Thursday, May 29, 2008

Definition of Design


I have been trying to figure out a generic definition of design -- a single-sentence definition that applies to all types of designs that we have seen, created, or envisioned. I guess it’s time to share my thoughts so that we evolve a definition collaboratively.

When I think of design there are five aspects that come to my mind: requirements (purpose), elements, function, space, and arrangement (or placement, form). In addition, there is a product (or service) for which design is developed.

I think purpose is the first thing that should be determined. Purpose or requirements help us distinguish between a good design and a bad design – a good design would fulfill all the requirements.

Then there are elements or ingredients that form the final product. For example, the elements of a car design would be seats, dashboard, and engine, color, and so on. It’s important to note that each of these elements would have their own ‘designs’ and therefore elements that form them. These elements should be selected based on the requirements. For example, there is no need to have a small LCD screen on a TV remote because its purpose is to control the TV from a distance and not to show a preview. Each element has attributes that makes the element appropriate for the stated requirements. For example, the thickness of RCC slab used in roofs would be designed based on the load it has to carry.

The elements would have some function, which is the third aspect of design. Design need not have the elements functional but the definition should be clear and they should map with the requirements. For example, when we want to control the volume of a video running on our computer, we prefer a slider rather than a button control because a slider saves us the repeated clicks.

The elements would be arranged in some space. By space I mean the constraints (or specifications) under which the design of the final product should be developed. For example, a gear needs to fit in a space, a painting needs to fit in a canvas, and a theme park should be designed within the space in which it will be housed.

The last aspect is the arrangement. By arrangement I mean the layout, the structure, sequence, or the relative location of elements to best meet the requirements. For example, a course has a content outline that defines the chunking and sequence of modules, lessons, topics, etc. Unfortunately, this aspect is generally over emphasized and equated with the design.

So let’s try to define design keeping the above aspects in mind.

I would say design is: The description of the functionality and arrangement of elements in a space to ensure that the requirements from the final product are fulfilled.

While I have considered many aspects in the above definition, it’s possible that I have ignored/missed some aspects. I also feel that the above definition is too scientific. However, design is more of an art than science. Would anyone help me reach a solid and appropriate definition?

And my second question is: if you agree with this definition, do you think that there is a generic process that can be followed to design anything? In other words, is there a sequence in which the above aspects need to be defined or a designer can follow any sequence?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Design ...


We design. We breathe design, we live design. We talk design…
Design should be sound, should reflect the objectives well. It should be user friendly, should have great usability, good navigation, and interface, so on and so forth. There are several requirements for a good design. But as Ranit correctly asked what is design? Do we have a generic definition for the same?
Let's try...
To start with generic definition, Design means plan, outline
Antonyms are disorder, and disorganize.
As per thesaurus : Design as noun can be defined as:

  • An element or a component in a composition :device, figure, motif, motive, pattern.
  • A method for making, doing, or accomplishing something: blueprint, game plan, idea, layout, plan, project, schema, scheme, strategy. What one intends to do or achieve: aim, ambition, end, goal, intent, intention, mark, meaning, object, objective, point, purpose, target, view, why. Idioms: end in view, why and wherefore.

In generic terms Design as verb can be defined as:

  • To form a strategy for: blueprint, cast, chart, conceive, contrive, devise, formulate, frame, lay, plan, project, scheme, strategize, work out. Informal dope out.
  • To work out and arrange the parts or details of: blueprint, lay out, map (out), plan, set out.
  • To have in mind as a goal or purpose: aim, contemplate, intend, mean, plan, project, propose, purpose, target.

These are generic components of any design. They apply on one and all kinds products and services. To further enhance my learning on the same, do post your opinions.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Design- Human Centered Design vs Activity Centered Design?


As a design professional, our entire success and failure rests on -DESIGN. What is design? What are the basic types of design? When I tried to explore, I got very interesting insight from Don Normans website*.The same is my understanding and inspiration behind this article. He has discussed designs at a good length. To start with, there are two categories of design:

Human Centered Design (HCD)
Activity Centered Design (ACD)

HCD -The most crucial principle of HCD is to “know your user.” It is utmost important for any design to be created with a detailed deep knowledge of the users. Such design helps to overcome the poor design. By emphasizing the needs and abilities of those who were to use, usability and understandability of products can be improved.

