19. This Is My Story, & I'm Sticking to It
by John Armitage
The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself.
- Robert M Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values
When I described LAVA to colleagues working in more applied areas of product development, they often replied “wow, how did you get to work on that?” or “How did you come up with that?” I always acknowledged that the work was fun, but replied that the grass always seems greener on the other side of the practical/theoretical divide, and I did miss the thrill, focus, and teamwork of the product execution phase. But I had in fact expressly prepared myself to do innovation work at this level throughout my career, and felt confident in my efforts, although I did feel somewhat lost with navigating the ever-changing organizational labyrinth that is SAP.
We learn and improve by seeing examples of success, alongside stories of how the success occurred. Part I of this book was about visual analytics and LAVA; the Product. Part II continues the story with its portrayal of the Process. Design solutions are better understood when presented in the context of how and why they were done. I’ve always devoted time to reflect on design process for clues of how to improve it and make success scalable and repeatable. Having already shown the product examples in detail, Part II describes what was learned about design process for others to apply to similar projects in their work, whether they be related to visual analytics or not. Part I is about the golden egg. Part II is about the goose.
To elaborate on the general LAVA design process I’ve already described, I’ll focus on the specific aspects that I consider relatively unique and critical to the effort’s success, and put them into a broader context of current development process concepts. For those readers already in the design profession, much of this will not be new, and most of it is not specific to visual analytics. I include it because the work I’ve discussed was intended to be design-led, sweeping, and innovative. As such mandates are rare, it’s important to reflect on how the work was done so as to help others to understand, based on a project’s circumstances, which conventions to follow and which to break in reaching a solution. In particular, I’ll refer to the design methods and agile development movements now known respectively as Design Thinking – or DT – and Agile/Lean Development.
DT can be summarized as a distillation of proven problem solving techniques, many coming from the design and “creative” disciplines, into a prescriptive working method for application to problems in business and society in general. Science has the scientific method. Design has Design Thinking. Lean – a blanket term for a host of related process models – is a companion discipline for product development. It’s gained widespread adoption over the past two decades, in reaction to chronic reliability and satisfaction failures of large complex software projects. Alongside a number of rather obvious principles related to customer focus and sustainable team management practice, it prescribes the division of large efforts into a series of smaller, time-bound sub-projects called “sprints”. The idea is that by reducing interdependencies and assumptions, and by having frequent milestones with clear and practical goals, projects become more predictable, and focused on real customer needs.
To give some baseline perspective on the processes and results I’m discussing, I’ll summarize my personal educational and professional background, how it shaped my approach to the work, and how it led me to the position to do the work. This content gets a little personal. I include it to serve as a reference for those thinking of pursuing interaction design, the visual analytics specialty, or innovation work in general. It also reveals the personal motivations and beliefs behind the initiative to execute and elaborate upon on the work I’ve included in the book.
Although it may sound obvious or condescending to say so, my general approach to competence has been to be as technically/creatively skilled, passionate, and able as possible. This came, however, at the expense of other professional talents such as emotional intelligence, leadership, social networking, political savvy, and work/life balance. To use the phase commonly applied to doctors, earlier in my career I had a terrible bedside manner. At one point I realized this, in part through some tough love from colleague and friend Volker Frank, who eventually used his unique skills and insights to become a leadership and fulfillment coach. I thereafter limited my pure design-related pursuits, in favor of better understanding other people and becoming a better teammate and leader. I had learned that a great technical or creative solution is only one major part of success, the other being the ability to build trust, listen to and interpret personal and organizational signals, keep people calm and focused, and anticipate the emotional consequences of statements and actions. I found that a small improvement in these skills far outweighed geeky time pursuing technical or creative design perfection. Product design is a team sport, and I resolved to try and become the type of team player that makes all the other players better.
In my teens, I picked up on the trend of machine automation and how it was taking over the more mundane jobs from real people. This was the time when the US auto industry was beginning to suffer from poor quality and, due to automation, was beginning the process of a long-term reduction in workforce size. I strategized that picking a career where machines could never supplant people would prevent the same thing from happening to me later in life. This pointed me in the direction of the professions in general, and art and architecture in particular. As I got older, I continued to pursue paths requiring unique, creative innovation. Again, this may sound arrogant and condescending. But it was none other than a rational choice, with recurring benefits and drawbacks.
