Scoping your designs

Found this little diagram that I felt a lot of people should see:

One of the hardest parts to design is scoping the project. A lot of projects get off to the wrong start because they literally got off to the wrong start.

This seems to be something that a lot of design students have problems with when professors assign them projects like “redesign X product”, when instead professors should ask students to think broader about what experience X product delivers and how you can do it better.

Source: Lauri Laineste’s blog via this presentation: Critical Thinking forUX Designers (Workshop) by Stephen Anderson.

This seems to be something that a lot of design students have problems with when professors assign them projects like “redesign X product”, when instead professors should ask students to think broader about what experience X product delivers and how you can do it better.

Not every design exercise is about experience – sometimes you just need to design a vase.

To me it’s quite simple: Find a problem and then fix it. Never mind the design-brief…although you should but not in the start of a project.

Also have you heard about the 9-windows? Very simple but powerfull.

You can fix problems before they manifest them.

And also be aware of products that might be competitive but that you aren’t aware of.
An example: Say you got an assignment to design a new lawnmower. You could design a new lawnmower but you could also suggest to your client that he invest in a new kind of grass that breaks off when it grows higher than determined height. Lawnmowers would be obsolete.

I think that’s what you are implying with the diagram.

I question that… it may be true when you have a paying client, but in school students should be taught to think more broadly instead of just making more stuff.

Atohms: I’ll check out the 9-windows, looks cool. Yes, the lawnmower is a good example.

This post mainly arose after I helped TA a few classes and students were designing stuff like “a new steering wheel lock” instead of thinking about “how we can deter/prevent car theft”, and missing out on a potential to come up with something completely new and cool that works well.

great quote. I think this is the number one problem I see in student projects.

“Design a Vase” will produce a result, but the real problem is still not addressed. Weak design thinking and process produce weak results.

I can’t even count how many poor projects I see that are defined this way… “I’m gonna design an X that does Y”, instead of “I’m gonna design an A that solves problem B”.

I fault schools not students in perpetuating this, unfortunately.

Thanks for this. Where did you get it from?


EDIT - following this kind of non-lateral thinking is like designing a new buggy whip when someone else is rethinking transport and coming up with a car…

Should’ve credited this: Lauri Laineste’s blog via this presentation: Critical Thinking forUX Designers (Workshop) by Stephen Anderson.

Good one tarngerine, usefull diagram…will make use of it in future projects :slight_smile:

Scoping typically refers to something else in the consulting world. It seems this conversation might be mis titled and in the wrong forum.

is it about students or about professionals?

Now to answer, there are all kinds of problems, that require all kinds of approaches. Sometimes the problem might be a trade problem to solve and not a user problem, ie “we need more market share in vases, but it has to sit on the vase shelf in retail, design something that out does our competitor in this category and takes their market share by appealing to their customers”… It is a difficult problem to solve with such a constraint. A good designer can do something unique within this and not make just “another vase” but a better one… that is still a vase. This kind of project is very focused and can be linear, like a movie.

Other problems require a broader approach, questioning the very need to have fresh cut flowers at all, broader than you stated it even. This approach may or may not go anywhere. This kind of project is much more like a quest, or an adventure.

The challenge is knowing when to apply what approach, because the client may not be sure, and sometimes you have to switch approaches midway based on new information…

it is impossible to teach these things in school, they come with decades of experience. I have a lot to learn here still. The only thing I do know is that applying the same approach to everything in a prescriptive manner, no matter broad or focused, will not do.

I wasn’t sure where to put this. I thought a few non-students could benefit from seeing this as well. Please move this topic to where you see fit.

I agree about using different approaches when dealing with clients and that cannot be taught in school. However, I am mainly expressing concern about projects that are just about designing another X. To quote Dieter Rams: “We have enough things.” The future of design depends on these students, who should be taught to think broader than designing a new vase.

That is great for Dieter to say. With all due respect to one of the greats:

  1. he has everything
  2. he made a great living designing a bunch of things, and is now finished, so he has the luxury of making that statement

My experience going to RISD is they tried to ONLY teach just that in the 1990’s, and ended up making many unemployable designers.

“The future of design depends on these students, who should be taught to think broader than designing a new vase.”

The future of design first depends on the people practicing it right now, at this moment, not students of today, nor designers of the past. First we must explain our value with integrity in a way that is approachable, ethical, and aspirational without being overly didactic, dogmatic, or inflexible.

Also, scoping refers not only to the question, but also the approach to answer that question, the process to deliver that answer and make it a design solution, the team and resources that process will need, and then the time those people will need.

What this is is framing. Specifically framing the solution space. The first set frames the solution space narrowly, the second broadly. The first will go further faster, the second will hopefully (but not necessarily) yield an unexpected result, and then you will need a second process to design it in a focused way for production. They imply very different project scopes, but are not the scope in themselves.

How about user centered?

Further enable humans to enjoy flora in their home, accessing a recognizable framework and engaging them emotionally and aesthetically.

