Doblin’s Short, Grandiose Theory

Empire State lit up white, at night

Thanks to Zap — who invited me to a panel on design methods (.ppt) at the IA Summit — I finally got my hands on a copy of Jay Doblin’s A Short, Grandiose Theory of Design, an article from the 1987 STA Design Journal. In its seven pages Doblin presents a straightforward and persuasive argument for design as a systematic process. Quick notes:

  • For large, complex projects, it ‘would be irresponsible to attempt them without analytical methods.‘ He cites the existence of a too-common ‘adolescent reliance on overly intuitive practices.
  • He contrasts direct design in which a craftsperson works on the artifact to indirect design in which a design first creates a representation of the artifact, separating design from production in more complex situations.
  • He outlines a generic process of design: STATE 1 -> ANALYSIS -> GENESIS -> SYNTHESIS -> STATE 2
  • Analysis is deciding what is relevant, then detailing and structuring it
  • Genesis is expressing the concept, what Terry Swack used to call expressing the intended user experience. In some ways it is model building.
  • He demonstrates using a 2×3 matrix of performance/appearance vs. products/unisystems/multisystems (increasingly complex artifacts or combinations of artifacts).
  • In the end, he brings it back to a focus on business, reminding us the core issue is to compete effectively