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The best design process is to not follow a design process

Why is it practically impossible to stick to a single standard design process?


We have all been fans of evergreen double diamond and humble iteration loops of design thinking. These are undoubtedly great frameworks to follow but they’re often too broad to lead us towards the right solution. There are a plethora of books and articles telling us about different design processes. It is overwhelming to pick a particular process for our design project. It begins with a lot of enthusiasm but there comes a point when the process just won’t align with your work. We reach a point that is not mentioned in any book or article we’ve come across. The process that looked immaculate and streamlined in the beginning has come to a complex stage where it’s all messy. If this is relatable then please continue reading why following a single design process is never enough. It is because-


Every project is unique

The intent of every design project varies depending on multiple factors. There is a different scope for each project. The result may turn out to be similar but each project is still unique in its way. A design project is conceived with a goal in mind. This goal can simply be to just explore different possibilities. This goal and the whole journey to reach the destination is unique for every project. Try to break down a design project into multiple pieces and see how these pieces of one project differ from the pieces of another. Let us simplify it in further detail.


Every project has different constraints

Different projects have different limitations for designers to work with. The constraints can be of any type. Sometimes research is a constraint, sometimes it’s the budget. The others can be data privacy, internal organizational structure, legal and policy constraints, etc. Now when there can be so many different types of obstacles a designer can come across, how can a single design process be implemented to achieve the best results. The standard design processes are there to guide us through the projects but they would not be enough to overcome all the unique challenges that come with different projects.


Every stage of a project is different

A design project has multiple stages. These stages look different for different projects. For instance, problem identification in one project may be very easy while the other project may take way too long to find the right problem. The same goes for user research, ideation, prototyping, etc. Each of these stages will act differently for different projects. Having a single process every time may not be sufficient to manage different components of the project.


Every stakeholder has a different understanding of design

The non-design aspects of a design project come with their challenges. Another variable for design projects is the stakeholders involved in the work. The stakeholders play an important role in driving the project and designers need to establish a shared understanding among all the stakeholders. This may vary depending on the involvement and position of stakeholders, the time they can invest, their knowledge on the project, etc. The standard design process rarely helps us in managing such situations in the project.


Every project has different timelines

The timelines are a big deal in most design projects. Each one has a different scope of work concerning the available time at hand. In some projects, the research can take its own sweet time while in others it has to be super quick and agile. In some cases, there is less time to iterate and the only option is to improve after the launch. Time indeed is a luxury in most of the projects and it has to be planned smartly with the process. The variations in timelines force designers to adopt different processes for the project.


Every project has different resources

Yet another variable in the design projects is the availability of resources. The project runs on various resources like tools, tech, and most important of all, people. The design process depends largely on the available resources as designers cannot proceed without them. The designers may try to be extra resourceful and take the project ahead in unique ways. While the standard processes may look smooth on the whiteboards, the resources at hand show otherwise.


Every mistake is unique

Any design process is incomplete without failure. The key is to fail early and iterate fast. There are many mistakes that designers make and every mistake leads to a different learning curve. A standard design process leaves less room for error and new lessons. I believe we learn the best from our mistakes and our process should be flexible enough to try new ways without the fear of going wrong. Every mistake is unique and we should embrace it with a determination to not repeat the same.


The bottom line is that a single process is not enough to guide us through the design projects. The frameworks look enticing at first glance but there is more to a project than expected. One of the great ways to make the best use of these frameworks is to mix and match according to the context of the project. It is completely fine to deviate from one and adopt another method in the interest of the project. The scope of work should guide the process, not the other way around. Design processes and frameworks are great for reference, but the actual implementation of these may look different. A great project is the one optimizing different frameworks and leveraging the best resources and processes at hand.

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