LukeW has a recent post up with this graphic titled "Designing with Vision" – probably one of the best encapsulated explanations of how the design process works and how much of it, like that little purple box that says "Design" is like an iceberg, floating with just the tip showing above water but lurking hidden like a behemoth. Now while this specific post discusses the tangible aspects of how good and bad design manifest, it was my pondering after writing the previous post that made me relook at this Saqqara step pyramid a few levels up in the abstraction layer. Let’s blather on a bit shall we?
Before we can give form – and it does not have to be a tangible product but could even be a strategy – to what we wish to do, its not enough to step back to just the function level – while this validates that form must follow function, if you take ‘requirements’ to denote that concept, i.e. what are the requirements, thus what is the function- one must step even further back to envision the whole before one can even begin to pinpoint what the requirements are… And the most powerful concept in this diagram, imho, is the fundamental importance given to ‘understanding’. Without understanding – which in this sense could be seen as ‘grasping or grappling with the big picture, coming to terms with it’ – one cannot begin to envision or see what the possible directions or paths that ‘form’ or ‘function’ can take. Without the big picture view, the perspective into which all the disparate bits fall into – if not place, then at least can understand – we cannot see far enough ahead in order to shape or manifest tangibly any plan of action or even, next steps.
I have said before that I believe that design is inherently a philosophy or a system of values first, and it’s implementation, in whatever form, second. Understanding the ecosystem in which your actions will take form comes first, which then leads to vision – only then can you begin to get down to the brasstacks of framing requirements and finally the design. We very often jump straight to the design – or the action – and this hierarchy of the steps required prior to any design is a useful reminder of the other 90% of the iceberg.