Design Fundamentals: 3 Key Practices for Building Your Own Design Process

A strong design process is the cornerstone of creating a great user experience. But finding one that’s right for your company isn’t easy. Each organization is different, and adapting a process to the specific constraints you face is a huge challenge, especially in an organization that might still be a little uncomfortable with design.

The human-centered visual design process we follow and teach at Cooper, based on the three key practices below.

As a design theory nerd, I’ve had the opportunity to explore a lot of different design methodologies. Though they can vary greatly, a few key practices have emerged that seem to drive every methodology I’ve looked at. Approaching design in terms of these individual practices, rather than as an end-to-end process, can help you to integrate human-centered design into your organization in a more fluid way. Smaller and more incremental changes driven by these practices, rather than a complete overhaul, are a great way to begin building a design-centered organization without upending the current system.

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Why Design Documentation Matters

At Cooper we design products that empower and delight the people who use them. Design documentation is integral to our process because it communicates the design itself, the rationale for decisions we made, and the tools for clients to carry on once the project wraps up.

Good design documentation doesn’t just specify all the pixel dimensions and text styles and interaction details (which it must). It can also tell the high-level story, stitch together the big picture, and get internal stakeholders excited about the vision. One of our primary goals as outside consultants is to build consensus and momentum around the design—documentation can speak to executives as well as developers. After all, we’re usually leaving a lot of the hard work of design implementation on the client’s doorstep, and building great software starts with getting all the stakeholders on board.

Design documentation should create trust and provide consistency for future iterations of the design thinking. We believe it’s important to give the rationale and context behind design decisions. Answering the “why?” of design helps new team members get on board down the road, prevents wasted effort later when old questions get rehashed, and provides the starting point for prioritization and roadmap discussions. This facet of the process is too often overlooked or omitted for expediency, but trust us: clients will thank you later.

The best design documentation gives the client a unified design language, a framework for talking about the design, and a platform for improving the design over time. Static documentation is quickly becoming a thing of the past—we’re always looking for new documentation techniques and delivery mechanisms because we want to equip our clients with the most approachable and actionable information possible. Delivering design documentation marks the beginning of the client’s journey, not the end.

Pair Design and the Power of Thought Partnership

From Lennon & McCartney to Holmes & Watson, popular culture is teeming with examples of creative pairs. When we think about famous creative partnerships like Eames & Eames, or creative problem solvers like Mulder & Scully, what’s special about them?

In addition to their individual genius, what makes these pairs so effective (and what we’re talking about when we advocate Pair Design) is that these are true thought partnerships, in which each person has…​

  • shared ownership of what they’re creating
  • shared responsibility for making it great
  • shared risks and rewards if they succeed or fail

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Cooper + Studio Dental: Shining a Spotlight On Service Design

How service design helped this startup learn to tackle their business step-by-step.

As part of our continuing mentorship program at Rock Health, Cooper teamed up with Studio Dental co-founders Dr. Sara Creighton and Lowell Caulder to help them disrupt the dental industry with their mobile dental service. The startup gained early support from a successful $40K Indiegogo campaign, and for Cooper, this project has been a great opportunity to demonstrate the value of service design.

If I were to put a finger on the biggest ah ha moment, it was probably, “Oh, services are designed!”

- Lowell Caulder, co-founder, Studio Dental

In this conversation, the co-founders share how and why Studio Dental was born, and they reveal an “ah ha” moment or two, including the discovery that the impact of service design is everywhere, and central to any industry’s success.

Dr Sara Creighton and Lowell Caulder, founders of Studio Dental

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Inside Goal-Directed Design: A Two-Part Conversation With Alan Cooper

Go behind the scenes in this two-part Masters In Conversation series with Alan Cooper, exploring the origins and applications of Goal-Directed Design (GDD). In Part 1 we rewind to the early 1970s when Alan was just starting out and the climate of programming and design was changing rapidly, forging the insights that led to the techniques of GDD. Part 2 brings us up to date with GDD as Cooper designers and teachers apply it today.

Part 1: In the Beginning…

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Man’s Best App

How do you design an engaging and educational application that prepares a user with short-term memory loss for a lifestyle change?

For the November UX Boot Camp, designers, developers, and product managers from around the world teamed up to answer that very challenge for Canine Companions for Independence, the largest non-profit provider of service dogs.

Led by senior designers from Cooper, UX Boot Camp participants got their hands dirty learning new UX design techniques, collaborating with new teams, and working closely with stakeholders from Canine Companions.

From kickoff to design delivery, UX Boot Camp participants took a hands-on role in the generation, exploration, and synthesis of five distinct and fully-developed design concepts.

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Cooper Parlor: The Future of Television Meets the Future of Design

During our October Parlor, a packed room enjoyed presentations by Richard Bullwinkle, Head of US Television Innovation at Samsung, and Jeremy Toeman, CEO of the startup Dijit Media. In this edited, hour-long video, you will be guided through trends in media consumption, technological advances, and the evolution of show content and format, towards predictions of what is coming next in the realm of television and design.

