From an article by Maria Popova is a letter from Kurt Vonnegut to his wife where he outlines his daily routine.

Dearest Jane,

In an unmoored life like mine, sleep and hunger and work arrange themselves to suit themselves, without consulting me. I’m just as glad they haven’t consulted me about the tiresome details. What they have worked out is this: I awake at 5:30, work until 8:00, eat breakfast at home, work until 10:00, walk a few blocks into town, do errands, go to the nearby municipal swimming pool, which I have all to myself, and swim for half an hour, return home at 11:45, read the mail, eat lunch at noon. In the afternoon I do schoolwork, either teach of prepare. When I get home from school at about 5:30, I numb my twanging intellect with several belts of Scotch and water ($5.00/fifth at the State Liquor store, the only liquor store in town. There are loads of bars, though.), cook supper, read and listen to jazz (lots of good music on the radio here), slip off to sleep at ten. I do pushups and sit-ups all the time, and feel as though I am getting lean and sinewy, but maybe not. Last night, time and my body decided to take me to the movies. I saw The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which I took very hard. To an unmoored, middle-aged man like myself, it was heart-breaking. That’s all right. I like to have my heart broken.

From Brain Pickings.

Writing as a means of data comprehension

Something I am thinking about today.
Through-out grade school I was always taught to write notes on whatever I was reading and to rewrite any other notes as a means to comprehend the material I was studying. I think I read somewhere since that writing involves higher level cognitive processes that aid in memory (I don’t have time to find the source). Even my Mandarin teacher forced me to write ad nauseam pinyin, and later characters, on the white board as a means to remember and to help keep me warm in winter.
Up until the past five years or so most of my learning and research activities were slow – the act of writing, high-lighting, reading books, and bookmarking passages took time. Time which allowed for greater absorption of the data at hand. Generally, you had to read through allot more material to help support your arguments.
Contrast that with the methods I, and many others, use now for the light research activities I am involved in in an almost daily basis. It’s all at the meta level – delicious for reference material, textedit for in-use snip-its of text, Google docs for draft sharing and collaboration, Flickr and iView for images, weblogs and micro-blogs for sharing, Yojimbo for data stores, and Google and host of other sources for research. It’s all fast and shallow with an emphasis on cut ‘n’ paste.
In effect we’ve become curators and convenors of other peoples material. We don’t absorb, we regurgitate. We don’t take the time to allow for that transformation of data to knowledge.
What effects does this have on the ability to concentrate? When I told a doctor I was having trouble focusing he advised to read real books slowly.
I wonder if there is anyway to actually slow down the process and still use digital tools? I’m not convinced I ever truly read anything onscreen as well as in a book. It’s more scanning and collecting.
The Effects of the Shared Writing Process on Reading Comprehension of Second and Third Grade Students.
Improving Reading Comprehension Through Higher Order Thinking Skills (pdf).
An insight on designers’ sketching activities in traditional versus digital media

Late Projects

Some quotes from a thread on 37s:

“How does a project get to be a year behind schedule? One day at a time.” -Fred Brooks, software engineer and computer scientist
“We release things when they are ready to be released, not based a we-can-predict-the-future schedule.
Priorities shift, products change, new ideas bubble up, we discover new techniques and concepts, mistakes are made, external circumstances reveal themselves.
All those things make schedules a waste of time. They don’t account for surprises, new opportunities, gut feel, and human error. Schedules are too theoretical for our tastes.
The only time we start thinking about dates are when we’re really close to release. Then we can say “let’s try to get this out next Monday” or “Let’s do what we can over the next couple week and then go live with it.” Our schedules are relative.

