The No-process Process
Steal This Idea by Marty Neumeier
Designers have been touting process for decades. Why? Because clients need reassurance that their investment is safe. By turning creativity into a rational business process, designers have persuaded companies to trust them with mission-critical projects and substantial budgets. Process equals predictability. But what does the rational process really predict? Unfortunately, only sameness. If you want real innovation, you’ll need a much different process.
The rational design process looks something like this:
- Discovery (find out more about the challenge using interviews and research)
- Definition (determine the scope and goals for the project)
- Design (prototype and assess a range of ideas)
- Development (select and refine the most promising idea)
- Deployment (launch the project)
All very logical. All very safe. And, in an era of innovation, all very wrong. This linear, phase-by-phase structure guarantees that anything you learn while working on one phase cannot be applied to a previous phase. The arrow moves in one direction only. For example, if you discover something exciting in the design phase, you can’t go back and redefine the challenge to accommodate it. That door is closed.
A better process for innovation is something I call the “no-process process.” It assumes that team members will uncover new ideas as they work. Discovery, definition, and design are run on parallel tracks instead of a single sequential track, so they can “talk” to each other and create surprising new combinations. The arrow moves forward, backward, and in between, keeping ideas in a “liquid” state as long as possible.
This process was pioneered by the military, where it was called swarming. The goal was to attack a problem from many angles at once, thereby shrinking the time to action. At Liquid we use it to integrate brand programs without compromising their integrity.
One caveat: The no-process process is not for sissies. It’s chaotic and sometimes irrational. It’s a style of advanced creativity. But if your goal is innovation, it’s the only style that works.