Breaking through the mist

Fjord Family

A colleague of mine often talks about that ‘painful fog’, in the early days of the design process when the way forward is not yet clear and everyone including the client is getting a bit itchy.

The combination of the pressure to find that eureka moment that will engender a collective sigh of relief and the mounting number of attempts to get there can make for an uncomfortable time.

But in my experience, more often than not that moment does arrive. With it comes a lifting of spirits, a parting of the clouds to reveal a sequence of now seemingly limitless possibilities for how this new thing will take shape.

Thank goodness for that uncomfortable impenetrable soup – we think – once we’re outside of it. For in there lies the exact molecules, energy and other unknown ingredients that when sucked through the tortured gritted teeth of the design team combine to produce that magical moment of clarity.

But what if our moment of clarity is just that…a moment? Is the idea of ‘the concept’ from which everything radiates still robust when the possibilities of technology run faster than we can generate ideas for how to use it?

How can we be sure that the sum of our experience around how to ‘make things work’ will still be relevant when we can no longer predict the contexts of use for the products and services we are creating?

If digital disrupts, how can we imagine what new behaviours and expectations are left in the wake of this disruption?

Maybe there is a place for design outside of the fog though, even in ridding us of it forever.

If design can be used as a way to help formulate some understanding of constraints, from which product decisions can be made, then could clarity be reached in a far more efficient, painless and useful way?

Could the design process be applied very early on in a product’s lifecycle to help frame the questions that will lead to a much clearer idea of what the product needs to be? If ideas are already abundant (as they are), should the design task not be to accelerate those ideas that stand up to scrutiny?

I believe the opportunity for design to be at the very front end of this decision-making process is huge.  At Fjord we call it ‘Breakthrough’. Taking a product from no-shape to shape, with a robust, validated product hypothesis, business case and technology approach via the process of answering questions that are second nature to designers (these are some out of a great many):

  • What are the stories we can tell with this product?
  • How will someone in a real life situation use it regardless of what device(s) they might have?
  • How could we harness existing paradigms to fulfil this and where is there a need for something genuinely new?
  • What can technology bring to the table, what’s going to be possible in six months time? What do we know about existing and emerging user behaviour, what are the opportunities there?
  • Is there a brand promise we need to fulfill, how does that work when there are multiple entry points and everything is in the cloud?
  • What is the actual business opportunity? How can we measure success beyond basic KPIs?

By asking these questions and attempting to create a first hypothesis via sketching and prototyping very early on, the designer is in a position to help create something that isn’t just the product of a painful and potentially misguided concepting phase. And the result has a much better chance of gaining acceptance, getting built, and ultimately getting into the hands of those people whose needs we’re seeking to meet.

Fjord Family

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