Early on, I calculated that it would always be valuable for clients to have someone to turn to when they needed something completely original, even if this need was sporadic. The problem is that most clients are not looking for original creations, which are often more risky and costly than conventional approaches. I’ve already discussed the organizational and other barriers to innovation in the general market. Innovation is a niche pursuit. For example, I spent two years working as a graphic designer in the fashion industry for The Limited, Inc. headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. The Limited took the fashion stereotype of “copy what they wear in Paris this year and sell it next year for less” to its industrial extreme. I was in the marketing department, separate from the merchandising effort and thus free to do original work, and The Limited was known for its sophisticated branding and marketing design sense.
Their merchandising model, an extreme version of that from the industry as a whole, was to outsource fashion creativity and trend prediction to the couture houses and elite brands, then copy and market cheap knockoffs rapidly and at a mass scale. They were incredibly successful at this – to the point of being an example in business guru Tom Peters’ book In Search of Excellence – and enjoyed a relatively predictable business cycle. I knew if I were to reach my potential in my field, it would need to be on the innovative, creative side of whatever industry I was in. It was the only thing I seemed to excel at and get excited about. This was not a value judgment about originality being better or more honorable than what The Limited did, but rather a cold assessment of my personal strengths and weaknesses. Blindly following others was not a strength.
This approach was, however, not limited to visual, expressive creativity. When assigned to redesign the printed point-of-purchase signs of the Structure brand’s retail stores, I ended up implementing a redesign of the logistic system for how the signs were produced, configured, organized, and stored in the store backrooms. This saved space and worker’s time, and fixed the problem I noticed from my user field study – not that I knew at the time that a field study was the name of what I was doing – that the correct signs were rarely being used, and the sign depots in the stores’ backrooms were a mess. My stakeholders, expecting a styling upgrade – which I provided too – were surprised and fairly unimpressed at my expanded scope and the larger problems that it solved.
Although we had begun to use software for design authoring at RISD, the idea of designing the software itself never really occurred to me then. I took a class in my first semester called “Computers and Design”, which I essentially used to learn advanced typographic composition using Aldus/Adobe Pagemaker on a Macintosh. When designer and educator Hugh Dubberly visited in his role as Apple Evangelist, to present a new hypertext-based product called Hypercard, I simply did not “get” it. What was so cool about clicking on words to go to different pages? The graphics were so primitive, the screen so small. What of course made Hypercard unique was how it enabled a huge number of possible connections, and unique user interaction sequences, within a mere file’s worth of content. Each Hypercard “Stack” was a tiny, self-contained Web. The only software we had used before that was intended for authoring, not consumption. Hypercard was the first combined author/consume digital product we had seen.
In two years at RISD I was surrounded by some of the most talented young people in the world. I had only been accepted to the graduate program because someone else had dropped out at the last minute, and I was stunned at how aesthetically talented and expressive my classmates were. I used to joke that our class had two types of students: Those who spent Saturdays in the bookstore and those who spent them in the paper store. I was firmly in the first group. RISD’s graphic design department was led by Professor Thomas Ockerse, a pioneer in the application of semiotics to graphic design. Semiotics is the science of how we assign meaning to communication, and featured a very intellectual approach to the topic that, if not entirely measurable, sought to be accountable and describable.
I quickly stumbled upon Tufte’s first book, and another compilation from IIT Professor Patrick Whitney about how computers would change design, both as authoring tools and as a communication medium. It was 1987. I decided that information design and the resolution of complex problems was a niche in which I could be competitive, in part because nobody else seemed interested in doing it. I was attracted to the factual truth that I perceived this specialty to demand, and I was at the time a bit disillusioned with the commercial and stylistic focus of the graphic design profession, as well as with its lack of systematic rigor and limited impact upon important topics.
I often look at the range of design practice on a spectrum, with the more subjective, expressive professions residing to the left of the span, and the more rational, systematic professions residing to the right. Off the scale to the left are artists, and to the right are engineers and scientists. I’ve positioned myself at the extreme right of the scale while still being included in the design role. Were my work to be any more analytic or functional, it would lose its aesthetic aspect completely and I would essentially become an engineer. Usability guru Jacob Neilsen in fact coined the term “usability engineering” to describe the work in this frontier area. Many working at this location on the scale moved to there from the right, from the sciences of ergonomics, sociology, and cognition. Note that I see this scale as one of expression and rational measurement, not innovation. I believe innovation is orthogonal, an attribute of any endeavor. You can be an artist and not be particularly innovative.
