A common trait among all creatives is a powerful urge to make something. And we need to strategies to cultivate and direct this powerful force if we don’t want to end up empty-handed. There is not one silver bullet to tackle all creative endeavours. after all, each project varies according to the tools, materials, and media you employ, whether you want to work on an experimental project or come up with a consumer product. Also, every person works differently.
We help students understand some of the most common and productive design processes and find out what works for them and what doesn’t. Here is a selection of our top choices:
Double Diamond – The Classic
Overrated as magic formula and despised as an oversimplified way to waste post-it notes this basic design process must be part of our repertoire.
The main idea is to split the design process in two parts: In the first part of the project we find out what the project is actually about. In the second part we build on our findings and develop a solution.
Each part is divided in two phases: an open divergent phase that allows for a multitude of ideas is followed by a convergent phase that evaluates what can and should be done.
- Discover – What is this about?
- Define – This is what we want to solve!
- Develop – What can we do?
- Deliver – This is what we are going to do!
This method is quite straight forward, especially when it comes to projects that aim to solve a problem in a specified time frame.
Agile – The Adaptive
More complex projects are not that easy to predict and plan. There are many unforeseeable variables that make it difficult to define an exact course of action.
Agile methods are in essence based on two premises:
Self organisation by diverse teams: Instead of separating groups of experts in subsequent work phases mixed teams work in parallel and exchange ideas and results of their progress. Thus we avoid that teams run into dead-ends that were not foreseeable from their perspective. This can also be applied to solo projects. A designer who works in parallel on conceptual, technical and formal problems can create fruitful connections.
Small incremental steps: The bigger the project is, the harder it is to product its viability. We can avoid to create useless monsters if we come up with verifiable results as soon as possible. So rather than to work towards some “big launch” we always work with results that can be tested by our audience. Thus we make sure to keep on track, that is: make things that people like and use.
Experiment – The Unpredictable
The two previous strategies are helpful when you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve, but what if you want to explore new territory? In the beginning it might sound fun to try out things and see where they are going but the truth is, even such an approach – and in particular such an approach! – needs careful preparation.
We can compare such a project with an adventurous expedition into unknown territory. We might discover something new, but there is always a danger of ending up lost and empty-handed. So this is not for the faint-hearted.
Instead of a clear timetable with defined results we must define our interests, our questions, our expectations, set up a number of things we want to try out. As a rule of thumb the focus is here on the process, not on results.
Innovation – Happy Accidents
When you want to try out a new technology or some new material you can work on two different activities:
Make: You learn the craft of the new technology, tinker around with it, just like an engineer would. This gives you tacit knowledge and grounds your thoughts in reality.
Think: Also read and think about the technology, its implications, and possibilities. Imagine where it could take us, how you would love to use it, where its dangers are.
Let the insights of both meet in a dedicated ideation process, like the Double Diamond mentioned above. In time the tacit knowledge of the subject will merge with the theoretical understanding to spark off interesting new ideas.
Data-driven Design – The Bureaucrat
Strictly speaking this is not really a design process but rather a method to make sure we are on track. Huge software companies usually test new designs with a selected number of users to evaluate the risks, costs and benefits of design changes.
Even in small projects we can install quantifiable research mechanisms to find out what people actually like. In digital interactive installations we can track what people use and like, and even for analoge projects social media – yes, counting the likes! – gives us an outside perspective and helps us avoid snobbish attitudes.
The Creative Habit – What really works
The establishment of a structured process is one important part of a successful project. Another one is to find out, under which circumstances one is most creative. So a big part of our creative everyday lives is to figure out habits that help us to get things done.