Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"Generate me some alternatives"

Executives' requests for "design alternatives" has lead a lot of designers to engage in an elaborate ritual for the purpose of managing the executives. It works like this.

Execs make decisions. That's what they do. So rather than asking that a product be developed, they ask for "alternatives" so that they can make a decision. Because, as any exec will tell you, making decisions is the hard stuff, and that's what they get paid to do. Generating alternatives is the easy stuff, they believe. So it's up to the designers to generate a lot of alternatives and allow the execs to choose one.

Designers don't see things exactly that way. Designing a really good product is hard work. And once a great alternative is designed it's relatively easy to pick a good one out of competing alternatives. In fact, experienced designers regularly generate alternatives early in the design process as a way of expanding their own space of possible solutions. They'll then try to work the best features of each alternative into a final design.

Do you think the execs get to see these early concepts? Well, only if the designer is inexperienced or wants to see disaster strike. No, experienced designers will drive toward a good design from among several alternatives, then generate some relatively bad "alternatives" for a dog-and-pony show with the execs. Unless lightning strikes the d&p show, the good design is chosen from among the alternatives. Designers get their solution chosen, and the execs get to make a decision. Everyone goes home happy.

No comments: