Designing with Vision

by March 8, 2007

This week I caught a talk by Philip Haine from Obvious Design about Designing with Vision. Philip outlined how some products that seem to ignore the "best practices" of design turn out to be breakthroughs, while others that are designed by the book suffer from mediocrity. He also addressed why product design processes often suffer from have radically shifting requirements. According to Philip the answers lie in understanding product vision:

  • Product vision is the missing discipline (marketing, design, development, etc.) in the product creation process. It has a profound effect on the outcome, is a source of innovation, and can override design quality.
  • A solid product vision makes requirement gathering easy and gives clear guidance to design decisions.

Defining Vision

  • Vision is a loose term but its outcomes are quite tangible: better designs, smoother process, and break through products
  • Vision is a high-level requirement
  • Vision is the selection of which problem to solve. It means making a choice
  • Vision is a way to define a problem as a set of needs you are trying to address
  • Creating a vision is a design process
  • Every product has a vision whether implicitly or explicitly stated

The Design Pyramid

  • Design: the only piece of pyramid that is visible to users
  • Requirements: the specifications of what a product must accomplish
  • Vision: the definition of a problem by which needs you are trying to solve
  • Understanding: research or intuition about those needs
  • It’s a pyramid because all layers above depend on what is below them
  • Design is hard because there is so much invisible stuff that feeds into it (requirements, vision, understanding)
  • For good design to happen you need the groundwork to be done
  • If you have a clear idea of vision & requirements, the design just kind of pops out or reveals itself
  • The design pyramid applies to functional design problems (not aesthetic issues)
  • Requirements shift so frequently because new insights come in at the understanding layer
  • The pyramid is recursive: it is set for a product but also applies to each feature within the product
  • Disruptive innovation happens at Vision & Understanding levels

Bad Design

  • The right product vision can override the design layer, but it rarely happens the other way around
  • Products that use the right best practices may turn out mediocre while those that break the rules may become runaway hits
  • If they are missing the discipline of vision, even the best design processes can’t help.
  • Product vision & research is the driver (golf metaphor). Usability testing is the putter. [This was eloquently stated by Jim Leftwich on Functioning Form]

USN Scenarios:

  • Used to understand the needs that build a vision
  • User: customer/stakeholder
  • Situation: or context or characteristic
  • Need: that results from user+ situation
  • Situation answers why something is needed and by whom
  • USN scenarios separate the problem from the solution
  • Need to be concise: necessary and sufficient