DESIGN METHODS: THEORY OR REALITY?

When we think of “method”, we usually and incorrectly think of a set of tools (procedures and techniques) that, used rigorously and systematically, lead us to the expected result. In fact, the “method”, precisely because of its divergence from a mathematical formula, does not promise results, but the direction when searching for a conclusion or an answer. As its etymological definition, “method” is – a way to a purpose.

The use of methods of any kind allows us to understand what is not yet understood in a logical order. This “declared” logical order did not suit the various creative sectors. Only after many years, given its projectable approach and the consequent need for integration between various areas involved in setting business strategies and the entire production chain, the creativity, intuitive and emotional, was incorporated into the model of thought, representing one of the major features of the designer – the integration of the intuitive to the analytical and systematic.

Retrieving the principle of “method” as a tool, we can then enter in the “creative method” or “design method”, which by its distance from the scientific approach, escapes from any further mathematical idea. It happens due to its high creative input, both in the idealization of the procedures (method), in the format assumed for the implementation (the method in progress), and especially by their condition and ability to flexibly adapt to different arguments and problems … “yes, the design methods are not only for designers, not only associated to the act of creating products with an attractive and distinctive image”; the design methods may involve people from different disciplines, as well as being very useful in finding solutions to any problem, since they are, in essence, the processes that contribute to the construction of new arguments. 00

Picture 00: Embraer – Dynamic ‘Peripherals Insights’. VRD RESEARCH 2008. The search for new technological references can be an “incestuous” act if our approach is limited to the segment or type of product. After all, currently everyone has access to the same technologies; finding a new reference requires looking outside the perimeters.

In general, when faced with a problem, our brain tends to use linear thinking, which reacts automatically, making connections with patterns and situations already experienced. This reactive response prevents us from seeing alternative ways and leads to the repetition of the same ideas, or basically to a lack of new ideas. To avoid the “loop” and extend the possibilities, it is necessary to divert and re-direct the brain’s natural way towards fragmented and creative thinking. 01

Picture 01: Linear thinking vs fragmented and creative thinking. VRD RESEARCH. The creative exploration in linear thinking is limited and tends to repetition. In the opposite, the fragmented thinking, where creativity can be exploited by levels, the range of alternatives and possible solutions is infinite.

In other words, this requires the stimulation of creativity to develop new arguments, including the way we view the problem, how the variables will be explored and how all this information will be integrated, even in contexts of large complexity. An innovative idea is the result of many small innovations combined over a process, as well as innovative ways to understand and explore the problem or to define the creative design guidelines.

The design processes, the creative way of thinking and the methods involved in finding solutions and ideas “out of the box”, have been a subject of discussion and relevance in various academic institutions (Design, Marketing, Communication, Business, etc…) and in the Design Companies, as well as in businesses from different sectors. In some cases implementation has being done with great acceptance and positive experiences, but in others (the majority), it relates to a beautiful theory or some activities with positive impact on Human Resources, but with no effective return.

Once using the methods of design as a tool of thought and creativity, we are able to identify some barriers, as well as situations that can compromise the benefits of an effective implementation:

(1) There are two common situations among students who have the opportunity to practice some methods in the classroom. On the one hand, making particular reference to Design students, there is the one who finds interesting the use of a methodological process, even without fully understanding the reasons; but the interest lasts until he feels he is becoming a process designer rather than a properly designer. The anxiety for the arrival of a tangible result transforms the process into a boring phase, everlasting and misleading the student. On the other hand there is the student who has understood the value of the process, but believes the implementation is only possible if the “employer” buys the idea, or it can be applied only to very large projects with extended schedules.

