There’s an interesting article on Apple’s design process at BusinessWeek (no, I don’t read it; I learned about it somewhere else :). Now, I’ve taken a long look at design over the years from a lot of perspectives, partly because I taught interface design for a while, but mostly because I want to know how to execute good design in general (and how to support it). I’ve similarly looked at what makes effective learning, what makes engaging experiences, etc. And design’s fun!
Along the way, I looked at graphic design, instructional design, architectural design, industrial design, etc, and design in domains like writing, comics, etc. Design’s interesting, in that you’re trying to explore a potentially vast space of possible solutions, and you don’t want to miss any areas of the overall space in case you miss out on a great solution. We tend to prematurely converge, bringing in subconscious constraints from our cognitive limitations like functional fixedness, set effects, etc. So, what we look for are ways to help keep us be highly divergent before we get convergent.
Across disciplines, you see repeated effort to do this. Brainstorming is of course common. An approach I knew a small interface design house used was to have to parallel teams working separately on a design before choosing one to develop further, and in Apple’s approach we see a much bigger version thereof. Egoless design (sharing and being open to constructive feedback), no-limits design (what would you do if you had magic), kitchen-sink design (look at what others have done; as far as your lawyers will let you, plagiarize), etc, are a few of the rubrics I came up with to help facilitate thinking out of the box. They are all tricks to help widely populate the design space. Systematic creativity is not, in fact, an oxymoron, but the result of the fact that certain processes increase the likelihood of the best solution (yes, it’s probabilistic).
Apple’s approaches of the multiple solutions, and the parallel meetings really do help partner systematicity with creativity in demonstrably effective ways. There are interesting lessons here. Design is a key component of the ability to continue to innovate, which is a critical survival skill, even more so going forward. Design on!