A Process for Design & Innovation

How I approach projects based on industry best practice.

From insights and early ideas, through prototypes to the finished product.

Design Thinking +
Design Doing

Creative processes often seem messy, observed from the outside or the inside. That is because they are, by nature. And it’s fine if not even crucial, to allow innovative and creative ideas to emerge. Yet some well-tested structures and processes can help to make sure you’re staying focused and don’t get entangled in that mess. Design Thinking is such a process or framework for human-centered design that acknowledges both, the need for creative exploration or divergence on one hand and the need for refocusing or convergence on the other. It was championed by IDEO in the 90s and meanwhile has found its regular place in slides of management consultancies and corporations, so much that people started to hate on it. Anyways, beyond the buzzword, I think it provides a very good starting point to plan design projects, explains loosely how most creatives work – knowingly or unknowingly – and allows you to go offroad with your ideas while maintaining the reassuring certainty to know where and when you’ll be able to return to the main road.

Three repeating major phases: Understanding, Exploration, Materialization.

Round & Round
We Go

There’s a reason, why this process is often pictured as a circle: It doesn’t ever end. Budgets and timelines do though, thus it’s usually a good idea to define how many rounds you expect to go within the constraints of your project and to define the scope of each of these rounds. That’s a bit hard to do when you’re trying to create something new and innovative because you won’t be able to know what exactly to expect. There are too many uncertainties. That’s a common problem though, and the answer to it in our industry is typically agile sprint planning, where you fill a backlog with tasks you want to complete and then put these tasks into the project’s to-do list on a regular interval, which allows you to steer your project flexibly and manage expectations realistically.

Exploration is my main focus area.

How I Fit
Into This Picture

To do my work as a designer effectively, I am ideally involved during the whole circle: From research to ideation, testing, and implementation. The bigger the project, the more specialized the involved roles will be. The phase I can contribute most to is the exploration phase, here it is where my craft becomes vital, e.g. for mocking up visual directions based on the definitions made previously in the understanding phase and by building interactive prototypes that then can be used in tests during the materialization phase.

Constantly repeated pattern: Diverge and Converge.

Design For Humans

Design Thinking is more of a high-level framework or a way of thinking than a step-by-step guide. But many of the more practical guides and methodologies, for example, the Design Sprint developed by Jake Knapp and others at Google Ventures are built on top of the ideas of Design Thinking, among many others. Essentially, all of them share a common goal: To enable us to create together iteratively, to look beyond our individual horizons, and to design for real human needs.

Humans are weird.

Links

  • IDEO on Design Thinking
  • Nielsen Norman: Design Thinking 101
  • Sprint by Jake Knapp
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