Let’s stop talking about THE design process

Carissa Carter
Oct 6, 2016 · 7 min read
photo cred: Enric Martinez on Flickr

But, before we think about design, let’s talk about cooking

When you first learn to cook something, you might follow a recipe. You are told what ingredients to use in what quantities and instructed on how to combine them. As you get better, you begin to swap out ingredients, you stop measuring, and you pre-heat the oven without looking up a specified temperature. When you’re really good, you invent recipes based on what you have on hand, a new ingredient that’s piqued your interest, the needs of those you’ll be sharing the meal with, the vegetables that are in season, et cetera.

Our pedagogy has evolved from the days of five hexagons.

From process to ability

At the d.school we endeavor to enable our students in eight core design abilities so that they might develop their own creative confidence and also inspire others, take risks, and persevere through tough projects throughout their lives. We want our students to be their own unique chefs. We don’t want to churn out individuals that only know how to follow a recipe. Remember when Michael drove the car into the lake?

Navigate Ambiguity

This is the ability to recognize and stew in the discomfort of not knowing, and then come up with tactics to emerge out of it when needed.

Learn from Others (People and Contexts)

This ability includes the skills of empathizing with different people, testing new ideas with them and observing and noticing in different places and contexts.

Synthesize Information

This is the ability to make sense of information and find insight and opportunity within.

Rapidly Experiment

This ability is about being able to quickly generate ideas, whether written, drawn, or built.

Move Between Concrete and Abstract

This ability contains skills around understanding stakeholders as well as zooming and expanding on product features.

Build and Craft Intentionally

This ability is about thoughtful construction and showing work at the most appropriate level of resolution for the audience and feedback desired.

Communicate Deliberately

This is the ability to form, capture, and communicate stories, ideas, concepts, reflections, and learnings to the appropriate audiences.

Design your Design Work

This meta ability is about recognizing a project as a design problem and then deciding on the people, tools, techniques, and processes to use to tackle it.

There is no THE

Though we live in the age of urgency, mastery takes time, patience, and practice. So, while I think it often makes sense to introduce first-timers to design by following a process, remember that it’s not THE process. It simply gives them a small taste of the abilities designers flex. Design as a discipline is evolving and becoming a sophisticated catalyst for positive impact on projects big and small, but the road to results is far from formulaic.

FAQ / P.S. / */Addendum

Ok — my post is over, but since this is all still a work in progress I feel the need to blurt out a bit more and address some of the thoughtful feedback that I’ve already received. I’ve been sitting on this piece for a few months and it’s taking up space in my brain. I think that by sharing it I’ll be able to dive in further and flesh out each ability and give examples, share tools and activities, etc.

Stanford d.school

Learning shared by the Stanford d.school community

Stanford d.school

Learning shared by the Stanford d.school community

Carissa Carter

Written by

Director of Teaching and Learning at the Stanford d.school. Designer, educator, map-maker, awkwardness enthusiast.

Stanford d.school

Learning shared by the Stanford d.school community