One basic philosophy of HCD is to listen to users, to take their requirements and understanding seriously. Yes, listening to customers is always wise, but acceding to their requests, wishes and desires may lead to overly complex designs. Several major software companies, proud of their human-centered philosophy, suffer from this problem. Their design gets more complex and less understandable with each revision.

And what happens when a product is designed to be used by varied people or anyone in the world?

ACD -Activity-Centered philosophy tends to guard against this aspect as the focus is upon the Activity, not the Human. As a result, there is a cohesive, well-articulated design model. If a user suggestion fails to fit within this design model, it should be discarded. Alas, all too many companies, proud of listening to their users, would put it in.

ACDs are developed with a deep understanding of the activities that were to be learned or in other words skills required to be learned and later performed successfully. They are created by design teams. Difference lies as these designers used their own understanding of the activities to be learned and performed to determine how the design would be operating.

Here, what is needed is a strong, authoritative designer who can examine the requirements, and suggestions; and evaluate them in terms of skill to be imparted as end objective. When necessary, it is essential to be able to ignore the requests. This is the goal to cohesion and understandability. Sometimes what is needed is a design dictator who says, “Ignore what users say: I know what’s best for them.” The case of Apple Computer is illustrative. Apple’s products have long been admired for ease of use. Nonetheless, Apple replaced its well known, well-respected human interface design team with a single, authoritative (dictatorial) leader. Did usability suffer? On the contrary: its new products are considered prototypes of great design*.

The “listen to your users” produces incoherent designs. The “ignore your users” can produce horror stories, unless the person in charge has a clear vision or Conceptual Model for the product. The person in charge must follow that vision and not be afraid to ignore findings. Yes, listen to customers, but don’t always do what they say*.

Human-Centered Design guarantees good outcome as well as it leads to improvements of bad ones. Good Human-Centered Design will generally leads to lesser failures. It also ensures that products work as per expectations of the users. Are we aiming at good design only? We (most of us)dream and aspire for great design.We aspire for customer/ user's delight. I don't think, it can be achieved with just a Good Design. We need Great Design. For sure Great design can only be created through breaking the rules,Thinking beyound what is generally accepted and practiced,by pushing forward with a clear concept and conviction of the end result. In such case,we shall be ready for both great successes and great failures. If we want great rather than good, this is what we must do.

Note*-Column written for Interactions. © CACM, 2005.The definitive version was published in Interactions, 12. 4, (July + August, 2005). Pp. 14-19. There are excerpts of the same article used here for purely non- commercial use.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

My Recipe: Instructional Designer



  • 2 tablespoon of ingenuity
  • 1 cup of analytical skills
  • 4-5 distinct slices of writing skills
  • 1 small packet of language skills puree
  • 1/2 teaspoon of communication design
  • 1/2 teaspoon of LMS/ content technology
  • 1 cup of management paste(mix together half cup of vendor and 1/4 cup of client and ¼ cup self management paste for this)
  • Content knowledge according to taste (requirements)


  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of ingenuity in a pan.
  2. Now add 1 cup of analytical skills and wait until it turns brown.
  3. Add 4-5 distinct slices of writing skills mixed together with the puree of language skills.
  4. Now add 1/2 teaspoon of communication design and then 1/2 teaspoon of LMS/ content technology. Keep stirring back and forth.
  5. Pour over 1 cup of management paste and check if the dish has become thick enough, if not, add some more paste.
  6. Finally, add a dash of content knowledge according to your taste and heat the dish until you smell end user and customer satisfaction.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Learn Just One Move to Win


This short story brings insight on how to bring lateral thinking into practice,and how effectively it can be implied while imparting skills to the learner, once the ultimate objective is clearly defined.

