When I make my famous chili, there is a process to follow. Cars built on assembly lines have processes to follow. Step-by-step processes make great blog posts because everyone wants to know your secret to success. Showing your process to others implies they could do it too, which is an easy way to teach. Having a repeatable process also implies producing repeatable results. But when we’re designing a new experience, do we even want to repeat something else?
Most designers already know that processes are meant to be bent, twisted, and turned upside-down as needed. By our very nature, we redesign how we work as often as we redesign things for work. My concern, though, isn’t aimed at those already doing design but those just starting out.
In many countries, we’ve come to rely heavily on the public education systems which, in turn, have come to rely heavily on standardization. We standardize the curriculum. We standardize tests. We even standardize breaking up a school day into 55-minute chunks with 5 minutes to walk to your next class. We’ve designed a standard education process with the intent of producing repeatable results in the form of standard high school graduates.
Some students will attend a college that disrupts this model, but most spend their entire educational career under the notion that there is always one right answer for everything and someone else will tell you what to do & where to go. Their favorite professor will tell them about popular processes like Design Thinking, Lean UX, or Double Diamond. But because of the way these students learn, they internalize one process as the best way to design until convinced otherwise by a new “best process.”
I don’t blame the Stanford d.school or the British Design Council for labeling their ideas as processes. They’re the first to tell you that these systems aren’t meant to be linear or restrictive. In real time with real design projects, do things go horribly wrong if we start with an idea before we research? If I develop something and then discover a new insight, will my project fail? If I use Design Thinking to come up with an amazing design, does that make Lean UX wrong?
I’ve recently started mentoring with a high school entrepreneur program, and quickly remembered how sponge-like the minds of young people are. They exist in an education system that teaches them a standard way of doing everything. If I hand them a step-by-step process to do something, they’ll probably do it. In turn, they’ll expect predictable and successful results. Unfortunately, success will not always happen on the first try. Or even the second & third. As with most things worth mastering, persistence matters more than process.
“Energy and persistence conquer all things.”
– Benjamin Franklin
Each student I work with is just as unique as I am, and never in the same way. A process that worked for me may never work for one of them. As a designer, I have to get to know each of the students and empathize with who they are and what they need before offering up insights or ideas. I need to treat each conversation the same way I approach human-centered design projects to avoid the easy “me-centered” responses. I constantly remind myself to explain the principles & the tools so they can make the plan.
Whether you call yourself a designer or an entrepreneur, you know a process in itself does not create great ideas. I believe we can teach principles within the “steps of the process” without the connotation that the steps go in a particular order or that success requires all steps. I believe we can create frameworks to provide people with information and guide them toward possibilities rather than offering rigid instructions. The topic of redesigning education is much bigger than just the design world, but we may be the community with the best chance to make a difference.