Design Approach – Concepts, Thought Processes, and Four Quadrants

Power of design to support achieving “Zero to One” in startups and new business. Following the previous chapter - “What design can offer to startups”, we will now discuss how design can be utilized in startups in this chapter.

In this first article, we will delve into a way of thinking and key points of thought for using design in business effectively in practice. Here, we will explain how to fully engage designers and when to invite them to join a project.

(Written by Hiroshige Fukuhara, Sony Design Consulting)

> Previous Article: “Our Proposal: Three Elements of Design for Evolution of Startups”

Concepts, Thought Processes, and the Four Quadrants

There are various ways for processing design. The most representative and well-known method is “Design Thinking”, which is a great and meaningful method in a sense that it systematizes certain aspects of the designer's thought process and approach. This is useful when considering design as a model that can be applied to business and incorporating design as a thought process. However, I personally think that “Design Thinking” is not so important in the process where a designer puts design into practice.

This is because designing is a task that involves various trade-off decisions. For example, when you want to appeal two elements A and B, giving priority to A would lower the priority of B, and giving priority to both A and B would be less effective than a case where the priority is given only to A. Therefore, it is necessary to make a trade-off while still including the content of the expression.
The actual design process is far more complex than such simple binomial comparisons, with more things to be prioritized and selected. On top of that, to solve the given problems in parallel, the actual process is to think of ideas, to consider not only logical solutions but also solutions as expressions at the same time, and to assemble them.
Thus, even in a small design process, it is no exaggeration to say that the “five steps” in “Design Thinking” (Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test) are repeated over and over.

This diagram shows the four quadrants of a design process.
In many cases of design processes, goals and objectives are often quite vague in early stages. Even if the plan and specifications are perfect, there is always a gap between the theoretical goals or objectives described in the plan or the specification and the application in the real world.

Designer’s Strengths and Abduction

There are many cases where different levels of feelings and conditions are mixed, where, for example, a company's wish “to be No. 1” is mixed with a customer's point of view such as “improving usability” as well as a seemingly contradictory request such as “achieving cost reduction while improving quality”. The gap is generated because a method to achieve the goal has not been decided, or the goal does not have sufficient grounds. (Even in a case with completed grounds for a problem, there are scarcely completed grounds for a solution.)
In other words, no matter how logically complete the groundwork is, when being evaluated from a design perspective, the initial state is often “Vague” (ambiguous, obscure, unclear) in many cases. It takes a lot of energy and time to make this vague state “Concrete” (real, actual, specific) through discussion and confirmation. Therefore, an abstraction task is important.

I think this “abstraction” is very important in the process of design. The word “abstract”may be understood as “something ambiguous or obscure”, but I think that is a mistake. Abstraction is “an act of expanding the scope of application without limiting the scope while including necessary requirements and information”, and it is a summary or a gist. In English, it is “Abstract” (abstract, idealistic, summary) and not “Vague” (ambiguous, obscure, unclear). Thus, I think abstraction is an extremely difficult task.

The abstraction method starts by using all requirements being vague. Such method is considered to be a set of “visualization” of visual matters and “inference” in the logical part. Inference methods are broadly divided into “Deduction” and “Induction”.
Deduction is a method of confirming facts by developing logic according to universal principles, and is a method of confirming facts from propositions. Induction is an inverse method, and is a method of drawing conclusions from individual events, and it is just an inference.
There is another method of inference called “Abduction” advocated by the philosopherCharles Sanders Peirce, and this “Abduction” is what designers should focus most on.

The process of “visualization” performed by a designer is an effort to draw a goal that can be imagined at the time based on vague information, when conditions are not at all fixed yet and everything is provisional. This technique may be called “design based on hypothesis”, and a method called “design sketch” is one type of this technique. Even if there is no specific product or graphic image, or even if there is no form such as a concept, “design sketch” can visualize the goal as a conceptual diagram or concept visual.

How to Engage Designers Effectively

As above, the process of visualization performed by a designer is one type of abduction, and it is useful for deriving solutions that cannot be reached by deduction or induction alone. Generally imagined graphic sketches and presentation of variations are just sketches. To perform “design sketch” as an abduction, it is necessary to clearly divide and express the currently selectable “direction differences” based on the set requirements. A design in which hypotheses are visualized in this way can be an extremely powerful tool for solving abstracted problems.

By proceeding with discussions while using design as a “solution method for abstracted problems” and repeating this process, we can more quickly fill the gap between an ideal and the real world. This method can achieve overwhelmingly higher performance than repeated discussions using materials and data in a meeting room. The shortest route to making the goal or objective concrete may be an approach of abstraction of the issue first, and, in parallel, hypothesis formation (abduction), visualization, and discussion based on the hypothesis.

On the other hand, the best way to engage a designer in collaboration is to confide to the designer in the project as early as possible, giving all the information, both positive and negative, so that the designer can visualize “hypothesis”, and not “concrete design ideas”. If, in contrast, a designer is involved (invited) in the latter part of the project when most conditions are fixed, the designer cannot create anything exceeding those conditions and the performance of the designer will be inevitably low.

With everything I mentioned above in mind, I would like to recommend to managers and businesspeople that “If you really want to bring out the best in designers, you should involve them as early as possible.”

Written by Hiroshige Fukuhara, Sony Design Consulting
Oct 19th, 2022

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