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Category Archives: design process

Here is a great example of the importance the role the client plays in the outcome of a design.   This example is taken from an online book by the famous advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather called Ogilvy on Recession

Consider Michelangelo’s painting for the Sistine Chapel:

What was he exactly asked to do by his client?

“Cardinal Alidosi needed to brief Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome.  How did he do it?

He might have said  “Please paint the ceiling”.  This is a bad brief.  It gives Michelangelo no idea as to what the solution might be.”   

He might have said “Please paint the ceiling using red, green and yellow paint.”   This is worse.  It still does not tell Michelangelo what to paint, and it also gives him a number of restrictions.

The actual brief was this:  “Please paint our ceiling for the greater glory of God and as an inspiration and lesson to His people.  Paint frescoes which portray the creation of the world, the Fall, mankind’s degradation by sin, the divine wrath by deluge, and the preservation of Noah and his family.”

This brief helped produce one of the great creative works of all time.”

An article by Steve Holland discusses a way to categorize form.

What Surface Continuity is Quietly Telling Us

For the purpose of this argument I propose that form (or Design), in the context of both the natural and man-made world has two jobs: to be the messenger of a certain experience; and to fulfill on that promise. When the two don’t match up, the experience is unfulfilling and its form superficial. 6trans

A new book by Nathan Shedroff that suggests 12 principles of Sustainable Design.  

“Anyone feel like banging-out a Facebook app that lets people make their DreamCompany by specifying, for example, BMW’s engineering, Nike’s sense of style, Amazon’s customer service, and…? Oh wait, that’s Apple. But, you get the idea.”

Design thinking deals with wicked problems. Because no single objective can be identified in advance, design thinking is aimed at drawing on and synthesizing a wide range of knowledge and influences rather than at optimizing (Huang; Saffer; Owen). For the same reason, it is viewed as interpretive (Lombardi), holistic and integrative (Lombardi; Owen). Both how the problem is framed and how to evaluate possible solutions must be devised as part of the designing process.

In addition to having a rich set of heuristic analogies, metaphors, and topologies to draw upon “design thinking is supported by a rich set of tools, processes, roles and environments” so that “Designers work like craftsmen. They know when to use the right tool at the right time (Tim Brown on Wroblewski).”

(from the article) –  “Promoted as the “in” word in design circles in recent years, ‘innovation’ has become a mantra devoid of meaning. Glorified by the likes of Bruce Nussbaum of BusinessWeek and David Kelly of IDEO, “innovation” blurs the boundaries between the worlds of engineering and design. It devalues the real strength of industrial design by forcing an analytical structure over the process of developing a non-analytical design. Similarly, it makes engineering play design, while over-selling its value in defining the “right design”.

(from the article)  ” If you wanted to win a market by design, the creed offered two paradigms: The Artist and the Process. Both are ineffective today.    The “Artist” can be defined as the business-model behind self-branded design stardom, with the requisite mannerism to justify the stature. The notion that publicity alone makes products fly off the shelf was defamed long ago as Target aborted Philippe Starck’s product-line. The lesson was loud and clear: Products must deliver far more than mere association with stardom. With that in mind, execs will surely think twice before betting the farm on unruly flamboyance. Against that “unreliable” branded-personality design management, multidisciplinary agencies push the notion of large teams and a rigid process. The message of the process crowd is simplistic, “have a few more disciplines in place and we can create the winning product with the right design.” Here comes the ethnographer and the strategist and the focus-group studies and the 500-page dissertations, and so on. I have yet to see any hard proof that these large processes yield higher rates of success in design. I have met more than a few large organizations that will not take this any longer. The process method managed to stifle creativity and nourish argumentative myopics while exhausting corporate budgets and personnel. The case of Doug Bowman, Google’s just-resigned lead designer and the 41 shades of Blue sounds painfully familiar. As you churn out more creative work, more data-points and more “scientific” validation, your design never gets better.  “

Interesting philosophical question here:  if you design the process, not the object  ( a current trend called ‘generative design’ ) are you still doing a composition,  is the product still architecture?  

Don’t try this at home , kids.


When you are struggling, lost in the sea of possibility,  you can return to the basics, as listed in the above link.


This article from the AIA web site, describes the automotibile designer as essentially involved in “packaging” – styling the body in order to persuade the consumer to purchase.   To what extent do architects limit their activity to packaging?


A deck of cards by internationally famous Palo Alto industrial design firm IDEO.   These cards trigger new ideas and concepts when working with clients on projects.   Available for sale from William Stout bookstore in San Francisco.