My father, a liberal arts professor, had said that the cool thing about math is that there is always a singular right answer. The prospect of removing much of design’s subjectivity, to prove that a design solution was right, was appealing to me. I think that somehow I was stressed and intimidated by the open-ended, subjective nature of design, where it seemed that anything was possible, bound only by the personal inspiration of the designer. I was also surrounded by peers adept at crafting beautiful, expressive form out of thin air, while I fell behind, thinking. I actively sought out constraints and rationale so as to limit the solution options, and enable me to better justify my results with words and strategy. If my design was not right, I wanted to know. This perfectionism really worried my advisors.
My RISD graduate thesis, Planning and Spontaneity in the Design Process, explored the relationship between disciplined, systematic processes and the elements of accident and chance in the development of ideas and forms. While originally intended to be a treatise on the former approach, in practice I realized that an approach where we strictly imagine things first in our minds, and then execute them verbatim with our hands, may be comforting and predictable, but also too restrictive.
In the years since, I’ve linked this motivation back to my childhood obsession with building scale models of military vehicles, airplanes, and ships. Interestingly, I was never interested in car models because, in comparison to the wild and specialized forms from military history, they were relatively uniform, and their styling arbitrary. Weapons, despite the sad reality of their purpose, are exquisite and vivid examples of form, function, and constraint in utilitarian product design. Although performance is never sacrificed for styling, iconic examples like Britain’s Supermarine Spitfire fighter plane are beautiful creations, and both functionally and spiritually helped prevent the twentieth century from turning out even worse than it did. They are honest in that they appear only as they need to appear, and represent the most fervent efforts of the smartest inventors, engineers, and designers from the most powerful nations and organizations.
Pilots will say that a plane that intuitively looks right will likely fly right, reflecting the inherent beauty of highly functional artifacts. Any remaining luxury of arbitrary design styling, typically limited to small details such as the curve of a wingtip or angle of a fender, is applied toward either boosting the pride and confidence of the craft’s operators, or to instilling fear in its opponents. Nothing is wasted, and the stakes are as high as they get.
In the time since, of course, I learned that the overall equation of Design is much more wet and complicated, particularly when other human beings are involved as partners, stakeholders, and customers, as they always are once you’re no longer a student. It was not until years later when I took a job in “interactive multimedia” that I discovered the existence of “user interface designer” – and now “interaction designer” – as a distinct role in the software development process. It seemed tailor-made for me, as it combined the complexity of interactive product design with the two-dimensional design craft of graphic design. I’ve since realized, as with my example of the store signage, that I’ve in fact been acting as an interaction designer all along… I’ve just been working in non-digital media. Because, in an overall historical sense, software was essentially a brand-new product form, there were plenty of interesting new things that needed to be designed and invented. Most of the rules had not yet been established, and those that had were often in flux with the rapid changes in technology. This dynamism continues today.
I found this exploration of options stimulating, and was lucky to begin my digital career in a small software publishing company where writers, illustrators, animators, graphic artists, interaction designers, and developers worked side-by-side to produce high quality and highly interactive educational CD ROM titles. Collaboration was easy, and the interaction designer played a key role in the interpretation of a content outline or game script into a structure and sequence of screen images, text, buttons, and behavior instructions that were handed off to the developer – by hand on a 3.5 inch Iomega disk – for coding of the prototype.
Since then I’ve spent nine years in design and technology with consulting companies focused mainly on complex applications, and eleven years in product companies as a designer, practice leader, and principal designer in the BI space.
Although I try not to get sucked into the stereotypical designer attitude and lifestyle – I was once told in a job interview “you’re not like the others, you seem like a regular person” – design thinking permeates everything I do. I find inspiration from doing a variety of things that I had avoided when younger – so as to focus more on my technical craft at that time – and apply these insights back into my work. Many of the perhaps bizarre references I give in the book are the result of this somewhat dilettante mindset. One benefit of this is that by having interests outside of your profession, you can be a more interesting person to non-designers, and can relate important professional insights to them, by using analogies from life that they are more likely to understand. When designing products for regular people, it helps to spend time being a regular person. Architect Peter Eisenman recounted how he would read up on the local sports teams of his clients before meetings, so as to enable small talk and the building of rapport. I try to be engaged in popular topics out of genuine curiosity, with the result of having a sincere point of view on relevant topics, but without explicit preparation. Again, this is at the expense of having an encyclopedic recall of, for example, interaction design patterns, their optimal use cases, and jargon designation.
