What is a design process?

This is an approach to explain a design process. For everyone.

The term design process is dropped on a daily basis in large software companies and agencies. Honestly I needed a few years to have a understanding what it is and why it’s a thing. In this article I want to explain a design process to those, who never heard of it before.

First of all: why is it a thing?

A design process is taken into account when you want to convert an idea into reality. When you want to create something or if you want to solve a problem or if you have been assigned a task but the steps towards the results are not clear yet. The purpose of a design-process is to shape and guide your work and thoughts to improve the outcome.

What, How, Do

These are the 3 phases of the process. To illustrate this better, let’s say you are a carpenter and the birthday of a good friend is coming up. You’d like to build something for him as a present.

What

Lets say he likes to draw and you always wanted to build a table. Now before driving to the DIY store or getting the buzzsaw out of the garage, you should begin to ask questions to shape the idea and create a more precise picture. For example the following:

  • Why is it needed?
  • For whom am I creating it?
  • Is there already a similar solution out there?
  • What is the underlying problem I’m trying to solve here?
  • How are other People solving it?

The important thing here is not to answer every question you come up with, but to decide which questions are important for you. After you decided on the important questions the next step is to answer those questions and write down the results. Now you have something like a specification.

The specification for your friend’s table could look like this:

A desk for your friend who likes to draw

  • The table height should be 35 inches/88cm as he’s a pretty tall guy
  • The table has to be inclined to make it more comfortable when moving the arm
  • He is mostly drawing on A2 paper so the table surface has to be big enough for that

How

After you decided what it is you want to create and have a glimpse of why, you think about how you can create it. You know about the specifications and have written them down, now you think about the execution of the spec.

So the plan could look something like this:

  • make a shopping list of the things you need
  • drive to a DIY warehouse, buy all the stuff
  • determine a date and timeframe, e.g. 6 hours next Sunday

Do

This is the fun part. You know exactly what you want to achieve and how you will do it. Now there is only one part left: actually do it!

Here is where the design process thinking reveals its true power. While actually executing the What and How you will notice if everything works out as expected.

e.g. It could turn out that:

  • Your friend has problems with sitting at a table — therefore he has to stand -> Adjust this part
  • There are some things you could just not handle alone so you need another hand so you have to rethink the How part.

And now: iterate

The reason why it’s good to split up the What, How and Do part is because the chance is pretty high that unexpected things happen while executing the plan. That’s okay, we call it future.

All we can do is to prepare for changing circumstances and have a structure that allows us to improve. If something doesn’t work out, take a closer look on why it didn’t work out. Did you miss something in the What? Was the How not precise enough? Which part of the process do you have to adjust?

It’s crucial to think about things like that as learnings. You actually made progress by learning more and that is something wonderful and no one can take that away from you. Never ever consider things like this as failures.

In my experience no one get’s everything right the first place. The people who are the most successful in what they do are just really good in adapting and learning and getting better. The design process allows you to dissect a complex creation part into smaller pieces to improve them one by one.

That’s it. This was my rough overview about what a design process is and how it’s executed. I like to embrace everyone to take it and adjust it to their needs.



Please let me know in the comments if you’re having any questions, missing something, have some improvements for me or if you like it you could fill out that adorable green heart for me.

And please keep in mind that this is just one way to do it. This is opinionated and based on personal preferences and experience. If you have a completely different approach that serves the same purpose I’d be happy to hear about it.

Thanks for reading ❤

And thank you DAN, Björn Dammann and Felice Vagabonde for helping me.

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