I know that design process thinking works because I use it. I apply it to all sorts of problems, big and small. One of these problems I applied it to was this book (and the online course). It was an interesting and rewarding experience. While writing about the process, I practiced it.
The two best ways to learn are to do and to teach. In these short chapters, I have done both. I encourage you to do the same – use this process wherever you can, then teach it to someone. It will pay off for you.
Defining the problem
At first, the goal was to develop some sort of online learning about design process thinking. That’s a vague objective. You might notice that it doesn’t even mention a book.
Since I’m as busy as everyone else, I didn’t want to waste time building a course that wasn’t right. My first step was to define the problem. What, exactly, did I want to achieve? I thought about it for a while – days, probably weeks. This course couldn’t be expensive to develop or distribute, so I’d probably use a blog-hosting service. I wanted everyone, from teenagers to seniors, to understand how it works. I wanted the course to engage learners so they’d learn the concepts and apply them to their lives.
From all of this, I defined the problem as:
I want to develop a short course about the design process… (What)
… that anyone can follow… (Who)
… over the next few months… (When)
… hosted on a blog platform or similar service… (Where)
… using a range of media (articles, videos, images)… (How)
… and the best educational techniques… (also How)
… to teach 100 people this powerful skill. (Why)
In my notes, the timeframe (When) was more specific. I gave myself a few months because that was short enough to motivate me without applying too much pressure. The other thing that probably stands out is my Why: teach 100 people this skill. There are two reasons why I like this Why.
The first is that it is measurable. I’ll know whether I’m successful or not. I want to achieve that goal whether anyone views this course or reads the book. Holding myself to a standard like that forces me to design this course well. If it looks like I’m falling short of that goal, I’ll need to rethink that approach.
The second reason why I like that goal is that it is motivating. I’ve worked on this course and the book in my own time – after work, on weekends, on holidays. It can be hard to keep going when there’s so much else you could be doing. But if 100 people learn and apply this skill, that’s a real change. It would make a difference not only to their lives but to their families, organisations and communities. This is how you change the world.
I trust you understand why the Why is important. It will keep you on track through the storm. Take the time to define it well.
A recurring theme in this book is that there’s more than one design process. I recently came across a model that had five steps. It was similar to what I went with, though I refined some of the steps to suit my style.
I came across design process models with five steps, six steps, seven, eight, more. What appealed to me about a five-step process is that it’s easier to explain and remember. I want everyone to understand the concept. If you are an engineer or programmer, you might prefer more steps, each with more details. For most people, five steps is a lot to remember as it is. I’d rather you remember all five steps than most of an eight-step process.
One useful source of information was my own studies. I recently completed a Diploma in Training Design and Development. Many of the tricks I use to make content memorable and engaging come from learning this qualification.
Another source of material was the Open Educational Resources site. If you are an educator of any kind, sites like these are a goldmine of useful content. I also have to mention Open Clipart for their great pictures.
Part of my defined problem referred to a “range of media”. I found online tools and tips for creating video, audio and images. But one thing that stood out were a range of self-publishing tools (like Amazon’s CreateSpace). That’s when I realised that one media I hadn’t considered were books. Many courses have assigned and optional reading. I realised this was a great opportunity to convey these concepts in a different way.
Sometimes, research isn’t about acquiring data. Sometimes it’s about sharing your own.
I ride the bus to work, I walk to the shops and I like going to the gym. What’s great about these activities is that ideas just come to you. It’s handy to let your mind wander.
My options for this step were constrained. I’m working on my own, so no group work was possible. However, I’m naturally good at brainstorming. My mind creates many possibilities, all the time. I don’t have to put much effort into it. The tricky part for me is capturing all these ideas and arranging them. In my folder, I have documents full of scribbled ideas about content, the interface, ways to convey the information better…
These notes are a mess, but it works for me. If I had teammates, I would certainly have to tidy them up a bit.
Developing the solution
This is what I’m doing now. By typing this, I am trying out a solution. I’m working on different ways of implementing these ideas, different ways of making the content easy to understand.
I started with the book. It forced me to capture all of the content in a single medium – namely, text. I wrote for an hour or two, writing as much as I can. Then, after a break, I’d be back for more writing.
I didn’t read what I’d written – not straight away, at least. When I finished, then I started editing… but not a moment before. Writing and editing use different styles of thinking. Writing requires a steady flow of words and ideas, what neurologists call the ‘diffuse mode’. Editing is precise, is technical and focuses on the details, also known as the focused mode.
This is how you fail fast when writing a book or designing a course. You let it all pour out. Only later do you turn a critical eye over it. I write a lot so, having documented my past mistakes, I’ll knew what to look out for. But this style of writing is new for me. It’s been fun seeing what sorts of mistakes I make.
This step comes later. After I publish, I will keep an eye on how the course performs. Feedback and statistics about page views will provide key information. Every now and then, I’ll change something. Maybe people find one area confusing or too long. I doubt I’ll get it perfect the first time. Luckily, I don’t have to.
Thanks to design process thinking, I know that I don’t need perfection. I just need something out there for people to interact with. How these interactions unfold will provide a wealth of information. If I ever achieve perfection, it will only be because of the failures leading up to it.
Module 1: Introduction
Module 2: Defining the problem
Module 3: Researching the data
Module 4: Imagining possibilities
Module 5: Designing the solution
Module 6: Experimenting
Module 7: Case study: This Course
Module 8: Where to from here?