Dennis reports that his students go on at length some

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Dennis reports that his students go on at length, some creatively embellishing the product's features. One thing they almost never do, though, is ask questions. They never begin by asking the customer, Dennis, if he has a stereo or if he needs one. After politely demolishing the student pitches, Dennis spends the rest of the semester teaching them a sales process that involves working with customers to define their needs and develop options to fill those needs. The similarity between Dennis's sales process and the design problem-solving process is astonishing, until you consider how much of what designers do is actually sales. The basic design process that I generally use looks like this:gather background information, define problem, suggest options, pick option, create a prototype, test the prototype, repeat steps 1, 2, 3, or 4 as appropriate. As I noted earlier, the process is less a linear sequence and more a cascade with feedback loops. I believe it also pro- ceeds from vague to concrete, from general to specific.
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Another way to visualize this idea is as a tree, in which each branch represents a cycle, a cascade, of the process and in which each phase involves more decisions, and more specific decisions, than the last. A simple model might distinguish between three stages, each involving at least one and probably more passes through the process. A more academic version of this idea is Charles Morris's pragmatic-semantic-syntactic model. Tom Ockerse at Rhode Island School of Design introduces his students to Morris's model to help them understand how signs func- tion. If a sign has these three qualities, then the design process should take them into account. I believe they follow in a natural sequence from general to specific. Process in practice, an example We've looked at models for thinking about problems and at tools for defining real problems. We've also looked at models for thinking about the nature of the design process. Now let's look at another model of the design process, one specific enough to be used for managing real projects. I like to organize the process into three steps, developing the structure, developing the content and developing the form. Getting started is a step in its own right, as is the production and distribution process. The first and last step connect the design process to other issues and other organizations. The transition from one step to the next is tricky and requires informing everyone involved and confirmingagreement on conclusion of the step. Obviously structure, content and form are deeply intertwined and can only be partially disentangled. Perhaps it may seem a little silly to suggest a formal pro- cess for starting a new project. However, a few years ago, Apple's Creative Services group did not have such a process. Anyone could initiate a project. Managers had difficulty knowing who was doing what and balancing work loads. Much discussion and a few simple tools reduced the confusion. The department created e-mail-
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