Influences of the Design Process

I’ve been listening to Donald Norman’s Design of Everyday Things, off and on, during my commute (when I can stand it…this usually has to do whether I’ve had too much or too little coffee…which is often).  In it he advocates very strongly for the needs of the user, a very noble position to take indeed.  Often the book can be frustrating to take in, because it feels like a simplistic understanding of the design process.  He critiques “bad design” and puts much of the blame on designers, with seemingly little context taken for the entire ecosystem of contributors to a product.

This morning, it was a relief to hear his description of the needs of various partners in the design process.  He described how a product heavily driven by aesthetic needs can hurt usability needs (a product that is gorgeous but useless).  Conversely, usability can hurt aesthetics (a product that is easy to use, but is boring to behold).  Finally, he mentioned how manufacturing needs can ruin both of the other needs.

Below I Illustrate how these three factors, including a fourth of my own submission, interact in the design process.


These four things are always present in the minds of designers as they should be, because in reality they are all important.  To varying levels for sure, depending on the skill set of the professional and the overall need of the given project.  For the sake of this discussion I consider many professions involved in product design as “designers”.  Exampled as follows, Industrial Designers think mostly about aesthetics and usability.  Engineers think mostly about manufacturing and usability (guys I’m generalizing!).  Business professionals think strategically and about the client mostly.  Those with Design Engineering degrees must have it rough; they are trained in about everything!  We all bring ideas to a project and then implement them in our own ways.

My point is that we all think about those four circles of influence, but we tend to lean in the area of our core capabilities.  Most products get stretched in all directions of influence.  The challenge and interest in our job is often to find those sweet spots, where all four can imbue a product.  Then we have to convince our clients of this wisdom.

It seems like the Product Design community is always seeking to define and redefine what it does for the world at large.  The diagram may seem obvious to those deeply involved in our profession, but it might be helpful to clients or to those interested in what we do.