“TV in the future will be any screen any location, holographic, 3D.” — Jeremy Toeman

From Richard Bullwinkle, you’ll find out what the highest rated TV episode in history is, and hear about “a seminal moment in television for nerds.” Jeremy Toeman shares what the viewing habits of children can tell us about our future, and ponders the pros and cons of “binge viewing,” now that downloaded series are available.

During the highlights from the brainstorming workshop that follows the two presentations, you’ll see brief excerpts from the teams’ presentations as they approach design problems in the TV domain such as accommodating family viewing with different needs and customizing cable services to individual desires and habits.

For more on this Parlor event visit our Storify page here

Find Out:

  • The #1 device for watching Netflix (not what you’d expect)
  • Why over 90 percent of all TV viewers use a second screen while watching TV
  • The lifecycle of a TV
  • What we’ll be viewing shows on in 3 years

What is the Cooper Parlor?
The Cooper Parlor is a gathering of designers and design-minded people to exchange ideas around a specific topic. We aim to cultivate conversation that instigates, surprises, entertains, and most importantly, broadens our community’s collective knowledge and perspective about the potential for design.

Join us for the next Cooper Parlor – Thursday, November 14 for a workshop on how to design your professional relationships. More details and registration here.

A gift to the survivors

By now you’ve heard the furtive whispers of that derelict building whose haunted rooms twist end turn even as you meander through spooky design pun after spooky design pun. You may have even dared wind your way through it. If you haven’t, find your courage and prepare your best screaming voice, because the time to head there is now. Despite—no, wait, because—of the terrors it holds.

Because on Halloween, Cooper will be awarding its full set of books to someone on the survivors list. How do you get on the survivor’s list? By braving the terrors of the Design Haunted House, of course, and keeping a sharp eye for your chance to escape.

So grab a wooden stake, steel your nerves, and make your way up the steps to this most terrifying of mansions, where your very survival is threatened…by design.

Behind Cooper’s New Topic Page

The Cooper Journal has been a great source for design ideas, controversy and practical guidance over the years, so much so that we now have hundreds of posts. But even when a system works well, you start to see its breaking points. And with that, comes a need to reassess. Which is why we’re staging an experiment—and it involves you.

It all started with a simple question: How can we design a better Journal reading experience that takes advantage of the dynamic web platform? The first answer was remove stuff. Traditional blog layouts are bullied by their sidebars. So when you visit the experiment you’ll see we nixed the sidebar. We decided that a full column experience with more legible type would feel better. Not only that, but we could break the grid for images and pull quotes to create interest.

And why stop removing stuff there? There are posts that have sparked discussion, but it’s unfortunate to limit those conversations to our own site. We want interesting discussions to be open, rather than hidden deep within the blog hierarchy. Say goodbye to the comments and hello to a custom twitter feature.

Admittedly, during the exercise we had bit of an existential crisis. Are we reinventing the wheel? We wanted a new comments structure to allow for good conversation, but there’s Branch. We wanted a smooth reading and editing experience, and Medium already comes to mind. We wanted a simple way for Cooperistas to post quick bits of content…wouldn’t Twitter suffice?

Our answer channels Charles Eames:

“Eventually everything connects – people, ideas, objects. The quality of the connections is the key to quality per se.”

Blog posts, comments, tweets, these are all interesting things, but we believe that the connection missing is the topic. By sectioning off our experiment from the main Journal, we’ve been able to play with the format. Having removed the noise, we can now add in signal. Say hello to the Curator’s Manifesto: Each topic we curate has thinking behind it and we have a unique perspective that we add. The manifesto is the place where we can be explicit about our point of view and spotlight featured posts. Since we’re focused on one topic, we can serve up the most interesting post of the moment.

Our debut topic feature centers on Design Tools. We’ve got a couple oldies but goodies and a couple posts fresh off the press. The Cooper Journal environment you are presently in will continue to stay the samewith sidebars and comments as we collect your reactions to this new direction, and continue to develop it. We’d love for you to join us in this first topic, be inspired, share some inspiration, and get talking!

Inside the IxDA 2014 Student Design Challenge

Photo by Jeremy Yuille

As co-chair of the 2014 IxDA Student Design Challenge with Dianna Miller, I recently had the pleasure of announcing this year’s theme, “Information for Life,”sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Now in its fifth year, the IxDA Student Design Challenge (SDC) will run during the Interaction14 conference in Amsterdam, February 5-8, 2014. The competition brings together exceptional undergraduate and graduate students for both critical thinking and hands-on experiences over the course of the conference. Here, students have the opportunity to present their work in a way that shows, rather than tells, and it’s also a terrific venue for students to connect with colleagues, potential employers, funders, or new networks.

And I speak from experience — this competition holds a special place in my heart as I was a participant myself just a few years ago, in 2011.

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