During the past year my colleagues (Lassi Liikkanen, Anni Leisti, and Jan Nikander) and I have been studying the making of design decisions from several viewpoints. Our focus has been in decisions made in the early, conceptual design phases of the product development process, which is arguably where the most critical decisions affecting both the end product and the development process are made.
Several academics and practitioners alike have pointed out the contradiction between the decision methodology suggested in literature and the design decision-making as it appears in practice.
Lassi and Anni figuring out idea development paths from concept sketches
Design can be seen as a process iterating between divergence and convergence, (widening and narrowing the problem and solution spaces), where the convergence can only be accomplished through making often painful decisions that rule out some choices and leave others open to further exploration. Especially early on in the process decisions have to be made with little or no reliable information on what are the “correct” directions to pursue. Literature has provided us with a healthy score of prescriptive methods and so-called best practices to aid us in these difficult decisions. However, these systematic and often simplistic views have received a significant amount of criticism. Several academics and practitioners alike have pointed out the contradiction between the decision methodology suggested in literature and the design decision-making as it appears in practice. It has been noted that concept decisions are a product of both formal and informal interactions and there is typically no definite answer to when, why, by whom, and how decisions are actually made.
We have gathered data through experimental studies with professional designers and looking at real life cases in design agencies through conducting interviews and on-site observations. This work has plunged us in to the complex web and messy practice of decision making in design work, which we hope to make just a little bit less mysterious to benefit both research and practice. Lately our focus has been on two specific issues; the effects of personal biases on decision-making and decision-making taking place within a designer-client relationship.
This post is mostly just a teaser, as we are in the process of analyzing the data and publishing our findings. I will share the results later on, but meanwhile you can contact me (or any of us) if you are interested in discussing these issues!
So stay tuned for further posts this spring