My most vivid example of practice insight coming from everyday life has come from the hiring of architects and other designers and craftsmen for house projects. For a designer, it changes your perspective to walk in the shoes of a client spending their own money on services similar to what you yourself provide. Although I had entered into these engagements with strong ideas of what I wanted, I listened when challenged. I always learned something new, and was for the most part pleasantly surprised with proposals I would never have thought of. I also turned down many ideas. Either they did not fit my vision, or, based on my experience of having lived in the house for many years, I knew would not work well. I try to remember this experience when a client pushes back on a design recommendation that, based on the client’s full-time existence with their product, does not quite sit well for reasons that may be hard to articulate.
I find it interesting that I can remember the moments when I explicitly decided to pursue an arts-oriented career to outrun automation, adopted a strategy of introverted technical/creative competence, and targeted a rational, quantitative, systematic design specialty. That’s a long answer to the question of “how did you get to work on that?”, but it’s true. As with all choices, these served to open some doors, and close others.
The act of committing ideas into a physical form – be it words, images, sounds, models, or code – forever changes the task at hand by adding new information to its context that is persistent and can be reflected upon. In essence, the act of working on a project has a major impact on the context of the project itself. New things are learned, some things turn out to be easier or harder than expected, competitors and other actors in the outside world change, in some cases in direct response to the project itself. As with natural selection, form-making is fraught with error and imprecision in its process of converting thought and intent into artifacts in the world. While the detrimental conversion errors can be corrected through iteration, the beneficial ones, when recognized, are like gifts from an unseen dimension.
As hell-bent as I was to prove otherwise – and to the consternation of my thesis advisor – at a late stage in my thesis project I realized that the seemingly mundane, manual act of making things was a hidden channel to unpredictable wonders. It inevitably seemed to be the spilled paint, stray mark, photocopier glitch, or offhand comment from a colleague that led to design breakthroughs, none of which would have happened had I kept design intentions locked within my head. My main take-away from design graduate school was respect for what can be learned from the forms you create. A dialog begins between you and your creation, and you need to make something physical to get this dialog started. This principle is in fact behind much of DT and Lean.
Although my area of study was graphic design, I was more interested in the general process of designing things, and evaluating their resulting effects on the people and systems involved. To the detriment of my craft and aesthetic skills, I looked at design’s traditional form production as merely a necessary final production step in a larger business process. While my classmates were cutting, gluing, drawing, and snooping around the paper store, I was in the library reading about urban planning and chaos theory, or concocting rationales for how and why I did something. Thankfully, my professors advised me to spend a semester in remedial courses, drawing letterforms and painting color studies, and this helped me to see what was truly unique about design and designers – our ability to create representations (drawings, models, designs) of how future things and processes could (and should) look, feel, and work. Other disciplines require skills like imagination, communication, teamwork, critical thinking, empathy, and discipline, but the designer is the only role trained to bend the synthetic world into pleasant and intentional outcomes, and to simulate those outcomes for evaluation in advance of their execution.
The idea of the critique is, well, critical to this process. While the successes and failures of typical students are hidden in unseen papers and test results, design critiques are public and harsh. To compensate for the subjective nature of a creation’s value, good teachers will be extra rational and doctrinaire in their commentary, trying to convey the underlying rules of good and bad while leaving an open path for innovation and self-expression. Since design is all about specifying ideas in great detail, there is nowhere for students to hide, and it can be very competitive. A key skill in surviving this gauntlet is to make artifacts with the expectation that they will evolve and change. This is the reason for the note, the sketch, the mockup, the prototype, and the thick skin to have the ideas torn apart and rebuilt. The process itself forces you to identify and commit to the key elements of your idea, and sketch in the rest.
Design is an appealing profession, in part due to its visibility and the hint of entertainment, artistry, and celebrity that comes with authoring things for voluntary mass consumption. Like with performance arts and architecture, it draws many more aspirants than the industry can support, creating competition and pressure for the limited number of viable careers. And like these professions, the outcome of a designer’s work is very visible and specific, making jealousies and criticism inevitable. My way of ensuring a seat at the table was to focus on learning as much as I could from working and reading, to work as many hours per day to improve, and to eliminate potential distractions such as relationships, hobbies, vices, etc., an approach I rode until it stopped working. Because design relates to so many ideas – at its base the intersection of art, science, and commerce – there was plenty to pursue, and many ways to justify it all as functional study, or work. Everything I did was prefaced with “how can this make me a better designer?”
