El proceso de diseño mata la creatividad

I teach design process to people with very little experience in design, at a thing we call the Design Gym. The response from our attendees is always very positive. People, with this new knife of analytic thought, feel excited and energized to go and use it in their lives, to organize their thoughts and to approach their problems in a new way. When I tell other frameworks for non-designers to better understand design, the responses are sometimes controversial.

A few months back, at an Interaction Designer’s meetup, I brought up what I do at the Design Gym. A new friend protested adamantly against the idea of process. He insisted that he just got in, rolled up his sleeves, and got the job done. He insisted that he followed no process at all. Plus, he derided process as rigid and no fun. And in one way, he’s right: something is killed when you think about and describe what you do. He feels that a certain freedom is killed. But what is created?

One of my friends from Industrial Design school recently had me over to discuss her portfolio as she considered her options for jobs. She’s been working at a design-driven consultancy for the past several years as a senior designer… and the feeling is that it’s time to start getting ready for the next step. The consultancy she works at doesn’t have an explicit process—companies come to them for their brand power and aesthetic. So when showing the story of a project, there are too few pieces around to speak to. There are a few sketches, then some renderings, then the object. Which is a story, after all…but it doesn’t speak to the why or the how—the sort of things employers say they love to see in portfolios. I think she realized that this was a problem, which is why she had me over: to help her find and tell her story, through the lens of process.

What is created when we apply a process? When process is used consciously you have evidence of work for each part of the design process. Those groupings of work help tell the story of the project, and the decisions made at the transition points in the process.

Now I think it’s important at this point to acknowledge that process is, in some sense, a lie. Or at least an artificial designation. I like to illustrate this using a Norse tale I read as a boy.

Loki, the trickster God, made a wager with a Dwarf while both were in heated discussion, drunk on mead. Loki was so sure of his position, that he bet his head on the wager. Loki cheated on the bet, but still lost. The Dwarf came to collect, and Loki’s friends were determined that he not squelch on the wager. Loki was placed on a chopping block and the Dwarf sharpened his axe. At the last minute, Loki protested loudly. The wager was for his head, which he argued was clearly forfeit. But his neck was not delineated in the wager. If his neck was damaged at all, the Dwarf would be in violation of the terms of the bet. The disagreement was taken to Odin, king of the gods for resolution. Odin ruled in Loki’s favor. He got to keep his head, tied, as it was, to his neck.

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I went on to describe one of the really juicy points of the paper: the difference between fidelity of a prototype and the resolution of a prototype. Fidelity is about the accuracy you believe it has to the final product. Resolution is the amount of detail you have to put into the prototype to convey purpose or believability. At this point, my friend said:

I’ll have to look at that again.

I think we could all use another look at some great frameworks. My friend had a passing familiarity with this framework for prototyping. He recognized it when he saw it. But when he saw how deep it went, he knew that it could help his work. Making sure your team and your boss and your test subjects know what they are looking at, making sure you’re clear on the type of feedback you’re asking for and why… it’s invaluable.

Those people who say they use no process, that they just get the work done… honestly, I think that can be a recipe for disaster. When we work for others or with others, we need to have a clear plan, a map for the road we’re going to take together, and how we’re going to get there. It’s not just clients that like to know when they’re going to see round two and how much it’s going to cost…employees like to know, too. People who say they have no process are lying. They have, at least, a heuristic, a rule of thumb, a method, an approach.

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