Creative Tools for the Design Process

Design Strategies

Concept Sketching

The heart of product design is the concept sketch.

These drawings give a rough overview of the basic idea, allowing a designer to quickly convey relevant information without getting into too much detail.
(Below) A concept sketch describes an automatic pill dispenser. It offers detailed views from multiple angles, and utilizes callouts to describe important features.

To craft a convincing product pitch, it may be useful to draw the presentation out in order to see how it flows.

Here, the presentation is grouped into four sections: An introduction to the strategy, an overview of the product line, answers to any concerns, and a summary restating the core ideas.
(Below) By drawing placeholders of the images that need to be rendered and the graphics that need to be designed, it is easier to estimate how long it will take to finish them. When the entire presentation can be seen at a glance it is also a simple matter to ask for feedback and make changes.
Order of Operations

Figuring out the best way to assemble and ship a product

is a critical part of operations, small and large.
(Below) My coworker Sean Nelson and I organize an inventory of limited edition MNML watches and determine the most efficient way to assemble the packaging.
Spider Diagrams

Spider diagrams are a useful way of visualizing the strengths and weaknesses of a product or service.

This is helpful in finding areas of opportunity (market gaps).
(Below) Four types of prosthetics are broken down by and measured according to four points: Price/Value, Aesthetics, Ease of Use, and Functional Capability.
Thumbnail Ideation

These quick "thumbnail" drawings are a means of refining many loose ideas down to a few successful concepts.

In this way, ideas can be formulated, rejected, and built on in an efficient way, allowing the designer to move quickly from one version to the next.
(Below) Examples of small sketches. Each one changes the approach or execution slightly until a few winners are identified for further refinement using other techniques.
Project Boards

A project board is an evolving collection of the latest thoughts, ideas, and commentary on a design, loosely arranged to give a snapshot of a project at any given moment.

While its primary purpose is as a tool to clarify thoughts within the team, it is also useful when arranged as an expose for people unfamiliar with the work, which can be an invaluable source of feedback and insight during the process.
(Below) An early pin board for Tyr3, my senior thesis. The board was arranged around 5 sections, Overview, Research, Trajectory, Specifics, and Outcome, with images and text branching off from each heading.
Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is a simple way of getting ideas on paper without worrying about structure or outcome.

The idea is to map out all of your ideas as they occur to you and then organize these thoughts afterwards.
This technique is a useful introspection tool, as it can often shake you out of pre-existing thought patterns and routines, allowing new ideas and connections to be formed.

(Below) A mind map stemming from three main questions: "What kind of job do you want to have?", "What do you want to learn?", and "What do you like doing?"
Story Boarding

Story boarding is a pillar of UX (User Experience) design.

It is a way of imagining the user's journey with a product or service and is useful for identifying pain points to be addressed.
(Below) An imaginary day in the life of an amputee using a next generation prosthetic arm.
Feature Design

In design cases where the sheer number of options become overwhelming,

it can be helpful to identify as many options as possible and sort them into different categories.
(Below) A knife design begins with identifying the blade style (sheepsfoot), folding mechanism (frame lock), and use case (hunting). Identifying fixed constraints like this can help focus a design so that it does not end up becoming a swiss army knife, litterally or figuratively.
Concept Generation

Ideation is the process of coming up with as many ideas as possible, ranging from close in (realistic) to far out (blue sky).

In this stage, no ideas are good or bad. Your "bad" ideas, more often than not, will inspire someone else's good ideas. Concept ideation is very useful in groups of 2-6 for quickly generating a wide range of viable ideas that can be developed later by a more focused team.
(Below) A wall of product concepts.
To-Do Lists

The humble to-do list, or task list,

is the perhaps the most useful and commonly used tool for organizing labor and solving problems.
(Below) A series of products and tasks to be done, divided into three categories which were later assigned to individual designers for execution.
Problem Trees

A problem tree seeks to identify the causes and effects of a core problem.

By breaking the problem apart solutions become clearer.
(Below) A problem tree exploring amputation, which was used to identify areas of opportunity to help those affected.
Empathy Maps

Empathy maps are another pillar of UX design.

In addition to exploring their pains and gains (fears, frustrations, obstacles, wants, needs, measures of success, etc.), it asks four main questions:
1. What do users think and feel?
2. What do users hear?
3. What do users See?
4. What do users say and do?

(Below) An empathy map for an amputee.
Sketch Thinking

Sketch thinking is a technique used to develop an idea through drawing and note taking.

This process promotes visual thinking and iterative refinement.
(Below) A concept's features and form are brainstormed on a whiteboard; the notes are a record of a longer debate held by multiple designers in the room. The final product of this brainstorm was Winston.
Hybrid Techniques

Often, the best creative sessions are a hybrid of a few techniques.

(Below) A mix of sketching, written notes, diagrams, and mind mapping was used to identify and develop an idea for an essay on design language and semiotics.