The Design Process
We're gonna talk about the Design Process. Some people might ask, why do you even need a design process? With design, it's all about creativity and inspiration and to a certain extent, that's true. Like sometimes, inspiration strikes out of nowhere. I think we're all creative people and we've experienced that at some point. We'll be sitting somewhere and come up with an idea and immediately make that idea and it's successful. But 99% of the time, that's actually not how great work is made. I actually think saying you're waiting on inspiration is kind of a cop out. It's so easy to say, I wasn't inspired or I didn't have an idea but we all know that's not true. We're creative people. If we prioritize the time, we can generate that idea but now the challenge is, how do you translate that idea successfully to a final project? And so I'm actually gonna walk you through one of my projects and the design process that I used. And this design process just helps me get to the finish line success...
fully and it's something that you can continue to tailor and adapt to your own needs. And so I'm gonna talk about a class I taught at Parsons and we have these classes called collabs where we collaborate with other divisions in the school or external institutions and it's all about doing projects together. And so I proposed with my design partner, Caspar Lam, a class with a digital lab at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And our challenge was to design something that celebrated the work of Marcel Breuer because they got this sweet new space in Manhattan. This used to hold the Whitney Museum. It was designed by Marcel Breuer. But after the Whitney moved, the Met leased it out because they wanted to start showing contemporary art. And the challenge for us was how can technology tell stories around works of art and especially this building. It's a pretty broad challenge, right? And it's easy to get lost. Inspiration definitely didn't strike out of nowhere so I put myself through the design process. And it begins with research, it always begins with research. So we learned that Marcel Breuer was a Hungarian modernist. He was an architect and he was also a furniture designer. And the reason research matters is because it's where you discover the historical and visual context. It's easy to forget that we don't live in a visual vacuum. Every form that you see, there was something that came before it that inspired it or was a response to it. That's just the visual world that we live in. And research helps you to find what that visual world is. It's often easy when you're going from the inspiration model of thinking to just kind of hop onto Pinterest or Instagram and randomly start to collect things you like. And while there's nothing wrong with that, it doesn't work if you just choose a style that you like arbitrarily and then try to emulate it because maybe it doesn't make any sense with the content. Remember, design is all about the what you say and the how you say it. So if the what you're saying is Marcel Breuer maybe in Edwardian script type and flowers doesn't make sense because he's a modernist. So what you say and how you say it have to always go hand in hand. And without the research in the infinite visual world, you can't actually pin down where you want to be. The next stage is ideation. This is where you take all the research that you've done, right, you've placed yourself in a visual and historical context, and then you define what you want to say with that. Ideation is also where you begin to brainstorm which medium fits your content. So in the example of this Marcel Breuer project, I was like, okay, we're working within modernist. We know the kind of color palette, the concrete, the way that he designed, what he was thinking when he designed all of these things. And now, how do I honestly and with integrity share his work with other people? And this brings us back to our challenge. How can technology tell the story of this building? And so we decided we want to do it two ways. One is by talking about how this building is living art. People move through it everyday, they interact with it everyday and that social media was the best way to describe and capture how people interact with his work. And then the second thing we wanted to explore is all the work around the world. With technology, we can now see photos and access his thought process and explore the work that he's made. You know, 200 years ago, or even let's even take it back further, 800 years ago, the only way to experience architecture was by physically going there, looking at it, and walking through the space. But now with technology, we can explore that space by zooming in on it on a map or walking through it digitally. So this brings us to step three in the design process which is prototyping. This is where you take the research that you've done which placed your work in a visual and historical context and you take the ideation which is ideas that are inspired by the research and then you try to give them a visual body. And so, this comes form the ideation stage. Remember what I said about his building being living art? Well, we wanted to capture how people interact with it and the medium that we chose was Instagram. And so we started by organizing how he's seeing with his work and we wanted to capture a living pulse of engagement with this building. So we set up a timeline of past, present, and future. The image you would always see in the middle is who's experiencing his work now. When you go to the left it's who recently experienced it. When you go to the front it's who is taking the latest photo. And this, like I said, is where we took this idea and then we gave it an actual form. And so this was our first sketch. You can see here, Breuer