Making Sense of the Mess: Using Process as a Tool
Design is messy, and I’m not just referring to how the shop looks in the wake of a prototyping spree. Design is a messy process.
Messy, because the path from initial ideation to detailed design and production is anything but linear or predictable. Even when a product vision is clear, the development process has twists and turns.
Technical problems may leave you stuck, initial assumptions may turn up false, user needs and product requirements may shift as new information emerges, and design decisions may need revising. Product development teams are forced to adapt to new information, explore all paths forward, and iteratively attempt to provide clarity to complex problems and ambiguous solution spaces.
Unfortunately, it means that even the best-intended plans quickly go off script and the actual “process” often feels and looks something like this:
What a mess…or so it seems.
Although it looks completely unorganized, hidden beneath the mess is evidence of process. And while design can often look and feel like this, having a good design process can help breakdown complexities and make the mess manageable.
While a good process isn’t purposefully messy, there is a lot we can learn about good processes by breaking down and understanding the mess.
At Mindtribe, we think of and embrace our process as a tool, because as engineers and designers we can use it to navigate the messy and complex design scenarios with confidence. In fact, our process hangs on the wall of our prototyping shop, sharing space with the other tools we rely on.
A good design process can extend the designer’s ability to make design decisions, plan effectively, react to change, explore creatively, synthesize critically, and progress designs in the right direction. Just like a tool, a good design process gives us control to manipulate our situation with confidence.
By understanding the methodologies that make up a good design process, we can craft processes that can be wielded by designers as efficient and effective tools in product design and development.
The Right Tool for the Job
Having the right tool for the job can make all the difference, and with product development, having the right process can be the difference between getting lost in the mess and coming out the other side with a shippable product. So before jumping into methodologies we see in the design process, it’s important to make note what makes a tool a ”‘good” tool.
“A good tool is one that is widely used and is effective and efficient towards its purpose.”
Design Tools Design
While this is broad and certainly not exhaustive, it helps explain that in order for a process to be used as a tool it must ultimately be designed to be useful to its users in the context of how they work and what they are doing. In other words, before you start creating a new process you should:
- Understand the current processes. For a process to be widely used, effective, and efficient, it must be created with an awareness of what you are currently doing, why some things work, and why some things don’t. Understanding your workflows and practices allow for new processes to be familiar and more easily adopted. In addition, understanding your best practices and weaknesses allows for new processes to improve, but not disrupt. Ideally, the new process should build upon strengths you have and fill in gaps where you are weaker.
- Understand the user. A good tool is always relative to the user. In this case, the user being the designers and engineers for whom the process will be used by. Similar to understanding your current process, for a new process to be a good tool, it must be made for its users. That means understanding the user’s work styles, workflows, and needs in a process. Because the process is designed to be a tool that will be used by the designer, the process should be developed to bring out the user’s strengths and make them more effective and efficient. Additionally, by understanding the user the process can be easier to understand and more natural to adopt.
- Understand the purpose. Every process has a purpose and unfortunately, there isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. In order to be the right tool for the job, you should understand the purpose of the process and why designers would use it as a tool. By focusing a process around its purpose it has the opportunity to be more effective, more efficient, and more useful to the user. Whether it is to organize, expedite, plan, review, or systematize, designing a process to its purpose increases its likelihood of finding success.