It’s easy to run into articles about mastering design processes. It’s way more difficult to settle for the best approach.
So what can you do? Use what you have in mind. Skip what you don’t. Learn from the failures and missing parts. Iterate. Nobel prize, here I come.
Let me tell you an unusual case study. I’ve reimagined the biblical story of creation as a design process focusing on one single stage at a time. Sunday left for rest makes it 6 days of hard work for our legendary designer. Here we go.
On the 1st Day,
The designer awakens to see quiet emptiness around him. A wonderful idea pops into his mind. He opens up his favourite tool right away and creates a new file, world_draft_01.boom.
After spending countless hours on his design, he realises he has to take a huge step back. Before going any further, he needs a deliberate strategy and objectives that can be achieved. A suitable process, stage by stage. So, he has to conduct a proper user research.
But wait, who will he do the interview with? Neither has he valuable data, nor users to talk to. He doesn’t even have light. Nothing exists. The designer is on his own in the dark. There’s no other choice, he skips research and starts to design the world from scratch.
The whole world? Yes. He wants to create something really cool, something remarkable and lively. He doesn’t want to deal with any external expectations. This is a unique, weird case. Our designer will create both the product and the users for his product. Weird cases call for unorthodox strategies.
First things first, he defines the canvas he can work on. That’s fine, he’s good with canvas. The strategic pieces are space, time and light. Also, wisely creates a huge set of materials, dividing them into separate kinds. A toolkit. From these, he creates heavens and earth. To separate darkness from light, he creates day and night. After all his hard work on product strategy, he calls it a day.
On the 2nd Day,
Our hero lays down the law for the fundamental features of his creation. All features support and maintain life in its ever-changing form. He builds a feature map and conducts a card sorting. Luckily, he’s good at card sorting too.
Must have features are: Sun, Moon, land, sea, plants, animals, humans. Nice to have: baby pandas. Who doesn’t like baby pandas, right? Definite no-no: giant mosquitoes. He defines the scope of the world by giving depth to it. Creates the atmosphere, the so-called sky enabling features to take their place and meet the requirements set before.
On the 3rd Day,
The restless designer has lack of structure in his world. Things went full high-fidelity too early. According to an ancient wisdom, one should never go full high-fidelity at the beginning. Especially if it’s the beginning of everything, like in our case.
He returns to the desk with a single piece of paper and pencil, because raw sketches are just enough for now. Draws a wide range of plants, from the smallest shamrocks to the largest trees. Seeing the potential in his sketches, he makes them come alive and gives them the ability to reproduce.
After his hard work, the designer feels all these objects lack an architecture. He doesn’t have a clue about frameworks required for a world. Not to mention if he wants it to be a responsive world. All the cool kids go responsive.
So, how should the frame look like? Spheres are nice, they are easy to adjust. Everyone likes spheres. Check. Next, the designer crafts fuel for life. A material giving both flexibility and fluidity to the surface of his creation. A lot of water.
The rest should be something solid. He creates the seas, dry land and gives his creation the form of a sphere. He finally gives his product a name, Earth. What a busy day. That’s right, we’re talking about wireframes and information architecture here.
On the 4th Day,
Our product genius thinks all creatures should be able to find their way in his complex world. Stuff is already getting lost easily. There’s a desperate need for a guide. A compass that puts everything in perspective.
Thus, he creates the brightest stars in the sky and all heavenly bodies, including the Sun and the Moon. These provide all living beings with useful information about time and space. Moreover, they help the advanced ones to navigate. The movement of these bodies distinguishes day from night. What a nice navigation system.
On the 5th Day,
The designer is satisfied with what he has accomplished. Still, he finds room for improvement. It’s too static. There’s no sign of movement, something to keep things in flow. Long day ahead.
Driven by this idea, he then creates all living beings in water and in the sky, the smallest flies and largest sea monsters. These lively creatures are essential parts of the ecosystem. They look cool and keep the whole circle in loop by being reproductive. You might have guessed by now. No interactions, no party.
On the 6th Day,
Our unsettling designer is getting tired. He has no one to ask, nothing to be inspired by. His mood sinks as he realises, he can’t build a prototype for his product. There are no benefits of such a stage in this process. No users to test with. Due to lack of resources for prototypes and user testing, these steps won’t happen. He wasn’t good at them anyway.
Suddenly, he gets hit by creativity like lightning. That’s the moment he has been waiting for. The last refinement is different in each project, but for now, it makes a huge difference. This is his trademark, it’s what gives meaning to his work. He finds inspiration in his original strategy. He creates life on dry land, including humans.
Humans are who make the whole creation undoubtedly the product of this particular designer. He decides to make them in the image of himself and make them rule all other creatures on Earth. As such, they will have the largest influence on the planet’s user experience. They are the last shiny bits on the product’s user interface as it slowly reaches its desired visual shape.
Was the designer aware of his creation being heavily focused on humans from the beginning? Is this human-centered design, you ask? Interesting question.
On the 7th Day,
The creator sees that all this is pretty cool. He decides to give himself a break. Lays down, presses the big launch button and watches his creation go live. Booooooooooom.
Since then, analytics based iterations and redesigns are continuously happening. A product of such volume is never finished. No product is ever finished.
We don’t have a complete, precise documentation of these happenings. Feel free to use your imagination for filling the gaps in the story. It’s hard to find a more inspiring example for creating something out of nothing. The interesting thing is, people usually imagine the story of creation as a perfect chain of events, without stumbles and refinements. What if design processes were, and are a way of learning?
You should develop a design process that is personal to you and adapts flexibly to the different clients, projects, and briefs you take on. Don’t be afraid to use your own methods. Don’t be afraid to change them. Question everything. Trust your own instincts. You might come up with extreme results.
Perhaps not a complete world, but hey, who knows? And if you fail, you can refine your way of creation, until you finally succeed.
Holding a different opinion? Let me know your thoughts about design processes. They’re more than welcome.
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