What has since served me well from this time was my focus on the factors of process, context, and complexity in communication design. In contrast, I could have pursued a number of other graphic design specialties, including type design, letterpress printing, computer illustration, semantics and semiotics, history, or others. While I loved making graphic images, deep inside I longed somehow for deeper intellectual challenges that could have a greater long-term impact than the traditional graphic design artifacts of advertisements, books, logos, and posters, perhaps involving the spatial design challenges of product design, exhibits, or environments. In general, I was interested in applying the design process to general decision making. With an eye towards finding a sustainable way to make a living by looking at problems and imagining solutions, I was drawn into business topics, in particular how to use design methods to generate ideas and plans for larger and more complex problems involving commercial products and services. In the late 1980s, the systematic approach to optimizing creativity and product development was referred to as “design methods”, which has gradually been distilled into today’s DT.
I also recognized that the media world in which I would spend most of my career would look much different than the one I knew, and so by studying these underlying processes, I would be prepared for any type of future design challenge. Media forms and technologies would change, but the way our minds worked to solve problems, imagine forms, and work in teams, would not. I studied the work of design method theorists Jay Doblin, J. Christopher Jones, Bruce Archer, and Christopher Alexander. Professor Sharon Helmer Poggenpohl somewhat dismissed Doblin’s obsession as “merely trying to guarantee ahead of time to a client that a product would sell well”. Perhaps her lack of enthusiasm came from the fact that Doblin is rarely associated with producing memorable design examples, or the idea that Doblin’s approach to testing designs ahead of time for buyer acceptance only served to kill off riskier designs, and thus pander to the lowest denominator of taste. Regardless, I thought that the things I wanted to design would be more substantial and long-lasting than most graphic design artifacts, and require greater investment from their sponsors. Clients of these projects would demand greater assurance of success up front.
Maybe it was mistrust of my intuition, the power of the single definitive design vision, my own sense of responsibility to clients, or the long-term prospects of a more sustainable and lucrative career, but I found this challenge irresistible. I had the simple desire to do planning, writing, and investigating versus strictly form-making. Reading accounts and descriptions of the design process helped me to understand it, at the very least as a supplement and respite to the necessary all-nighters spent assembling design mockups. I also relished the idea of solving problems so complex as to require teams of specialists from different disciplines. Professor Malcolm Grear, the founder of RISD’s graphic design program, always said that he no longer learned much from other graphic designers, preferring to take influence from those in other disciplines such as artists, photographers, architects, and writers. Genuine curiosity of the practices and motivations of my collaborators in business and engineering has taught me what is universal and unique about my role in the process. Reading about topics in cognitive science, technology, business, and even politics gives me perspective to understand the forces buffeting the practice, and the vocabulary to communicate in the terms of one’s stakeholders. I’ve tried to use the design process to develop the mind set to understand, work with, motivate, and align team members to generate ideas and work well together.
My classmates will spit out their coffee upon reading this. In those days I had none of these skills, and they did not come to me naturally. It has taken a long time and focused effort to improve at them. Taking this approach involved incurring more stress and discomfort than the traditional path of the lone, expert aesthete working away on predefined problems. I saw that for all but the most elite of this type of professional, this more traditional career path involved accepting the status quo and having a limited impact in a narrowly-defined field. Not only did this sound a bit dull, but such specialization presented a long-term risk to the disruptive forces I knew were coming. I chose a multi-disciplinary approach that required that I not only learn about what drives interdisciplinary collaborators, but due to the invasive nature of creating tools central to people’s work, also learn intricate details about people’s jobs and behaviors. Again, this is expensive and often uncomfortable to do, but with the higher stakes involved, it makes good business sense.
While it may sound courageous to jump into such work where there are few rules for success, I’ve found that the main enabler is to admit what you don’t know about the problem at hand, and then commit to the effort to find out. This position of acknowledged ignorance and doubt – what Buddhists call beginner’s mind – is particularly uncomfortable for experts and consultants in competitive business contexts, where confidence and predictability rule, and where prescribing research and testing is akin to admitting that you don’t know what you are doing. However, when designing products in a medium that is itself new and also unfamiliar to those asked to buy and use it – as was the case with Planet SABRE – the only terra firma is the process itself, which calls for research, trial and error with small iterative steps, participatory design with users, testing, etc.
A friend of mine had started out at college studying graphic design, but changed majors because she did not want to spend her life sitting at a drafting board. I think I had the same fear, but was curious enough and lucky enough to find a path where solitary form-making remained an essential but lesser element of a much more varied day-to-day work experience. In my undergraduate graphic design study, I was fortunate to be skilled at both illustration – I could always draw and paint well, eventually to near photorealistic levels – and graphic design, but chose the latter for a career due to the appeal of its greater complexity, systematic impact, and closer engagement with other disciplines.
