Tuesday, July 13, 2004
The Value of a Design Process
I've been thinking a lot about design methodologies and processes lately. Over the years, I've been involved in either creating or implementing a design process at no less than four different companies, so I'm getting pretty good at it. Designing a process is fairly easy; implementing it is what's hard. But why is one necessary in the first place?
A lot of designers are enthralled by process and are constantly seeking out new techniques. Others just seem to make it up as they go along. I try to be in the middle, following process more often than not, but allowing for flights of fancy that can take me in interesting directions (sorry project managers). But I feel like it's those side trips that give the product something extra. They are where I earn my money, why people would hire me, because they (I) bring something more to the table than just following a methodology like I was using a recipe to make a pot roast. No one hires anyone for process: they hire people for results.
Process isn't the end-all and be-all of design. I've been on projects where the process was well-followed and the result was a lifeless turd. Conversely, I've seen the process ignored and trampled on and brilliance emerges. But the power of process is that it gives you something to do when you get stuck. Which, if you are me, happens frequently during the course of a project. You've observed people: now what? You've got your personas: now what? You have a disjointed series of tasks: now what? If you can't make intuitive leaps to solutions, you can take the steps of the process as it moves along.
Henry Miller had some great advice on writing that equally applies to design: "When you can't create, you can work." That's what a process gives you: things to work on until you can create.
So really, there's no reason at all to have a methodology if you are a genius. You simply create. For those of us less gifted (and I suppose Miller was one such), we sometimes have to take it step by step, working.
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