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The design process

Design is not just the object you take off the shelf for checking and discussing – it is about and error and a series of decisions that starts before you even know your objective.

The design process is not a mysterious activity designers carry out behind a cloak of secrecy, magically emerging with a sparkling new market-beating product or service. It starts when decisions about why, how and even whether to go ahead with a project are being taken.

Although designers provide a particular blend of skills and creativity, the design process works best when it is a collaboration between the design team and the people it works with and for, either in-house colleagues or clients.

Design work begins with a brief setting out the aims and objectives of a project and outlining certain targets and parameters for its completion. But, ideally, the design team needs to be involved before the brief is even written for two reasons – first, its members will understand the brief better if they have had a hand in composing it and, secondly, the customer-focused, creative skills that designers possess can help decide the direction the project should take.

An organisation and its designers need to ask certain questions right at the start - why is design work needed? Is it to respond to changing markets or to customer trends? Maybe new competition has appeared on the market or the company just wants to increase its market share. Perhaps the organisation wants to make its service more efficient, or perhaps it faces a decision between improving an existing product or service or launching something completely new. By understanding both the organization's strategic objectives and customer needs, designers can define the problem before working towards a solution. The reason for the design will inform how the designers go about conducting research.

Research needs to be carried out both before and during the design process, especially if the project will take some years to complete. Market research includes trends analysis, scrutiny of competitors' products and wider research such as the state of the economy, upcoming legislation and relevant social changes such as birth rates and patterns of prosperity.

Design research centres on the user. It makes use of information about customers supplied by the organisation but also takes a more hands-on approach in the form of user testing and prototyping. Observing customer behaviour not only makes it easier for designers to create something that fulfils a need, it can also provide creative inspiration. Along with visualization, it also helps to represent the designers' ideas to the organisation at a large scale.

To plan a project effectively, companies and organizations need to take into account all the internal resources, people and information the project will require, from materials to customer-service support. The design team will need to be aware of these too. There is no point in a design requiring a certain manufacturing techniques or tooling, for instance, if these are not available.

The relationship between the designer and the organisation or department that has commissioned the design work is crucial. The best relationships are a two-way street, where each party is receptive to the concerns of the other. Communication needs to be maintained throughout the design process. The need for communication was summed up by designer Wayne Hemingway during the Design Council's Design in Business Week 2002: “There is no point sitting designers in a room and letting them design. They have to work with you and be a part of the business”.

The final stage is implementation – by manufacturers, engineers, IT (Information Technologies) experts or service providers – but that does not mean the designers exit the scene. It is important to allow for redesign and the designers also have a vital role to play in representing their ideas to all those involved in executing them.




Brief– the design documents that encapsulate all of the specification and to which the design team will work.

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