Design Process Steps

Mark Walhimer Exhibition Design, Exhibition Designer, Inspiration, Museum Websites 4 Comments

Edward Steichen, The Spiral Shell, France, c. 1921, The Richard and Jackie Hollander Collection

Edward Steichen, The Spiral Shell, France, c. 1921, The Richard and Jackie Hollander Collection

I am now teaching Industrial Design at Tec de Monterrey in Estado de Mexico.  It has been a great experience, thinking about how to communicate my thinking about design and design process.  As part teaching put together a list of The Design Process Steps.  Websites, exhibitions, art installations, graphics, retail store displays and interior designs are all examples of design and follow a similar process.

1. Define the Client (Different than user or designer):
This is often harder than you think. If you are an internal designer working at a museum, the easy answer is “the visitor” is the client. In reality the answer is more complex,  “why is this project being created?”. Often the reasons have to do with internal objectives. The stakeholder of the objectives is the “client”. The client is the person who influences and decides “success”.
2. Empathy for the client:
“Why is the client doing the project ?” Success is often based on understanding the reasons a client decides to move forward with a project. Walk in the client’s shoes.
3. Define the goal of the client:
What is the client hoping to achieve with the project ?
4. Define problem:
All design is problem solving, define the problem
5. Define user:
The designer is not the user. The User is not the client. Who will use your product or service ?  Create a persona (a composite of the identified user)
6. Research the problem:
How have other solved the problem ?  Research other solutions and the how the solution succeeded or failed.
7. Empathy for the user
8. Create “Project Brief”
reviewed by client and user include price point (Similar but different from “Project Charter” and PMP process)
9. Stop:
Often the most important step and missed during many design projects.  Learn to stop.  Once all of the research is complete and the project is well understood, stop.  Inspiration the next step is a creative process and can’t be forced or rushed.  Give yourself and the team time to reflect and understand emotionally what has been gathered to date.  
10. Inspiration:
Allow yourself to react, now that you understand the project intellectually, understand the project emotionally and come up with several “inspirations”.  The inspiration is the object, idea or form that will guide your design thinking 
11. Create solutions:
Using your inspiration as guide and as a benchmark create several solutions
12. Sketches 2D and 3D, several options
Always provide at least three options. Often the less successful options inform and influence the more successful options
13. Review by client and user
Learn to “half listen”, listen to comments by the client, listen to the comments by the user, but don’t let your project become “bland”. Often projects lose their “sexiness” by listening too closely to the client and user. Let the project have a life of it’s own.
14. Design development:
Not losing sight of the client, goal, problem, user and inspiration, refine your product or service.
15. Testing
Test your product or service with your identified user and in the market place. Is the user interested ? Is the marketplace interested ?
16. Iterations
I have been reading Lean Startup, enjoying the idea of continual iterations and that life is too short for “products nobody wants”. Is there a market for what you are creating?  If not keep iterating.
17. Production, Marketing & Sales

* Selected the Edward Steichen photo to illustrate the balance between “the rules” and the art of the design process

Comments 4

  1. Post

    The client might be internal stakeholders; staff, donors, board members. The user is the visitor to the museum. Each has their own vision and interests in any project.


  2. Hi there, I’m trying to better understand what you mean by ‘define the problem’ – what steps can someone take to define the design problem? Can you elaborate more on this step?

    Thank you.

  3. Post

    Hi Karen,
    In some ways my answer is philosophical. Many museums exist without a user in mind or a “open it and they will come” attitude. I suggest that museum missions should be solutions based i.e. “The XYZ museum will archive the art of the XYZ area and foster an interest in the art of watercolor painting and the creative process”. Now the mission is focused on fostering an interest in watercolor painting and the creative process and decisions can be measured against their success in solving the “problem”.

    Now “how” the museum will support “foster an interest in the art of watercolor painting and the creative process” becomes part of vision and value statements. School outreach ? Empowering local artists ? Working with veterans ? Working with underserved communities ?

    All the best,

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