Seeing breakthroughs in design

25 Jan 2009|Darrel Rhea

When the result of thoughtful synthesis reveals a basic truth and presents it with elegant simplicity, it often appears in retrospect to be obvious. There is something about that level of intellectual coherence that becomes irresistible. This is especially true with consumer insights work and design research, but it also extends to design more broadly. The output of our best work is not complexity or the blinding flash of creativity — it is simplicity and authenticity.

My friend, Vahe Katros passed on a great quote by Alan Cooper that really hit home in this regard.

“If, as a designer, you do something really, fundamentally, blockbuster correct, everybody looks at it and says, ‘Of course! What other way would there be?’ This is true even if the client has been staring, empty-handed and idea-free, at the problem for months or even years without a clue about solving it…. Most really breakthrough conceptual advances are opaque in foresight and transparent in hindsight. It is incredibly hard to see breakthroughs in design. You can be trained and prepared, spend hours studying the problem, and still not see the answer. Then someone else comes along and points out a key insight, and the vision clicks into place with the natural obviousness of the wheel. If you shout the solution from the rooftops, others will say, ‘Of course the wheel is round! What other shape could it possibly be?’ This makes it frustratingly hard to show off good design work.” (From “The Inmates are Running the Asylum”)

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