A design process doesn’t have clear start and stop points and can therefore be a difficult thing to articulate. Good designers are mindful of their rough position in a process and careful about moving data down the line. But great designers are able to mentally categorize and make inferences from their understanding about a position in the process and constantly inform each step from the others. That step from being intentionally square about a process vs being fluidly informed takes years and years of practice.
While it’s helpful to organize a process into steps, it’s important not to get stuck to a linear path. Design is always happening, so order isn’t always the most important part, but being mindful of process is incredibly important. However, the most important part of any design process is remembering that the goal is to constantly grow in empathy. This, ultimately helps the process deliver the best product and experience.
Here’s a quick run through of how I currently try and organize my process into defined steps.
Learning is about starting from a point of empathy and identifying what my personal points of bias may be. It’s about getting a fresh understanding of the problem, the context and how fitness can be achieved between that context and the form.
Defining the data created during the empathizing/learning process can be done a wide variety of ways. If working with a team, it’s important to get as much data out of your head as possible. Defining is all about learning more about the perceived and understood problems with the current design in order to make a better harmony. And helping identify what some specific things to start prototyping, testing, designing are to show a customer, user, person to get feedback in new ways.
Prototyping is design. Design is prototyping. This is where you make things that can test hypotheses and move you and your team toward the objective. It’s important to remember that everything is a prototype. Everything. The product that’s currently being sold is a prototype for the next version. A drawing on a piece of paper is a prototype to help learn about the user/customer.
Things that are prototypes
Iterating is identifying points in the first 3 steps that still might have open ends. Places some questions should still be asked. Things that can continue being prototyped so that new connections can be established to help empathize.
What to iterate
While this isn’t much in terms of the “how” to move through a process, the small pieces of “why” help convey the value of each step. When combined with the experience drawn from lots of product development and a big repository of axioms of design, a rough process can tremendously help a designer working on his own. A process like this with rough time constraints (to help continue the cycle) can help even more when working in a team.