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The Method as a Funnel

When you think of The Design Method, picture a funnel. This device helps you move your design in one direction and continually refine your actions. Many requirements, questions, and possibilities go into the funnel at the beginning, but these must narrow and keep you moving toward a single trajectory. This perspective runs contrary to the way many designers treat the design process. They tend to confuse creativity as a fragmented, tangential venture in which the number of options presented is congruous with the quality of service afforded.

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Many people see design and creative work as a tangential process; I prefer to think about my work as though it’s running through a funnel—always getting narrower and clearer.

Those who want to deliver good design efficiently need to regard the whole process of design differently. You can’t consider wayward tangents and the creation of dead ends to be of any value to your clients. Instead, you must understand that you need to identify a target. Yes, getting there will require experiments, but these need to be directed—not just random creative dalliances. You should also recognize that you can only reach that target by controlling your impulses, concentrating on an end goal, and narrowing your options to make them more manageable.

The Design Method is a process of refinement in which you sort out the big issues first and move on to smaller components. A comparable scenario would be choosing a place to stay on vacation. Before you’d book a hotel, you’d start by determining your destination, what you wanted to do there, and the dates for your travel. Then you’d choose the most important attributes for a hotel (e.g., budget, quality, location, amenities) and narrow your search appropriately.

Although the hotel analogy might seem a tad pedestrian, the comparison is useful when you consider the way some create design. Many start by weighing every possibility available, and even act on some of these impulses, without taking time to determine whether these possibilities deserve consideration. These alternatives might prove interesting and entertaining, but they waste time. Given how labor-intensive design is, such indulgences soon prove costly and are best avoided. The tough part is trying to break your clients of their deadly “three options” habit and instead funneling all your effort into a single approach.

We meet with designers and studio leads on a regular basis, and it continues to baffle us that many—if not all—still present three different design options for every project. They all acknowledge that doing so is foolish and hate having to work this way, but oddly enough, few designers seem willing to try another way. The three option approach is akin to asking a chef to present three meals, scrutinizing them at length, and then chucking each item on a plate and mixing them together into one big mess. This is madness—madness I tell you! Nevertheless, designers seem powerless to break from this tradition.

How did we abolish this pointless habit at smashLAB? We logically explained our “one concept approach” to prospective clients, presented it as a benefit—which it is—and used it as a point of differentiation. “Why hire a studio that squanders your funds by creating options you’ll never use anyway?” Let me elaborate on how concentrating on one concept produced by utilizing the funnel approach can save you time, more wisely allocate your clients’ money, and reduce aggravation for all involved.

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