There was a 10 year old boy, who had lost his left arm in an accident. He wanted to learn Martial Arts. His father took him to a Martial Arts school. The Grandmaster looked at the boy and enrolled him as his disciple. The boy was very eager and enthusiastic to learn Martial Arts.

The next day, the master taught him a move and asked him to practice that move. The move was difficult but the boy kept practicing it for weeks and then he was comfortable with that move. He said to his teacher, “Master, I’ve been practicing this move for a month now. Should I be learning some other moves as well?” The master said, “No Son, you just need to master this move. I’ll let you know as and when you would be required to learn other moves.”

The boy kept practicing that move for months but he was a little perplexed. A Martial Arts tournament was approaching and he just knew a single move.

On the day of the tournament, the master took the boy to the venue and told him to be relaxed and give it his best shot. The initial fights were easy for the boy and he soon made his way into the quarter finals. The opponent in the quarter final was strong but the boy was on a roll and he forced his way through to the semi finals of the tournament. He was happy and very surprised with the way things had gone so far. He was up against a very strong competitor in the semi final. His master told him to breathe easy, relax his nerves and go for the kill. He said “Do that move flawlessly." The boy went on to win the semi final and this was it.

He simply could not believe this at all. He had not even thought in his wildest of dreams that he would be up against the last fight of the night, and that too for the final trophy. Yes, this is it. He said to himself, as he was standing next to his competitor in the finals. Now, it’s a matter of nerves. The boy fought bravely in the finals and won the tournament. He was ecstatic and his master hugged him and kissed him on the forehead.

On the way back, the boy was still perplexed as to how he won the tournament. He could not help but asked his teacher, “Master, how come I won the tournament with just one move."

His master paused for a while and answered “You have almost mastered one of the toughest moves in Judo. And the only known defense to this move is to grab the opponent’s left arm.”

Quest for Excellence


A gentleman was once visiting a temple under construction. In the temple premises, he saw a sculptor making an idol of God. Suddenly he saw, just a few meters away, another identical idol was lying

Surprised he asked the sculptor, do you need two statutes of the same idol. No said the sculptor. We need only one, but the first one got damaged at the last stage.

The gentleman examined the statue. No apparent damage was visible

Where is the damage? asked the gentleman.

There is a scratch on the nose of the idol.

Where are you going to keep the idol?

The sculptor replied that it will be installed on a pillar 20 feet high

When the idol will be 20 feet away from the eyes of the beholder, who is going to know that there is scratch on the nose? The gentleman asked

The sculptor looked at the gentleman, smiled and said, "The God knows it and I know it."

The desire to excel should be exclusive of the fact whether someone appreciates it or not Excellence is a drive from Inside not Outside.

Skills of Instructional Designer


I found this matching game about skills of instructional designers, thanks to Christy Tucker for her bookmarks.

The game has been designed by Dr. Tony Betrus of Potsdam, The State University of New York (SUNY), and programmed in Flash by Ryan Wassink. The game introduces you not to the technical skills but how an instructional designer is a Problem solver, Artist, Performer, Counselor, and a User. Very interesting perspectives on what an instructional designer should be.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Should IDs Have Skills in Areas Other Than Writing/Design?


To answer this question, let’s first understand what is “Instructional Design” and who is an instructional designer. (too basic, huh? well, I thought of starting at the basic level!)

As stated in Wikipedia, “Instructional Design is the practice of arranging media (communication technology) and content to help learners and teachers transfer knowledge most effectively.”

If we simply keep that definition in mind, what skills do you think an Instructional Designer should have to transfer the knowledge most effectively to their learners? Do you think an ID who knows how to design a product or how to write well, can transfer or deliver knowledge in the most effective manner to its learners?

I really don’t think so.

In my opinion, an Instructional Designer is one who has a “holistic” picture about the product he/she is designing. The IDs knowledge should not be limited to design or writing skills only. Let’s see why.