Web Design Guidelines (old)

I have been reviewing old documentation lately and came across this old guideline that I created in 1999. Six years feels like an eternity. These guidelines were for a large corporate web site redesign, the largest I had been involved with up to that point. I think there is some things to be proud of with the work we did on the site and the documentation. We set-up a weblog (unfortunately the content has been lost), which in 1999 wasn’t a mainstream idea, and we were granted a certain amount of liberty with the visual design of the documentation; liberty which I would never take now nor be granted. We managed to produce (there were two of us) this documentation in print and the web in both Mandarin and English. Unfortunately the mark-up is an entirely awful by-product of Dreamweaver or GoLive – I can’t remember which tool I was using then. There are some good tidbits in there even now and it’s a good exercise for me to see where I was thinking way back then.
Read: Web Design Guidelines.

PingMag’s – The Website Development Process

We’ve been too serious and downright stodgy for too long. Maybe the power of fun is catching on, here is a delightfully fun, unique, and understandable approach to presenting the usually boring web development process to clients. It’s over simplified but for a first meeting with an inexperienced client this could be a great way to break the ice and get them involved. Kudos. Use this approach for your next financial services client and perhaps they will actually enjoy yet another meeting with yet another vendor.
Check out: PingMag’s – The Website Development Process

Art Direction and the Web

, a worthwhile read brought to you by Stephen Hay and A List Apart.

Designers, programmers, and other specialists create essential elements of the whole. But the art director is in a position to tie these parts together for maximum effect, and maximum business results.

The purpose of this article is to introduce our readers to the principles and techniques of the art director

Size doesn’t kill large organisations

Clement Mok has been an influential design leader on the American scene for years. His self titled web site’s career section is an interesting presentation for an impressive career but it’s his thoughts on his time as founder of studio archetype which seems quite poignant to me now. I have included most of it here:
“… One often assumes size kills creative organization and that nothing good ever comes out of a large organization. I think this is more a myth of practitioners’ own making than the truth.
… One can experience great personal satisfaction in a large design firm just as one can easily be miserable in a small firm doing lousy work. I’ve learned that size is not the enemy; it’s the lack of vision that drains the life blood out of a design organization. The difference between a great or a lousy organization has to do with the rigor the core values of design are reinforced and the opportunity one has to do impactful and challenging work. More importantly, it’s about having trust in the leadership to do the right thing.
The explosive growth Studio Archetype experienced in the three short year of its existence was just such a place. Great people, great clients, great projects and long, long, long hours. It was not without its flaws and challenges but it was a place where one was asked to stretch and take on responsibilities.”

Building a Vision of Design Success

“A redesign has some built-in advantages over everyday maintenance; the most useful being focus. And focus is the loam that allows a shared vision to grow. A group chooses to redesign typically because the site is no longer working, and the pain of the site not working is greater than the pain of stopping business as usual and entering into an expensive and emotional project. But once committed, you have to move the project from reactive (something is broken) to proactive (we

No Fear

“Every time you worry, you practice to be weak. Every time you act on your strength, you practice to be strong. You practice what you really want to achieve, and you don’t have to live in fear.”
“Fear is raw and primal. Even after eons of evolution, we can still be immoblized by it almost before our brains have processed whether there is any reason to be afraid. But far more often, fear itself is the enemy. Rather than an instinctive response to a real threat, fear has become an anticipation of scary things. We fret; we imagine monsters under the bed; we recall past frights. Now, we simply have a bad habit. We call it “worry” and “anxiety.””
Link: Rethinking Fear

Ten Rules for Success in the Creative Economy

From my inbox:
1. Invent yourself.
Create a unique cluster of personal talents. Own your image. Manage it. Build momentum. Leave school early, if you want, but never stop learning. Dance as if no one is looking. Break the rules. Be clear about your own assets and talents. They are unique. And they are all you have.
2. Put the priority on ideas, not data.
Create and grow your own creative imagination. Build a personal balance sheet of intellectual capital. Understand patents, copyright, trademarks and other intellectual property laws that protect ideas. Entrepreneurs in the creative economy are more worried if they lose their ability to think than if their company loses money. Think about it.
3. Be nomadic
Nomads are at home in every country. You can choose your own path and means of travel, and choose how long you stay. Being nomadic does not mean being alon; most monads travel in groups, especailly at night. Writer Charles Handy says leaders must combine ‘a love of peoploe’ and a ‘capacity for aloofness’. Nomads apreciate both the desert and the oasis; likewise creatives need both solitude and the crowd, and thinking alone and working together.

