Make better design decisions

A Four Step Decision Making Process

  1. Identify the problem (highest value; critical and creative)

    1. Often this is the most difficult step. It’s very very easy to mistake what looks like a problem for something that is not a problem. Most of the time clients think they have one problem when the reality is they have a completely different problem. The best way to identify problems is to ask questions! Unfortunately, most organizations have an inherent bias to doing things a particular way (often for good but opaque reasons), and this usually takes some convincing. But it’s like anything else: if you’re solving for the wrong thing, don’t be shocked when you get the wrong results!
    2. How do we know we have the “right” problem?  Well, simply, we don’t. We need evidence first. That might be: “We aren’t getting as many sales as we forecast”.  And that leads us to the question of why. It may be explained away by bad forecasting – really really common in startups that haven’t made enough demand yet.  It may be that there’s a hole in the funnel. It may be both or neither and something completely unrelated (like bad PR), but the point is that gathering evidence of what’s actually going on is important. Again, companies usually have really solid accounting controls and can see where every penny went, but other data collection and control methods aren’t as good.  This is why it helps to have a design consultant who’s worked in research before (ahem, like me).
    3. This is both a critical skill in understanding why something is problematic, and a creative skill in understanding what may be a problem in the future.  This is why visionary leaders are so prized. Their creative and critical faculties border on prophetic and are capable of delivering extreme value.
  2. Generate Ideas (very high value, high creative component)

    1. Here’s the “fun.”  But this is where most companies royally mess up.  This is where they assume design comes in.  (Or digital, for that matter, or culture, or… maybe I should make that it’s own post).  In my post about being creative,  this is where that matters.  Being creative allows you to generate more ideas and allows you to generate better ideas by making novel connections.
    2. This is important however: Generating more ideas (even really high fidelity materials) is not the end all be all.  It’s part of it, sure; but it’s far more important that the only qualifying criteria is relevance, which goes back step 1.  Imagine trying to put together a jigzaw puzzle.  The first thing you do is sort the pieces, right?  That’s what step 1 is all about.  You need to have the borders of the puzzle in place before getting to step 2.
    3. Everyone should be participating in these steps. Directing, analyzing, and facilitating workshops or research study does require specialized training but the key tasks of asking questions and generating ideas only takes a brain, and everyone in your company has one.
    4. This is obviously the part people associate with designers, writers, etc. But the creative aspect only describes the activity not the personality.  The best designers I’ve met are stone cold professionals who look like they are book keepers or HR people.  There’s no formal qualification here and more importantly diverse inputs drive diverse results.
  3. Evaluate top alternatives (high value, high critical component)

    1. This is a critical task because you’re evaluating options.
    2. Methods include pro-con lists, Cost-Benefit Analysis, ethical and environmental impact – the list goes on and on.
      1. The point isn’t necessarily to use every single method every single project.  Actually, the goal is to use the fewest methods necessary.
      2. And the point is more about using a method with intentionality, not simply going with your gut.
    3. I typically try to get to 3 options before making a choice.
    4. There’s never only one choice to make, which means there are at least 2.
    5. The third option is probably the scariest, but most powerful one available:  do nothing.
    6. Part of the reason that’s always included is because it is a choice, whether we recognize it or not. And often, it may be the right choice!
      1. Here’s an example: Question – “How are we going to migrate all of this content to the new CMS?”
      2. let’s skip coming up with lots of ideas for a second and go to the top options: “A) I could write a script that converts it to xml and uses the new CMS’ import tool,  B) we could farm it out to the interns or C) we could do nothing”.
      3. What happens if they choose C?
      4. Then they have to critically evaluate what content actually ends up on the new site, instead of just lugging it all over, which is an improvement in the question being asked in the first place.
      5. Choosing to do nothing is often a reframing of the original question. It’s perfectly ok to do this.  It should be encouraged!  As I’ve said before, avoiding stupid choices is a lot easier to do, and frequently a better idea than trying to out smart everyone else.  That’s the power of doing nothing.
  4. Choose one: (least value, but most activity).

    1. Whatever the decision is, this is the time for violent, quick execution.
    2. Spend as much time as you need to get everyone on board.
    3. Building sites and applications is difficult technical work, but it is far simpler when you know what it is you’re building.