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The universal foundations of design

Massimo Vignelli once said:

“If you can design one thing,
you can design anything.”

What he meant was, the basics of design don’t change. If you understand the basic rules, you can design anything.

Another way to think about this is that there are a set of “building blocks” or “fundamental forces” in design. These elemental forces are always at play in your design whether you know it or not.

Here’s what they look like to me:

1. RESEARCH

“If I had asked people what they
wanted, they would have said
faster horses.” — Ford

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Design is like food. You need to know what type of meal you’re cooking and who’s coming to eat before you make it. …


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Look at all these buttons.

What do a fruit peeler, iPod and fighter jet have in common?

At the beginning of a product project (new website, app etc) you inevitably hear this line:

“…and we want it to be easy to use.”

Everyone nods, the meeting moves on, no one ever asks how easy.

This is odd because if someone says:

“…we want to charge a fee for that.”

Someone will immediately ask: “How much? How will they pay?”

There’s a number of options if you want to make something easier to use.

Option 1: Improve the interface

Make the interface (UX/UI) better. Better grouping, labelling, element expression, layout, modalities, form factors and other HCD principles. …


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Analysing 20 years of top 100's

I was curious about how music has changed over the twenty years that I’ve been listening to it. Has the internet increased the amount of music we’re exposed to? Do songs behave differently in the charts because of this?

I collected the last twenty years worth of weekly top 100 songs from UK’s Official Charts, and had a look.

tldr:

Compared to the 90’s, there are less songs in the charts today and songs stay in the charts longer.

Longer more interesting version:

For each song that was released in the last twenty years I charted the journey it took through the charts to see if there were any obvious macro patterns. …


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How do you stack up?

Business and marketing has a tendency to focus on deliverables. A deliverable may be a poster, video, webpage, tweet or an interactive-in-store-gaming-experience. Regardless of the specific example, you’ll notice that people talk a lot more about what than how.

Why shouldn’t they? Great deliverables increase sales and everyone gets to have a party! What tends to be ignored is the fact that great deliverables rest atop a supporting structure of building blocks made of capabilities.

Capabilities clearly receive less of the spotlight. Even if the deliverable is garbage, we usually try to fix it at that level — perhaps because we’re more comfortable with its tangibility. …


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Moving beyond the user.

Activity Centred Design (ACD) is a model of design that focuses on how a system produces an outcome as a result of activity. The focus is on the whole system rather than just the user.

It’s important to note that ACD is a model, not a process. ACD is just one of many perspectives you can employ when designing.

The ACD model is an X-Ray into the social and technical workings of an activity. It considers the broader system beyond a single user. …


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Orbital not circular.

User Centred Design (UCD) has been popularised for a while now and the term is being used more by those outside the digital department.

The increased adoption of UCD makes sense not only due to market demand for higher quality experiences and increased conversion rates but also because of how we now do business. Fifty years ago most jobs involved some form of processing, today most people are (under different labels) predominantly involved in the design process.

Unfortunately, as the term gets more widely used it also gets watered down.

While searching for a diagram to help explain the UCD concept to a colleague I noticed that most diagrams don’t do a great job of illustrating the process. If we’re honest most of these are really just the traditional design process arranged in a circle. …


…all hail the new work order!

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Show me a businesses and I will show you an organism.

Alvin Toffler’s Adhocracy is a theory of organisational architecture geared towards flexibility and cutting across typical bureaucratic lines. It’s aimed at political organisations but lets see if we can bend it into shape for business and digital.

Adhocracies basic tenets are:

  • highly organic and non-permanent structure
  • little formalisation of behaviour
  • low standardization of procedures
  • staff are deployed where needed, as needed
  • projects may not have executive mandate
  • roles are not clearly defined or assigned (open allocation)
  • selective decentralisation
  • power shifts to where it’s required

Sounds like anarchy!

Why do we need this?

The setup of most businesses is a hangover from 50 years ago. …

About

Dermot Holmes

I write about the fundamentals of design and digital.

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