Read more

Are you a workaholic?

“If you are spending a lot of hours working, is it passion or workaholism that’s driving you? Chang, author of The Passion Plan, says that if your work is motivated by guilt, other’s people’s messages, or the desire to avoid doing something else, then it’s workaholism. Other signs include feeling emotionally and physically drained at the end of the day and not having a good work/personal life balance.
“Passion leads to pleasure. Workaholism leads to burnout,” says Lisa Stone, President of Fit for 2, Inc. When you discover the work that fuels your passions, the resulting energy and fulfillment will tell you you’ve hit the mark.” Accredited to Jugglezine.
Link: Passionate or Work Addicted?

Get a clue

Some quotes from the Cluetrain Manifesto a book made popular during those heady dot com days. It now seems so cliche but in Taiwan it’s probably still quite new.
“Most corporations, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do.
But learning to speak in a human voice is not some trick, nor will corporations convince us they are human with lip service about “listening to customers.” They will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf. ”
Some which appear particularly relevant here:
Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.
Org charts worked in an older economy where plans could be fully understood from atop steep management pyramids and detailed work orders could be handed down from on high.
Today, the org chart is hyperlinked, not hierarchical. Respect for hands-on knowledge wins over respect for abstract authority.
Command-and-control management styles both derive from and reinforce bureaucracy, power tripping and an overall culture of paranoia.
Paranoia kills conversation. That’s its point. But lack of open conversation kills companies
Link to the 95 thesis: the cluetrain manifesto

Futuristic visions and old school thinking

Last week I attended a speech given by an executive of Liteon corporation on futuristic visions of the future as delivered through 3G communications etc. Unfortunately I forget his name as he was introduced so quickly in Chinese that I didn’t catch it. I was going to ask them to repeat it more slowly for those of us, me, whose translation engine runs as fast as a Commodore 64 but common sense prevailed. I have heard all this particular propaganda before so I brought a good book. It was a big room and I was discreet.
What was most interesting about his presentation was the final three videos. The videos were supposed to present 3 visions of the future as told by 3 different companies, one each from Japan, Taiwan, and America. What a telling comment on Taiwan corporate culture they provided.
The first video shown was from Japan (I forget the company). It was an utopian view of the future where families were brought closer together no matter where they were living in the world. The design was like something from the Bauhaus (see previous post), cold and functional. Lots of images of people walking on the beach, high blues, blurry dreamy like images, and smiling grandmas. Highly effective and no doubt an expensive production.
The video from America was a presentation of .Net by Microsoft. Microsoft’s vision of the future seems to be that students will never leave their bedrooms. The main characters life, a teenager, in this vision statement spent all her time interacting only with her computer and her car. I’m not sure if this is the reality of American life or simply what Microsoft is striving for. Naturally the technology was all centred around a big PC of some sort running Windows, requiring direct initiation of some sort between person and machine. The first videos vision integrated technology into everything -everywhere. Lots of new cameras too.
Despite the expected one sided nature of both these video presentations and the view that interacting with a machine or an image of a person is somehow as good as the real thing, they did show something. They showed Vision, though actual end user use, of the future that these companies are trying to achieve.
Now what did the Taiwan company show? A damn talking head. A cheap, badly produced video of the president of the company talking about how he thinks the future with be great due to the hard work and diligence of his company. The other companies can be seen as leading. They want you to believe, to believe that their vision is a good one. The Taiwan company wants you to believe that their leader is a good. Trust in him. There was nary a mention of Bill Gates in all of the Microsoft video, a name with far more “brand value” than most Taiwan company presidents. I was left wondering if the company had any original ideas and if they did how would they effect me and not just there company’s bottom line.
I haven’t quite come to terms with the near blind reverence to leadership that I sometimes experience here. I’m certainly not qualified to make change outside my area of expertise but it’s interesting to observe the differences brought on by culture.