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De-bunking The Design Process

The design process is messy (sometimes), incredibly rewarding (most of the time) and is built around learning from failure (always).

Posted on 26th October 2021 in Product Design

A product designer needs to be flexible and adaptable in a constantly evolving workplace, as well as being thick-skinned and unafraid of failure.

We have a way of working that suits us and our clients.  We’ve refined it over the years, but the truth is that we have to modify our process on every new project.  It’s never the same, confusing eh?  Well here’s why.

Every project is different.  Every client is different.  Budgets are always different.  All these variables typically mean that what would work for one client, would not for another.  This means we have to continually adapt how we work in order to meet the particular brief that we are working on.  

Whilst we have adapted the Design Council’s “double diamond” approach to projects, this is primarily used to communicate ‘what design is’ to clients who have not developed a product before.  It also helps break down the project in manageable stages with clear milestones and deliverables, clearly highlighting how and why we do certain things in the development of their product.

Let’s talk about things that work well for us.

 

We get physical

We prototype often and as much as the project budget will allow for, using hand tools, random bits of stuff, cardboard, blue foam, 3D printing and anything we can get our hands on.  When we have something that we are reasonably happy with, we get it in the hands of the client and preferably the end user.  This process is repeated until all parties are happy with the outcome.

Sometimes this happens quickly but in most cases it takes weeks and months to arrive at the right solution.  My advice for any student or recent graduate of design; get physical with your ideas as soon as you can as you’ll learn more from a real prototype than any keyshot rendering you can knock up.  There’s certainly a link between the time it takes to get to your first prototype and the quality of the final product.

 

We focus on incremental improvements

Trying to solve a big problem in one go is hard, but break that same problem down into smaller parts and you’ll be on your way to the finish line.  This method will also help you focus on what is truly important to the design, and what doesn’t matter.  

 

Whiteboards vs paper vs digital

We like working/sketching on whiteboards more than any other medium.  It’s big, visible, easy to modify and allows everyone to contribute without needing high levels of fidelity.  We tend to solve problems quicker whilst we are standing around pointing at a scruffy sketch than any other method.  It just works for us and a key point here is that clients don’t pay us to draw or sketch, we’re paid to solve problems.  That’s what it’s all about. 

 

Talk with the people who make stuff

We’ve got a huge amount of experience in the manufacture of physical products, but every project brings unique challenges.  Whether it be a new process that we need to become familiar with or a new material that has the right properties for the task.  There’s always something new to learn and by getting potential manufacturers involved as early as possible,  they’ll be able to advise on how best to construct the parts.  They’ll also be able to give an indication of costs from an early stage too, ensuring that you stay on budget, which is crucial in any product development.

 

Does it make the boat go faster?

OK, so this phrase does make me feel a little bit queasy as we’re not a fan of business bullshit phrases, but the sentiment is right.  We are often managing fixed budgets and tight timescales so everything that we do needs to make a positive contribution to the project goals.  Avoid rabbit holes and if you feel that you are heading off course, make the time for a quick peer review to get back on track.  The challenge is to find whether there is a better, faster way of achieving the outcome, but not at the cost of quality to the project. 

 

Accept that we don’t have all the answers

Unless it is repeat work from an existing client, we usually find ourselves working in new industries that involve a steep learning curve.  It would be naive and arrogant of us to portray ourselves as experts in that particular area so we stick to what we are good at; asking questions and observing user behaviours.  These two traits carry us through even the most complex projects.  It’s also worth pointing out that the client is nearly always a subject matter expert in their field, so lean on them for knowledge and assistance throughout the design process.  

 

Be transparent

Remember me saying earlier that the design process is built around failure?  There will be times in a project where things go wrong and you need to resort to plan B, then plan C and so on.  These are the times in a project in which communication in the studio and externally with the client needs to be clear and constructive.  We don’t try to hide problems and hope that they’ll go away.  It’s all about coming together to solve the problem and we do that better as a team than as individuals.

If you read the above and thought ‘’Well that’s all just common sense!’’, it’s supposed to, let’s not make design harder than it needs to be.

We put people first and focus on keeping it honest and real

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