Outside of high-stakes affairs like major ad campaigns, sweeping publication templates, corporate logotype designs, or airport signage systems, there was never a need to conduct formative research or usability tests in traditional graphic design. Because of the relatively mature state of pre-internet printed communication, research and testing played little part in the design process. Part of the expertise in being a graphic designer was knowing what looked good and worked well at that point in time. Many designers are known for a specific visual style, which they apply to each project. If a potential customer feels that this style reflects their needs, they hire the designer to assure a predictable result. The chosen designer is an expert at achieving their particular style, and can do so reliably and profitably. Some designers of this type admit that their approach is just their particular style, while others feel that their form of expression is broadly prescriptive or culturally iconic, representing an archetypal design reference for many other solutions.
I was of the school that saw the latter approach as a creative straight-jacket. Part of the fun of design was not knowing ahead of time what the solution would look like. I fell in love with the new challenges of not only jumping from designing a logo to a magazine cover to a golf ball package, but from discovering – or even inventing – a context to determine the appropriate solution, versus just designing it to my personal preference. The options seemed to be “hire me because you like my work”, “hire me because my look is the right look”, or “hire me to understand your unique circumstances and let those unique circumstances lead to a unique solution, because uniqueness in communication is a huge factor in its success”. The latter sounded the most interesting to me.
Ironically, you might say that LAVA is an example of me abandoning the eclectic design approach. After all, LAVA’s crux is having a lot of stuff look and act alike. I think the difference is one of impact and timeframe. LAVA involves new functional inventions, and specifies a framework with room for improvisation and elaboration upon its central themes. Contrary to the often arbitrary, fleeting, more narrowly-relevant graphic design styles, LAVA involves relatively timeless factors based on ergonomic efficiency. In that regard, it’s more like a dramatically more legible font design or layout schema.
In theory this all makes sense, but in reality it’s hard for a designer to work effectively in a variety of styles to suit the message to be conveyed or the problem to be solved. In an iconic example, I think the most amazing thing about The Beatles is not the quality of their work, but its eclectic variety of style, approach, and instrumentation, from pop jingle to ballad to operatic to psychedelic. Their music put every variable in play. It’s much easier to work within a narrower range and vary the elements you are comfortable with and able to control. The band Boston is an example. They had a distinctive and innovative sound upon their arrival in 1976, and it was masterful. But after their first album, they struggled to continue finding unique creative expressions while working within their limited repertoire. This is despite a dispute where they demanded a generous three-year span to produce their second album.
In design, such an open-ended approach is harder to explain and justify, requires more effort from stakeholders, takes longer, and requires a greater variety of skills. For me, it was always worth it for the associated variety, and to work on projects that were honest and could have large or lasting impact. Some designers rely on their expertise, reputations, and dramatic final solutions in acquiring and convincing clients, albeit at the risk of long-term solution failure due to a poor stylistic fit, or overlooked key factor. I prefer to mitigate risk by convincing stakeholders to do more early prep work before any tangible result is available, with time accounted for testing and validation, in order to be confident that the solution will succeed. Many clients, however, still expect to be blown away by the inspired work of creative geniuses, delivered with dramatic fanfare. This can be driven by sponsor insecurities, personal egos, political challenges, or time-to-market pressure, where the designer is hired to visualize proposals based on specific unproven assumptions. When approached this way, proposals are easier to understand and more seductive, and the process one of mysterious sorcery. If such design efforts achieve their goal of securing funding and support, the risks associated with the shortcuts in the design process are then born later on in the process, where any resulting problems are more costly to solve. Sometimes there is no choice but to respect time to market concerns, but when doing so the risks should be made clear.
One way to divide the ego and ambition driving designers is into the categories of perfectionism and reach. Do you want to do something very specific and limited, but with exquisite control and precision? Or do you want to have a broader influence, with unpredictable and diffused results and credit? I got into the field because I liked drawing and designing, and I liked the cool things that resulted. Much of this pleasure is lost when working in the systematic design mode, and needs to be replaced with the love for being a mere part of something more vague, but possibly bigger and more powerful. Harking back to the matrix shown earlier, the former favors precision, and the latter accuracy.
19.1 | Volker Frank (web) | www.volkerfrank.com
19.2 | Design Methods (book) | | Wiley
19.3 | Systematic Method for Designers (book) | | Council of Industrial Design
19.4 | Design in the Information Environment: How Computing is Changing the
Problems and Theories of Design (book) |