in Process, Research

Thoughts on CH 1 from Kim Goodwin, Designing for the Digital Age

Kim’s writing is highly specific to design targeted at digital products/services, but there are certain aspects which I think I beg to differ.

But before I go into that, I would like to highlight one point that I strongly agree on: Design is a craft because it is neither science nor art, but somewhere in between. Case in point, design can be found everywhere, just that it is called different things in different fields. In Science/engineering it could be called methodology, in language semantics etc. Thus design is both science and art and probably everything else all at once.

That said, my preferred approach to design tend to lean towards exploratory and mastery. Through exploration, new ideas and approaches can be derived, systematically or haphazardly. Mastery, can truly ground a practitioner and rediscover new truths about existing approaches. That is my belief, and is the principle I hope to cultivate towards the kind of design I embark on.

Although the article is targeted at designing for the digital age, I think the proposed systematic approach can be both an aid and a crutch at the same time. Citing an overly simplified and inconsequential example, Facebook was originally created with the goal for young boys to check out girls on campus. Now a multi-billion dollar corporation, it has far exceeded its original humble intentions. My point is that digital or otherwise, some amount of serendipity in design could be desirable.

Having a framework as highlighted in the article is necessary, but hardly the whole equation. In practice, such frameworks are hard to realise due to many factors that are not easily controllable. For instance, towards the end of the chapter, “the engineers are not very skilled, or decision-making is dysfunctional in some way…”, isn’t that pretty much 90% of the companies out there that are trying to compete for a slice of the pie. The framework is presented as an idealised version of what can and should be practiced, but in reality most studios really operate in a much more adaptive manner, just to ensure deadlines are met and clients are satisfied.

I think there is some merit to what is being proposed about personas and the benefits of using this as a tool to design a product. But my counter argument would be this is for perhaps a rather narrow set of problems; what personas can one use for designing a fraud detection system for an online auction site, or design control software for an autonomous robot that can used in offworld applications(to do that comprehensively would perhaps entail knowing all the different things it would be used for, hypothetically).

I do feel that the lean (or equally great Toyota’s kaizen) approach, is probably the more suitable approach for a wider set of problems we are trying to solve, and realistically too. To me, it sounds more logically to prototype fast, test, iterate/pivot. The Kaizen approach of continuous improvement is commendable as well; today’s world of fast-food style consumerism is not healthy for creating services/products with long lasting value.