Games, Design & Game Design

My Thoughts On: How To Design

In Design Practice, My Thoughts On, Product Design, Self-Reflection on August 25, 2010 at 12:21 pm

I recently came across this in the wilds of the internet: design methods for everyone (by john chris jones, a Welsh industrial designer and artist)

You should read it in it’s entirety, if you make stuff. But, for my purposes, here’s the neat bits.

What follows may seem elementary. It is – but it is more difficult than it looks. To carry it out requires some modesty and a willingness to learn, to change, and to share your thinking with others.

As I was reading through it, I could point at each piece and go “oh! oh! I’ve had that problem!” What follows are jones’s headings with my thoughts on them. Hopefully there’s some sense to be made.

1. designing your design process

The process starts with a problem (A) and ends with a solution (Z). Getting from A to Z is incredibly convoluted. Many of the design methodology texts in my graduate studies have had some kind of process that’s recommended for any of a million reasons (something like identify problem -> do user research -> ideate -> prototype -> test -> repeat until satisfied -> produce). The main thing I’ve found, though, is that not only does everyone have their own process (duh, right), but that each time I go through the design process, I learn about how to make it better for the next time. The process itself is a constant design problem – how do I create good work? There’s a meta-level of mindfulness that I think I just keyed into at the end of my first year.

(more after the cut)

2. what to do first?

It all starts with a sketch. Maybe. Or maybe a list. Or a brainstorm. Really, I think different problems require you to start in different places. I’m way better at recognizing this in game design than object design. When I design a game, sometimes I need to start with an outline, and sometimes it’s a core mechanic, and sometimes its a fake Actual Play, and sometimes it’s a color description, depending on what problems I’m wrestling with. In object design, I usually start with a mind-map or set of lists, but I do most of my actual good design development work when I move to 3D. I’m going to start trying to start there and see if I get more out of it – a lot of my mind-mapping ends up being pretty wheel-spinny in the end, I think.

3. what if i can’t think of a solution?

It is quite possible for five or six people to generate over 100 ideas in twenty minutes or so. The principle of it is to defer evaluation. Normally one does not speak whatever comes to mind – but in brainstorming one does that.

Absolutely. I love collaborative work, and I love picking the brains of my peers and colleagues. It’s the whole deferring evaluation thing that’s the problem, and it’s something that all designers need to unlearn, I think. Any idea can spark any other idea, and it’s actively harmful to not let ideas out, no matter how bizarre.

4. what if I have too many ideas?

Here jones has more of a definite methodology, where he says to classify your ideas into loose conceptual groups and see where the patterns emerge. One really valuable thing I’ve picked up from my coursework is the concept of “closing doors” – for any problem, you COULD solve in a million ways, but at some point you have to make a choice about which of those doors to close. Having guidelines to help you choose which doors to close (stemming from user research, say, or based on a production budget, or even having a color palette in mind). For me, once I pick a direction I’m generally good at sticking with it.

5. what if my ideas seem good but do not fit ‘the problem’?

There will always be another problem. jones talks about three time-scales of problem (A-type, for a few people right now; B-type, for a lot of people in the immediate future; and C-type, for everyone in the far future). For me, I just try to note the things that I think are good ideas for a different problem, and move on.

6. what if my perception of the problem changes?

This was a huge challenge for me in my second semester last year, and I’m still struggling with it. For now, this resonates strongly with me:

Working on a design problem is informative. When you are being taught, by your design process, that the problem has been misunderstood it is time to make a new description (P2) that fits your growing knowledge, or rationality.

7. what if I get into a muddle?

The right step is to stop designing for a time and to re-plan the design process. Persist in re-planning until you have described a new process that brings back your enthusiasm to continue.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

8. how can a first attempt be improved?

It goes without saying that there’s always room for improvement. But jones has a fantastic methodology for giving constructive criticism on a finished (or at least finished-enough-to-talk-about) project. Seriously, just go read it.

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