The Design Process Part 1

I would like to preface this article by stating that I am not a research expert, however I hope you find the ideas of practical help. The first stage of the process is to gain an overview of the area under investigation considering the importance of a range of contexts such as cultural, historical, industrial, technological, economic, political, social and physical factors. Research methodology and the range of primary and secondary sources to be consulted should be considered at this stage.

The process of research and development continues with an analysis and evaluation of the gathered material. The analysis considers the significance of alternative approaches and existing knowledge within the field.

Further evaluation will identify potential concepts, determine media to be explored and identify who the user will be. The final proposed outcome should be the result of prototyping and user testing reflecting the research and development.

The design process: stage by stage

Stage 1: Input
Before beginning a project and committing to any possible solutions it is wise to gather as much input from as many relevant parties as possible so that the project can be defined accurately and common goals set.
• Establish the field of enquiry – what areas are being looked into?
• Refine the focus of the project – broaden or narrow specific areas
• Seek opinions from all stakeholders/interested parties
• Identify key issues
• Establish who the potential users are (include demographic studies)
• Analyse the internal and external cultures under investigation (ethnographic research)
• Analyse visual and verbal language and terminology of the subject area
• Analyse existing knowledge, literature and market (comparative research)
• Examine project constraints – what is to be excluded?
• Outline the aims, objectives and intentions of the project
• Formulate a brief
• Develop a plan and schedule
• Establish a budget
• Establish research methods and methodology
• Identify research sources: primary, secondary and tertiary
• Gather qualitative and quantitative data
• Consider all possible lines of enquiry
• Consider a range of contexts
• Establish the design team
• Consult experts, for example cognitive psychologists, product designers, interactive designers, architects, writers and usability consultants

Stage 2: Throughput
Research and development begins and influences the course of the project.
• Use lateral thinking methods
• Brainstorm ideas, create random factor lists, rank order lists, cross-reference lists on a matrix
• Make use of concept maps, spider diagrams, flow-charts, mood boards
• Make observations of users in real scenarios
• Experience the scenario as an individual or research group (bodystorming)
• Measure the responses and reactions
• Examine and analyse gathered research
• Evaluate research, observations and development work
• Gain a deeper understanding of the market, client, user, technological considerations and perceptions
• Consider environmental factors – where will the design be seen?
• Consider words, images, graphics and colours
• Consider the semiotic readings of the intended visual communication – are there any unintended connotations/ambiguities likely to be derived?
• Visualise emerging concepts
• Further evaluation, reflection and refinement of project based on deductions made so far
• Synthesise all components into a prototype – make pilots and variations. What is working and what isn’t?
• Consultation with professional bodies/standards/ethical codes
• Testing of intended media, materials and formats

Stage 3: Output
The physical manifestation of the project emerges as a result of the process of the previous two stages.
• Formulate final proposal considering original intention and the developmental process
• Consider the original intention of the proposal: is it to persuade, sell, inform, affect attitudes, change beliefs, improve life, and/or enhance experiences?
• How will the final output manifest itself? Is it a staged implementation? How will the output and its effectiveness continue to be measured and monitored? What are the future mechanisms for improvement?
• Have ongoing maintenance costs been budgeted?
• Will the output be via print, three-dimensional design, broadcast, interactive design or a combination of media? How will the choice of media effect the message?
• Investigate production and manufacturing issues
• How will it be distributed?