Enhance the recognition and response of the user during their visual search of a webpage delivering information on a germane topic.

There is even a tendency to go back and forth between the different lines of thinking. Some times in a giving day I might use both ways of thinking in order to solve the problem at hand. Sometimes looking at a small problem with a big scope gives you a great solution. Sometimes looking at a new design or big problem with a tight controlled scope gives you a very good and quick solution. I hope with more experience this will get easier to recognize.

Definetly. When we are working on a very broad problem, I always encourage the team to manifest early hypothesis as a product just to test it. Movin back and forth from abstraction to detail and back, we usually learn some interesting things.

I think the important thing at a young age is to learn how o be a better designer. I can teach a young designer how to broaden their thinking, but I expect them to come in with a base line of design skills. I see many students with the ability to think broadly but without the needed execution skills, attention to detail, and passion for design neccesary to evolve into a good designer.

When building a house, you have to lay the foundation before you put the roof on.

In my modest personal opinion:

I much rather have a student who has great unexpected out of the box ideas who isn’t that good in execution. Than a student who has all the needed execution skills but boring ideas which will result in working product, a bit different styled, but still the same shit in a different package.

The foundation is the most important thing of the house. And to me idea-generation and broad exploration, out-ot-the-box-thinking is the foundation of a great product. Not your CAD- , sketching-, Marketing- or asskissing- skills.

“The ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” Some famous person quote :wink:

I often find this problem with students & clients. All of my best ideas came after I stopped trying to do what my client asked, “design a vase” and started asking myself, “how do I enhance this flower experience?”. It’s really obvious in my current industry, heating, ventilation and controls. Every project starts with people telling me, “There isn’t really much to do…just do a grille/thermostat but make a little different…everyone does it the same.” Then I sketch and develop a bunch of different solutions that no one has seen because everyone is so busy “making another vase”.

I really see this tying into the “design thinking” thread. It’s the same problem. Society needs to start saying, “yes and…” instead of just defending their ancient and irrelevant positions: in design, marketing, business, politics, etc.

You certainly can provide a client with both options.

If a client wants you to “Design a vase.”, you are obligated to design a vase, they are paying you for that objective. In addition to what is in the contract, you can also provde “A better way to enjoy flowers.” It isn’t necessarily an either/or situation.

But it really depends on the objectives of the client. A very broad problem statement like “A better way to enjoy flowers.” is best suited for an exploratory project. From that umbrella problem, you can get all sorts of subsets like: “A better way to arrange flowers”, “How to enjoy flowers when they are out of season”, “How to enjoy a wider variety of flowers”, “Design a vase”, or whatever solution can be determined from the larger problem. In an exploratory project, you should provide multple, distinct solutions. Not just variations of the same thing.

Who’s to say though the client hasn’t already gone through the exploratory process and needs a directional project. They may have and have whittled their problem statement down to “Design a vase.” If that is the case, any work outside of that objective could be considered redundant. A client can certainly question why are they paying you for work that has already been completed and not the variations of a vase they requested.

This is why clarity is necessary when defining the objectives of a program. If the client wants exploration, give them exploration. If they want direction, give them direction. If you cannot communicate the difference, you won’t be long in the business world.

iab: Personally experience suggests the client has been making vases for 30 years and just wants to put lipstick on his pig to fight the cheap imports.

It’s always been my team that presents both the vase and the alternatives and let’s the client decide. Sometimes (often in my experience, but maybe I’m lucky), they at least want to explore this new avenue further, maybe even to production.

I agree though, the clarity is needed up front. That’s what leadership is about. Unfortunately, a lot of people think that leadership is having the answer rather than the question.

As has been touched on, the “A better way to enjoy flowers” approach can be a tricky thing to manage for a design firm. Not the actual work, but the client relations part. While the two approaches may be more or less appropriate for a certain project, it seems most clients are looking for you to just “design a vase” because generally it costs less (at least as far as your bill in the short term. Long term and production costs are another matter).

As a designer it can be tough to not go that extra step and try to rethink the problem or present a more comprehensive solution than they are looking for. I’ll always err on giving the client more for their money than less, but if you make your case for the “A better way to enjoy flowers” approach and they aren’t willing to pay for the extra time you have two options: just “design a vase,” even if you are sure there’s a better product out there, or lose money on the project in order to make the best product possible (not a sustainable business model, and bad for the profession).

That being said, they’re paying you to bring creativity and an outside perspective to the project. If you never spend a minute thinking outside the brief, you aren’t bringing as much value to the table as you could. We recently completed a project where we were charged with redesigning two specific components of a machine. But when we got into the project we realized that their platform was such that by tweaking another area a little in addition to one of the components a few really valuable features were possible that were really useful and could differentiate the product. However, there were other changes we would have liked to have made to refine the platform based on these newly made features that would have blown the budget. The client didn’t want to pay more, so they didn’t get done.