Of course there is nothing more complicated for a new designer (it also happens to mature ones), to contain the desire of putting an idea on paper, and there is nothing more rewarding than giving shape and voice to “something” just imagined. But what happens when this form has no soul, no essence or argument? What will be its relevance? Good ideas must be good first in their concepts, in the argument they support and in the value they carry, this little story that makes acquiring a new product (consumer) or making a new investment (company) something worth. In a context with so many possibilities for acquisitions and investments, this initial promise is the essence of value creation. This is what the method of design addresses; integrate each element that must create the “genetic code” of an innovative solution.

The design methods are adaptable and flexible, both in relation to the subject and to timing issues. There is no project or matter where it is not possible to use this tool; it can be anything: a label, a package, a new service, or even an airplane design. It is the practice (extensive and continuous) that makes possible the use of methods of high complexity in projects with short timeframes. In addition, the same methods, including their “alternative” characteristics, can bring responses in more complex and demanded studies, such as scientific evidences. 02

Picture 02: Johnson & Johnson “diaper rash, a cause of baby distress: identify, analyze and relate the rash to factors of baby suffering.” VRD RESEARCH 2009. This study has combined scientific tools and procedures with alternative methods of observation, from the perspective of Design Thinking, to explore other spontaneous manifestations of the baby (gestures, interaction, answers, etc.) and thus be able to validate by the medical evidence.

(2) There are two major challenges for design companies that offer design methodology as a differential. First, they must not only achieve a differentiated exploration of the problem, of the public needs and the opportunities, but also transform the results of questionnaires, photo murals, and hundreds of post-its notes on something valuable, into a new business vision, into solutions and into ideas that make difference. The second major challenge is not to make the design method a “clichê”, or an “one-tool” that has worked once and now is conducted in the same way in all the projects.

The method has to be used to “mess up” the form of linear thinking, to explore beyond the paradigms and to connect aspects that were never linked and not known when data was organized in a classic situation. In fact, there is no worthy method if we cannot see new opportunities, synthesize new values and transform them into solutions. What to do then? Force yourself to extract the best out of everything, take less conclusions from the obvious, and above all, practice … The ability to observe and to transform is something you earn over time. 03

Picture 03: Papaiz “New generation of padlocks.” VRD RESEARCH 2010-11. Translate observation into new business opportunities, implementable in the short, medium and long term.

The design method cannot, in any way, neglect the creative aspect that sets it apart; becoming a “clichê” makes it lose all its essence. You should always take an experimental “flavour” to be an “alternative” to conventional methods, constantly reinventing it. 04

Picture 04: R & D Johnson & Johnson “Intimate care.” VRD RESEARCH 2009. Address “intimate” issues in a traditional focus group format can be limiting. The proposal of a new “self driven” format among a group of friends has meant a shift in paradigm and was worth because the diversion of subjects and non-controllable factors brought rich information for the project.

(3) There are two great worries that companies face when including a new methodology in their development processes and projection of their businesses. The first, which deals with “character” of the method, is summarized in a sequence of questions. Is it too creative? Random? How do we support these new guidelines for business? And the second, which refers to the outcome and viability, is the fear of “dreaming” but never being able to get this innovative and marvelous idea to the reality of the company, or to lose the differential when refining and adapting the idea to the external constraints.

The fact that it is a creative process and that it uses alternative methods with qualitative emphasis does not mean that it is randomic, superficial and unsustainable. It also does not presuppose that, by its creative nature, it will be abstract and incomprehensible to people from other disciplines. On the contrary, the process is systematic – each criteria and parameter has a reason –  and it always seeks to parameterize, to map and to quantify the information and qualitative observations.

The results of the design process should always be completed in a “scenario”, where it will be possible to connect the present to the future, the idea that can be done in 10 years with the ones achievable tomorrow and after all, the plan of a phased implementation, according to the skills and the goals from the medium to the long term.

The opportunities to employ design methods are various, given the increasing complexities required by the current context. However, the results will only be effective when we provide the ideal conditions, therefore, willing to adopt a new attitude and be open-minded to new ways of “doing”. Being innovative is an option, but opting for innovation requires adopting an innovative attitude.