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How Designers Think – reflections part (b)

13 February, 2010

This is the second part of my reflections on what I read, discovered and disagreed with in ‘How Designers Think: The design process demystified’ (4th ed.) by Bryan Lawson.

Problem and solution are inseparable

On pg 39 Lawson quotes Robert Venturi : “We have a rule that says sometimes the detail wags the dog. You don’t necessarily go from the general to the particular, but rather often you do detailing at the beginning very much to inform” (Lawson 1994b). This perfectly reflects my belief that it’s ok to begin with detail as a device, just not as an ends. In a corporate context, where the desire to arrive at the solution quickly the caveat at the end of the previous sentence can all too easily fall by the wayside. The activity of design isn’t just about getting more and more detailed as you progress – detail at the beginning as a means is hugely beneficial. Even when diagnosing the problem, writing the brief is part of the act of design itself.

The thinking/work to diagnose and define a problem is the same as the thinking/work to shape and determine the solution. You use both to get to either – the trick is not to be tied to either for too long or too soon.

Fundamental to my job is explaining the design process in the business context. In working on a template in January 2010 I captured my process for documenting. It might not be deep and original but as one recognises an underlying process, it provides a reference through the complexity of knowledge-driven work. The ‘hey!” for me in capturing this reflected not only the importance of percolation, but also the necessity of having a view of the solution early – as long as you’re not tied to it – and the ability to recognise that you will not get it right first time, or second, or maybe even the 8th time, but the process will get you there. Process, patience, percolation and perseverance will get you there.

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