Where do ideas come from? New ideas often require empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. What do people want and need? The first step in the design process is to identify and clarify a need, goal, challenge, intent, objective or problem to solve. This stage in the design process results in a design brief – a concise statement and set of criteria or specifications for the required design.
Designers begin to solve a problem by visualizing many different potential solutions or approaches. Fluency (many possibilities), flexibility (diverse possibilities), elaboration (building on ideas) and originality (unique ideas) are visualized through drawings, notes, photos, etc. so others can see, understand, collaborate and contribute. This stage in the design process requires research into the constraints of the project and a search for other attempts to solve the same or similar problems.
Testing ideas by making quick models, prototypes or mock-ups with easy to use and inexpensive materials helps designers clarify ideas and determine those that are most feasible. The process of prototyping contributes to finding the most viable solution to a problem. Early prototyping saves money, time and resources in the end.
Too often, students in schools begin their work at the production stage because the teacher has defined the problem, researched solutions and created a sample (prototype) for the students to follow. Design learning, however, takes place in the stages before producing the final product. Teachers must be sure to teach students how to generate ideas, visualize solutions and prototype possibilities before producing a final product. Most designs are produced by engineers and fabricators when the designers have completed their work.
Students must learn how to present the results of their work in a clear and compelling manner. The design process is not over when the final product has been produced because the design must be presented to the client, approved for production, fabricated, distributed, purchased and used before we can really gauge if it is successful. Production and distribution of design is a major component of our economy.
How does the design work in the real world? Design is evaluated by how successful it is in meeting the needs of others. Does it actually work in the real world? Does the design fulfill the needs and criteria identified in the initial design brief? Design is iterative - the design process is applied repeatedly to the result of the previous application. How can we improve on the design we created the next time around?