Adopt a design method!

I have briefly mentioned the importance of design methods for design practice and the current lack of design methodologists in a previous post. Now, I will go further explaining why design methods are essential for the design discipline more than ever.

Gregory (1966), Jones (1992), Conley (2004) and Cross (2001, 2007), among others, have pointed out the relevance of design methods for design practice. However, findings obtained from my PhD workshops showed that designers (professional and students) are not keen on adopting design methods as part of their problem-solving strategy. Workshop participants expressed that design methods were time-consuming and they reduced their creativity, even though results demonstrated that participants created more effective design outcomes when they applied a design method. To give a bit of clarity to this subject, the first step would be to define what a design method is and why it would be useful for design practice.

What is a design method?
The aim of a design method is to make designing a more useful tool to improve communication, acting as a framework to guide designers’ thoughts. To some extent a design method can also relieve the designer of having to remember all the previous steps taken in order to solve a design problem. To some extent, a design method makes more evident the different stages of the design process that designers do without being conscious of them as they have become accustomed to it and follow it as part of their modus operandi. However, methods are not substitutes for creative thinking or professional experience. This is made clear as even when a method may offer the tools to solve a design problem without having to wait for inspiration, it does not automatically indicate when the most appropriate solution has been reached (Jormakka, 2008).

Main characteristics of a Design method.

Why it is important now to adopt a design method?
Design methods can help to activate intuitive processes and actions by making public some aspect of the designer’s private thinking. Moreover, design methods can help experienced professional designers to face complex design problems for which their experience cannot give them suitable solutions, while for inexperienced professional designers a design method can be seen as a design tool to guide them through the stages of the design process. Conley (2004) points out that following process-design strategies can produce higher quality results. In addition, he states that new methods should focus only on one particular stage of the design process to improve the quality of the results.

Designers often use design methods, such as brainstorming, check lists and design software, in their problem-solving strategies.

Nevertheless, even though the current design environment is surrounded by systematic procedures (i.e. digital devices, software), some designers continue to underestimate the value to adopt a method in practice. On the one hand experienced professional designers do not seem to trust new methods or argue that they do not need a method to know how to face a design problem; on the other, inexperienced professional designers are not used to designing using methodological approaches as they did not learn them on their foundation course.

The current environment
O’Grady (2008) states an increasing need for new design tools such as design methods as the current information age presents issues different to those of previous periods. As an example, massive amount of information and overproduction of cluttered visual messages generate demand for more appropriate design tools to cope with them. In addition, the increasing complexity of current design problems also demands the development of new design methods.

It can be concluded that if design students learn methodological steps during their formal education they will finish their studies more prepared to solve any design problem. Without a methodological structure, students randomly try visual solutions or emulate solutions they find interesting. Methods give designers a theoretic supportive framework—the why—that even experienced and skilful designers do not have.

[Findings obtained from Diagram(a)s backstage and Visual unravelling Workshops supports the designers’ thoughts and claims about design methods expressed in this post]
– Conley, C. (2004). Where are the design methodologists? Visible Language, 38.2, pp.196-215.
– Cross, N. (2000). Engineering design methods: strategies for product design. 3rd ed. Chichester: John Wiley.
– Cross, N. (2007). Designerly ways of knowing. 1st ed. Basel: Birkhäuser.
– Gregory, S.A. (1966). The design method. London: Butterworths.
– Jones, C.J. (1992). Design methods. 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley.
– Jormakka, K. (2008). Basics design methods. Basel: Birkhäuser.

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