During my seven years as a visual designer at Cooper, I’ve learned that designing for complex digital products and services requires input from a number of unique perspectives to be truly effective. Furthermore, each of those perspectives must be effectively integrated throughout the lifecycle of the design process to achieve results that are consistently and predictably usable, useful and desirable.
In the course of managing, consulting and teaching, I have not only had the opportunity to define and discuss design process with my colleagues here at Cooper, but with countless practicing designers from organizations all over the world as well. Unfortunately, my observation has been that even when all of the right people are involved, more often than not, the various design disciplines opt to compartmentalize the problem. In other words, they divide the project into an interaction design problem, a visual design problem, and an industrial design problem. Each of these problems is then tackled separately, and the resulting individual design solutions get bolted together at the end. It’s a Tower of Babel situation, where huge opportunities are lost because the team fails to work together to come up with an innovative product solution and to employ a single, unified design language.
A fractured process makes for a fractured user experience
In practice, people view their experience with a product in a unified way. For example, when a user interacts with a cell phone, she doesn’t experience the phone’s behavior separately from the visual and tactile presentation of that behavior on screen and through the physical form factor. Why, then, don’t product teams consider these aspects of the experience in a unified way when designing solutions?
Of course, we know that many digital products and services represent extraordinarily complex, large-scale design challenges. A significant degree of rigor and a rational approach to methodology is required to bring together the diverse perspectives of the different design disciplines in a way that results in optimal creative abrasion, rather than destructive friction that threatens to bring the entire process to a grinding halt(1).To this end, let me share with you a few of the insights that we’ve gleaned from practicing a truly convergent approach to design.
(I should note that in an attempt to keep the length under control, I've focused this article on the convergence of interaction and visual design for products with defined hardware, like PC's or handsets. We're looking forward to sharing our experiences with integrating these two disciplines with industrial design in a future article.) Read More