Six steps before design

Do the right thing, not only the thing right.

If a problem is not identified, or just isn’t worth solving, forget about design. If the criteria for design isn’t agreed upon and set before designing starts, designers and clients can go back and forth endlessly with more or less pretty ‘designs.’ Neither the client nor designers will have sound arguments why something should or shouldn’t be tried. In that case, the criteria by which design will be evaluated will be a matter of a personal taste instead of the relevance of the work. It’s a spiral of endless iterations and exponentially growing frustration on all sides.


The process

Take a look at the process first. The Double Diamond Design process was developed by Design Council UK and maps the stages of practically any design process.

The four quarters illustrate the progress from points where discoveries, thinking, and possibilities are as broad as possible (hence a divergent shape) to situations where they are deliberately narrowed down and focused on distinct objectives (hence the convergent shape).

The first half of the process is intended to discover and define the tasks worth being done. Well done ‘Discover’ and ‘Define’ phases ensure that you are solving the right problems, enhancing the quality of solutions, and saving time and resources. The result of the first stage is a brief for a second stage.

The second part of the process is all about solving problems identified in the first stage and implementing solutions. It is important to have the first stage completed and signed off by all stakeholders to avoid going back to basics at this stage – which is meant exclusively to address the issues defined in the previous stage. 

There is a number of similar processes to Double Diamond; the most notable is Design Thinking. Design Thinking had its origins in the 1960s and was refined and popularised in the 1990s by Stanford University and design agency IDEO. The most prominent features of this process are a need for empathy with a user and a prototyping stage to quickly prototype an idea, making it tangible and test it.

Different methods may vary, but what they all have in common is a notion that design process begins way before any shaping, styling or forming are taking place.

Steps that need to be considered before the design starts

Before you start to ‘design,’ or rather let’s say ‘putting any form or shape to anything,’ go through the steps below. If you have a clear idea of who you are, what you are doing, why you are doing it, and for whom, it would not take more as a day to go through these. If not, you have a problem, because you obviously haven’t thought through your business idea – and design cannot help you in a significant way.

1. Define your mission and set the criteria to guide all your decisions

2. Define your user and/or customer. Understand them.

3. Define your product or service. What value do you bring to your customer?

4. Define your business model. How to deliver the product to the customer. 

5. Define your customer’s journey. All touchpoints with the brand

6. Prepare a brief and start designing. 

1. You. 

Who are you? Why should your users and customers even care about you? Define why your brand exists beyond the profit. Any brand development should start with a couple of basic questions. What is unique for your brand, and why should your users and customers care about you, believe you, and identify with you.

People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it. -Simon Sinek
People are looking for the values and beliefs they share with a brand, not only the utility of a product or a service. Sinek developed a simple, yet incredibly strong framework to define a brand’s raison d’être, the reason to exist beyond making money. For strong brands, economic success is a result of their existence, not their mission.

When the brand’s identity is clearly defined and understandable for anyone involved in any activity of the brand, it will guide the decisions concerning not only brand image and communications but the product development as well.

Simon Sinek’s “Start with why” (18:01)
Marty Neumeier on “The onliness statement” (3:24)

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2. Your users & customers 

Understand your market beyond numbers. Identify the different personas of your users, their pains or problems you are solving, what they believe, what is important to them, and to whom they listen. Try to understand why they do what they do. Give your personas ‘real’ names and often ask yourselves questions as: “What would ‘Robert’ do?”

Users and customers
In most cases, the user and customer are the same person. In that case, there are the same motivations for using and buying the product or a service. In case that user of a product is a different one than the customer, who is paying for it, there are separate sets of motivations to deal with. Think parents/kids, employer/employees, government/citizen, etc.

Keep in mind that sometimes the user and customer aren’t the same person. For instance, if someone is buying a phone for herself, she is a customer and the end user of that phone. If the same person is buying the phone for her ageing dad, she is a customer, because she is the one paying for it, but the user of the phone is her elderly dad.

Empathy map canvas by Dave Gray
Basics of personas (3:57) by Smaply
Guide to marketing personas by Buffer

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3. Product  

A product fulfils a desire, solves a problem, gets a job done for its user, and has enough value for that user that he or she is prepared to pay for it, thus becoming a customer. No matter if products are a physical thing, a service, content, or a digital product, we should think of them more or less the same way.

Product can be physical, digital, service, or content.

Your product or service is your answer to your users’ needs or problems. It is based in your brand’s mission and values. It should deliver the user what you have promised them, in a way that is consistent with the brand.

Value proposition Canvas by Alexander Osterwalder
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4. Business model

You know what your brand stands for, you know your users and their needs, you have defined your value proposition to them, and you have a product to deliver on your promise. It is time to establish everything else that you need to produce and deliver your product to your customer.

Business model canvas by Alex Osterwalder
The original business model canvas by Alexander Osterwalder outlines the main segments of virtually any business model on a single page. By visualising otherwise a fairly abstract model, it helps considerably to understand it. There are some variations of the business canvas available by different authors. Any would do.

How the product will be produced or the service executed, will you need external partners to do it will be a predisposition to the product development and will influence product design. The channels to reach customers and promote the brand and the product will affect the brand development and its communications.

Business model canvas by Alexander Osterwalder
The 10 Methods of The Lean Startup

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5. Customer journey

Once the business model is drafted, determine all the points in which the customer comes in touch with the brand. Cover all interactions between a customer and a brand over the entire customer lifecycle; from the first time the customer learns about the brand, information gathering, decision-making, purchasing, unboxing, onboarding, use, post-purchase support, and recommending to others.

Customer Journey
A typical cycle of a user interactions with a brand consists of different stages, usually “pre-,” “during,” and “post-” use. We can control some points of interaction directly, like a brand promise, advertising, a website, packaging, product, onboarding, support, etc. Other touch points we can only influence indirectly — if at all; i.e. delivery, user community, reviews, etc. This cycle — with endless specific variations — generally applies to all kinds of products and services.

When you plot those touch points on a timeline, you have charted a customer journey. Keep in mind that the customer has a different amount of knowledge of the brand at various stages of her or his journey. None at the beginning, and much more when she or he shares a good or bad experience with friends on social networks.

Intro to customer journey by Smashing Magazine
Basics of journey mapping (3:50) by Smaply

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6. Brand development, product development brief 

Everything above should be a part of a design brief. There are the brand values to define the character of the brand and features of the product. There is the customer journey that identifies all the elements needed to be done, and the priorities determine the timeline of steps.

The design itself should have two stages:

1 Meta-design or designing the rules. This stage should translate the brand values into basic elements and rules how to design for specific fields; primary brand messages, a tone of voice, service guidelines, and a language style guide.  It should set visual elements such as logo, typographic systems, and colour palette, as well as directions for industrial, product, UX, and UI design. The goal of this stage is transferring the brand values into all different fields of the brand ecosystem.

2 Design. The ongoing process of designing elements defined by every touchpoint where the brand comes in touch with its customers. The brief for this stage should include the guidelines from the meta stage that serve as a vantage point and the criteria to evaluate the relevance of every single piece of work. It’s a way to ensure brand consistency over all its touchpoints, existing and in the future, making brands more resilient and futureproof. It’s a brand ecosystem design.

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Six Steps Before Design

Six steps that need to be considered before the design starts. Basic concepts and links to further resources.

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Matevž Medja is a co-founder of the award-winning design agency Gigodesign, with more than 25 years of experience in building interdisciplinary teams on complex projects. He believes the world is already too full of products nobody needs and brands nobody believes in. He’d like to help develop new ones properly. Read more.