Dennis reports that his students go on at length, somecreatively embellishing the product's features. One thingthey almost never do, though, is ask questions. They neverbegin by asking the customer, Dennis, if he has a stereo orif he needs one. After politely demolishing the studentpitches, Dennis spends the rest of the semester teachingthem a sales process that involves working with customersto define their needs and develop options to fill those needs.The similarity between Dennis's sales process and thedesign problem-solving process is astonishing, until youconsider 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, suggestoptions, 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 andmore 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 whicheach branch represents a cycle, a cascade, of the processand in which each phase involves more decisions, andmore specific decisions, than the last.A simple model might distinguish between three stages,each involving at least one and probably more passesthrough the process.A more academic version of this idea is Charles Morris'spragmatic-semantic-syntactic model. Tom Ockerse atRhode Island School of Design introduces his students toMorris's model to help them understand how signs func-tion. If a sign has these three qualities, then the designprocess should take them into account. I believe theyfollow in a natural sequence from general to specific.Process in practice, an exampleWe've looked at models for thinking about problems andat tools for defining real problems. We've also looked atmodels for thinking about the nature of the design process.Now let's look at another model of the design process, onespecific enough to be used for managing real projects.I like to organize the process into three steps, developingthe structure, developing the content and developing theform. Getting started is a step in its own right, as is theproduction and distribution process. The first and last stepconnect the design process to other issues and otherorganizations.The transition from one step to the next is tricky andrequires informing everyone involved and confirmingagreement on conclusion of the step. Obviously structure,content and form are deeply intertwined and can only bepartially 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 aprocess. Anyone could initiate a project. Managers haddifficulty knowing who was doing what and balancingwork loads. Much discussion and a few simple toolsreduced the confusion. The department created e-mail-
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