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Solving Design Problems at the Church Twitter Facebook Print E-mail
Written by Michelle Barber   
Wednesday, 20 August 2008

“Clearly one of the central skills in design is the ability to rapidly become fascinated by problems previously unheard of.” Bryan Lawson

In his book How Designers Think, Bryan Lawson puts many of the problems and experiences involved with design to words in one of the best fashions I’ve read. While the book is written from a mostly architectural design perspective, Lawson’s conclusions are relevant to all disciplines of design. Both architects and interaction designers deal with many constraints that require deep analysis to design. Both strive to deliver solutions.

Lawson describes design as a “negotiation between problem and solution through the activities of analysis, synthesis and evaluation.” As a team of interaction designers at the Church, we strive to provide solutions and experiences to the user that are conducive to the building the kingdom of God. This book conceptualizes many of the problems we face, approaches in providing solutions, and the process of design.
Here are a few excerpted highlights from the book and insights from a design perspective here at the Church.

Design problems cannot be comprehensively stated

It is never possible to be sure when all aspects of the [design] problem have emerged. . . . In fact both objectives and priorities are quite likely to change during the design process as the solution implications begin to emerge.

In our organization we are faced with many constraints due to the breadth of the Church, importance of the work, and other factors. Design problems we face range from cross-browser compatibility to the need to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to extremely remote corners of the earth. As a designer, there is an inherent challenge in providing a solution that solves the problem without creating more problems.

There are no optimal design solutions

Design almost invariably involves compromise. . . . There are no established methods for deciding just how good or bad solutions are, and still the best test of most design is to wait and see how well it works in practice. Design solutions can never be perfect and are often more easily criticized than created, and designers must accept that they will almost invariably appear wrong in some ways to some people.

In his talk “Channeling Your Creativity,” Elder Hales teaches how the Lord let the brother of Jared solve the problem of supplying light with his own creative solution. His options were limited, as ours so often are, when he was told that he couldn’t use windows of fire. Elder Hales states, “I’m sure there could have been other acceptable solutions to the same need for light. . . . But the brother of Jared decided to use rocks, and the Lord accepted his solution.”

Like the brother of Jared, we realize that the Lord is not as concerned with the specific solution we create as He is that the solution furthers His work.

The process involves finding as well as solving problems

It is clear from our analysis of the nature of design problems that the designer must inevitably expend considerable energy in identifying the problems. It is central to modern thinking about design that problems and solutions are seen as emerging together, rather than one following logically upon the other. . . . Both problem and solution become clearer as the process goes on.

Part of our role as interaction designers is analysis and requirement gathering to ensure that what we are building matches the needs before we begin creating a solution. Often we find that the problem initially described is only the beginning of a series of problems or completely different than the real problem. As we realize the problem(s) we are truly addressing, we are better capable of formulating options to solve it. Experience has proven that time spent early in a project making sure that we are building a product that meets the user’s needs not only saves time and money but ensures success upon delivery.

Design is a prescriptive activity

[D]esign is essentially prescriptive whereas science is predominantly descriptive. Designers do not aim to deal with questions of what is, how and why, but, rather, with what might be, could be and should be. While scientists may help us to understand the present and predict the future, designers may be seen to prescribe and to create the future, and thus their process deserves not just ethical but also moral scrutiny.

“Creativity, therefore, is not simply innovation but organization. . . . Gospel gladness can give us a precious perspective about all these things and can spur us on to share that beauty which our Father in Heaven helps us to create” (Neal A. Maxwell, “The Message: Start Making Chips”).

As we strive to lead and design by the Spirit we can be inspired with what we could create and how users can benefit.

This book’s unique viewpoint offers poignant conclusions and many insightful moments and would make a great addition to any designer’s bookshelf.

Michelle Barber is an interaction designer for the Church.



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