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Why Design Isn’t All About Lines


by Ribhav Gupta

Mountain Climbers climbing Mt. Everest would never dare scale it in a single go. Instead, they devised a system of moving between bases, going up and down segments of the mountain until they have the stamina for a single ascent to the peak. Replace the risks of avalanche, the rickety ladders, and the hurricane speed winds with long nights spent filling notebooks with prototype diagrams and investor pitches, and this scenario quickly begins to resemble the design thinking process.

For the past nine weeks I have been a student at the Stanford d. school. Here students learn to take ideas that are only found in their dreams and bring them to life through enacting a seemingly straightforward five step process. This “design process” is an instructional guide composed of empathizing with those effected by a problem, defining the problem to address, ideating, prototyping and finally testing. At first it seems clear cut – a linear progression of steps that will eventually culminate in to the realization of your dreams. However, an effective use of the process is less linear and more of a scenic path.

Ultimately, each institute has its own version of the cycle. Some include extra steps and others simplify it. Yet, at the core of all of them lies a notion of multiple iterations. Like climbing Mt. Everest the process requires a lot of back and forth movements. It is a perpetual cycle of readdressing each step, building off the new knowledge gained from latter experiences. From building off of new user feedback, to testing a different prototype, to redefining the problem addressed, the design cycle is centered around its own constant innovation. It is a belief that with each new rendition, some small caveat of the product can be improved. Multiple studies have proved how the entire process allows for previously unseen inter-industrial connections to form, and formation to problems once viewed as futile. Through it all, the design process has one goal: refine, refine, refine.

The goal of this article is not to tell you what the design process looks like – rather to explain that it is a messy process that is undeniably frustrating. Yet at the same time it’s free of judgment, relaxed, and pushes for creativity at every moment. Behind all this lies a process that I have grown to adore and truly start to value. One last thing, as emphasized this process is not entirely accurate in its name. Its not some formula to success, rather it’s a set of guidelines designed to help designers through roadblocks.