Working on why your design doesn’t work: The double-loop process for better design results

Companies can find that although they invest into design development, the results they get back don’t capture the hearts and minds of contemporary consumers. What can be done?

One of the tools we pioneered is a thorough analysis of the design processes and current designs used by a client. When we conduct this analysis, we find that many designs ultimately fail to respond to the actual needs and aspirations of consumers.

We look at the entirety of a client’s expressions – product designs, brands, media messages, appearances on web and different media – to establish a set of parameters including the values of emotional and symbolic expression and the degree of overall coherence with current consumer trends.

This is important for large corporations with a variety of offerings who want to send a set of coherent messages, but also for start-ups who want to establish a discernible image for a new product.

One way to improve the general design outcome is to use the double-loop design process which Mario Gagliardi developed on the basis of the double-loop learning model of business theorist Chris Argyris.

The double-loop design process motivates designers, product developers and marketers to take a closer look at the set of limitations which exist at the outset of every design process.

The first set of limitations are the unarticulated and hence unquestioned assumptions at the beginning of a design task. Which biases, prejudices and assumptions exist about the product category, the company, and the consumers of a future product? What is the mental idea the designers have about a product and consumer group, and with which design style do they answer this mental idea? These unquestioned assumptions have a strong influence of the final outcome of a product.

For instance, the design of automobiles is influenced by design ideas of high speed and high power rather than by design expressions of intelligence, safety and cooperation. Even Tesla, who revolutionized automobiles by making them intelligent and convenient, still employs a design language influenced by the rakish lines of sports cars.

There are several effects at work, one of which we call design delay. Assumptions of how something has to look like can be very strong at a particular point in time. For example, early motor cars have been designed to look like horse carriages – without horses, of course – as the horse carriage was the closest object to semantically hold on to when designing the entirely new product of automobile.

We call this first set of design assumptions ideological limits. They exist at the very beginning of a design process, and their outcome creates a set of limiting factors for the next step, the design implementation. Here, technological limits – or what is assumed to be technological limits – determine how a design is developed to enter the marketplace. For instance, a company might assume that hybrid or electric motors for automobiles are not feasible and hence decide to forego development in that sector, while another company might question this assumption.

The results of these two sets of biases then enter the market and feed into what consumers make of it. Consumers then answer with expressions – the ways how they interpret and use the product. These user expressions are fed back into the next iteration of the design process, giving valuable clues as to how the design can be improved and helping designers and product developers to overcome their initial bias.

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