Live. We're capturing living engagement with his work. So here in the middle, we have who's interacting with his work right now and we pulled the quote from what they wrote on Instagram. "No art work on the walls. "We are inside the art instead." In this prototyping phase, this is also where critiques come in. This is where you can start to show your work to other people. This is where we started to show it to the curator. And we got a lot of feedback. What's working, what's not working? How do we dial the work up or down so that it more accurately and with more integrity and more clearly expresses his work? This brings us to step four in the design process, iteration. As I said in the prototyping phase, you've identified the visual context for your work, the historical context for your work, you've come up with ideas, you've figured out which medium you want to express, and then you've given it a visual body and now you've gotten feedback. Iteration is where you start making variations on your design. So we got a lot of feedback, right, saying, you know, we like the idea of a living post but we want more to the project. Maybe we want an archive of his work, what would that mean? And so we started sketching all of these ideas, dialing the design up and down. And this iteration process is where you continuously get feedback about your work. And it's so critical, like I said, in the skills that you need to grow as a communication designer that this brings in the desire for feedback, the receptiveness to feedback and the attitude of tell me more because iteration is where the magic happens. It's only by getting feedback and responding to that feedback that you can continue to push the project to where it needs to be. And I know this is not as glamorous as inspiration striking and then immediately creating a beautiful project like a child sprouting out of Zeus' head but that's not how design works. Design comes from iteration and any designer will tell you, if you just keep working at it, you will get it to where it needs to be. And next we get to the final step, presentation. This is where you've taken your research, your ideas, your sketches, and then iteration which is getting that sketch somewhere good and then you present it to the world. And so what we learned from the research is that we wanted to do a zoom in. I don't know if any of you guys have seen the amazing video called Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames but it's about an infinite zoom. And during the ideation phase, we decided that we want to be able to see his work in two ways, both where it is around the world but also in the smallest detail. So it's like when you walk past a building. You can see it from far away but you can also walk inside the building and touch the brick and experience it up close and we wanted to capture that magic for the audience. So not only did we want the zoom, we decided from our ideation and iteration phase, we got feedback that the zoom wasn't enough, that we also wanted to zoom not only into his work, but we wanted to zoom into his thinking. And to me, that was some of the best feedback we got, right. Because there's two ways to experience somebody's work. There's by seeing it but there's also by learning about it. What inspired the work? And so this is what we came up with. We came up with a website where you can see his work from around the world and you can zoom into a project and see it from multiple scales but you can also zoom into his thought process and see what inspired that project. So here we go. You start by zooming in, you see the project. Here we have beautiful Saint John's Abbey and then you literally go through the sketches of his work. Into a view of his work, all the way to the smallest detail. Maybe you can't touch the concrete planks that he used but now you can see every single element that made this building. And we took it one step even further. Not only did you have a website that was responsive, you could see on an iPad or on a desktop or on your phone, we also proposed touchscreen panels in the museum itself so that when you're standing in Marcel Breuer's building, a work of living art, you can also continue to explore the ideas behind his work. So just to recap the design process. What I want to say with my whole heart is that design process is here to help you. It has certainly helped me. Without this, I would have never made it to the final project. Because like I said, inspiration didn't strike me in the middle of the night and so I did what designers do. I rolled up my sleeves and I got to work and I started with research. I found what the visual historical context was and I built off of it so I can make thoughtful design decisions. And then based off the research, I moved into ideation. I developed ideas that actually made sense with who Marcel Breuer was. And ideation is so important because without research, there's no thoughtful ideation. Remember, what you say, so much of that comes from the research and the how you say comes from the ideation, the prototyping, and the iteration. And then finally to presentation. And this is the thing with the design process. Sometimes you get stuck. I have certainly gotten stuck in the design process. And when you get stuck, all you have to do is take one step back and that will get you unstuck. So for example, when I was in the prototyping phase, I kept sketching ideas and sketching ideas and none of them were very good. And you know why? It's because I needed to take one step back to the ideation phase and ask myself, I have some ideas and I'm giving them visual forms but do these ideas make sense? Are they true to step one, the research? And so when you feel stuck, just take a step back and then keep moving through the design process and you will get far.