The involvemnet of an ID begins even before a project is kicked-off. The ID is the one who needs to understand the client requirements, do a detailed analysis of the client’s needs, create an overall solution that will fulfill the client’s requirement, and so on. Not just this, an ID should also understand the “technology” aspects involved in creating a course/product – a basic knowledge of the templates that would be used for constructing the product/ course or a specific engine or tool that is being used to develop the product/course. The ID should also be aware of the kind of medis that is being used for the product/course.

“Designing” or “Writing” cannot happen in isoltaion without the knowledge of most of these things. Ultimately, this would only give the ID, an edge over all others who simply focus on a particular aspect of “Instructional Designing”.

Having said all of it, I would not say that an ID has to be an “expert” in all of these areas; but an ID should definetely have some basic skills in most of these areas for him/her to come up with something worthwhile that is of value for the end user.

From that perspective, I definetely think that IDs should have skills in lot many other areas than just writing and designing.

However, I would like to point out one of the the bigger questions for me here is not whether the IDs should have skills other than writing/designing; rather, the point is whether an average ID (mainly referring to number of authors/designers working in the organization who are designated as “IDs” or rather call themselves "IDs") even understand that he/she is supposed to have skills outside the “writing” that they do. The pity is that for much longer periods of time in their career as “IDs”, they understand only a perspective of what instructional design is and what all constitutes a role of an instructional designer. In my opinion, an instructional designer should be exposed to much more variety of work rather than making them work in a “factory mode” for churning out one project after the other. Well, to think of how this can be done? This could be taken up in another subsequent blog!

Till that time, it would be good to hear what others think of this issue.

Should IDs Have Skills in Areas Other Than Writing/Design?


In April, we started the eCube Ponder series. Each month, we will ponder over a topic. You can simply respond by leaving your comments on the topic. If you post a response in your blog, leave a link to you blog in the comments. Here’s the May eCube Ponder:

Should IDs know about other development practices? Should IDs have skills in areas like programming, graphics etc.? Do these skills help IDs perform better in their roles? Is it better to specialize only in writing or be an all rounder with skills in other areas too?

What do you think?

Do participate in the ongoing poll also on the site.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

31-day Comment Challenge


Here’s a perfect way to get started with blogging. Many of us are new to blogging. So when the 31-day comment challenge came along, I thought this would be a great place for us to start wetting our feet in the waters. As Silvia Tolisano writes in her blog, blogging is about:
  • personal learning
  • sharing thoughts, ideas, resources
  • reading
  • writing
  • the process
  • and encouraging others in their learning journey (we are educators after all)

It is only when you have experienced for yourself a realization that you are pondering something someone else wrote and:

  • feel the need to get clarification
  • want to add your two cents
  • bounce off a thought off someone else who has been in that situation and might have more insight or experience
  • hope for a different point of view to allow you to see an issue from a different perspective

The Comment Challenge is being coordinated by Sue Waters, Silvia Tolisano, Michele Martin and Kim Cofino and sponsored by coComment and Edublogs. Here’s the summary of suggestions in the first 6 days of the challenge. Follow their posts to get more ideas and insights into becoming a better blogger.

Day 1: Do a self-audit of your blog comment skills – how often do you comment, do you track your comments, do you tend to comment on the same blogs?

Day 2: Comments on a blog. Go on try it. Comment on this post to try it out. It isn’t hard, really.

Day 3: Sign up for a comment tracking service. Get a coComment or co.mment account to track your comments.

Day 4: Ask a question in your comment. Ask open ended question to start a conversation.

Day 5: Comment on a post you disagree with. Reflect on what happened as a result on disagreeing? How was the response?

Day 6: Engage another commenter in discussion. Don’t just respond to the blog author, read other people’s comments and engage them in a discussion.

Happy Commenting...

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Thinking About Thinking II-Six Thinking Hats


Here is a well made presentation on Six Thinking Hats from Slideshare. It is aimed at readers who are not aware of this concept. It shall also provide good recall value for those who had attended the session. The presentation is well packed with information and explanation. It shall work as input for the questions raised on the same topic in my earlier post.

From: nathanr07, 11 months ago

SlideShare Link


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