Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A forgotten but crucial aspect of designing

One of the most exciting reactions I get when I talk to professional designers about the design process is when I mention what I call the practicalities of designing. With this notion I try to capture all those seemingly 'trivial' aspects of designing that are so easy to forget when we talk about design thinking. The practicalities of designing can briefly be listed as:

Time (not having enough)
Resources (not having enough)
Information (not having enough)
Knowledge (not having enough)
Competence (not having enough)

Every design process and designer lives with these practicalities. The first two are the most concrete and also the ones that are most often forgotten and neglected. Designing is about projects. A project has some kind of a starting point and some kind of an end point. The process is to a large extent defined in time and by resources. In most cases, time and resources are decided without any deep understanding of the particulars and specifics of the design process in question. It is done during the 'contracting' process (another aspect of designing which is not given enough attention unfortunately).

The three practicalities under the line are maybe less concrete but are equally practical.  When it comes to information, for instance, there are situations during every design process when the designer experiences that there is both too much information and not enough information. And even though every step in the process creates more (useful) information it also leads to a need for even more. Designers struggle constantly with overwhelming (too much) but insufficient (not enough) information.

My point here is that these practicalities (and there are of course others) are not glamorous or exciting, especially not time and resources, but they are crucial and they define designing. To understand designing requires a deep understanding of these practicalities.

My experience is that if you want to talk to designers and be taken seriously you have to show that you understand and respect the practicalities of designing. You have to know what it means to engage in a design process without enough time and resources, with too much and but insufficient information, without enough knowledge and competence, etc. You need to be able to talk about these practicalities in a language that make sense to professionals and make them recognize that you respect all aspects of their practice.

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