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Is your project in limbo? This simple strategy from IBM will help you have a clear direction
Follow this framework to focus on user needs, stay aligned with desired outcomes, and remain open to creative exploration.
“Design is the rendering of intent”
Having a clear intention is crucial. It serves as a roadmap, focusing your direction and laying the foundation for your design work.
What happens in situations where there's no clear right or wrong answer? When any concept could potentially work, components fit seamlessly within your design pattern, and all layouts seem equally appealing. How can you proceed with confidence and navigate through such uncertainty?
The answer lies in setting intentions—not only establishing them initially but also continually revisiting them throughout your design journey.
What is intention?
Intention is essentially the idea or purpose driving your actions. It motivates the choices you make, steering you towards a specific goal or outcome.
For instance, when I was studying computer science, my aim from day one was to become a web developer upon graduation. I followed that path before eventually shifting into design twelve years ago.
Here's another anecdote for context: When heading to a shopping mall, my wife often knows what she wants to eat, while I prefer to roam around and decide based on my current appetite. Sometimes, even if she doesn't have a specific restaurant in mind, she does have a type of cuisine she's in the mood for. Upon arrival, we explore the mall and evaluate our narrowed-down options. She's still quicker at deciding than I am.
Now, imagine applying my approach to a design project. Without a clear intention, you risk going in circles or veering off course—mistakes that are both time-consuming and costly. Roaming in a mall might be akin to the exploratory phase of a design process, but exploration without purpose can lead to project limbo.
Setting intentions can guide your decision-making, ensuring alignment with desired outcomes. They act as benchmarks for various facets of your design, encompassing aesthetics, functionality, and user experience.
I'm going to discuss areas in our design process where having a clear intention is essential. I'll divide this topic into three separated posts.
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First, we'll begin by exploring how to start a project with a clear intention, using a statement of intent as our compass.
Writing a statement of intent
In a nutshell, statements of intent are concise declarations that outline a project's objectives.
These statements provide a clear direction for the design process, focusing on user needs rather than on predetermined solutions or methodologies. It’s solution-agnostic).
They guide decision-making and ensure that design efforts are aligned with the desired outcomes, while still remaining flexible and adaptable for creative exploration.
The framework I want to share is inspired by IBM and goes like this:
Start by identifying the user you aim to serve.
Next, clarify the outcome you wish to help them achieve.
Finally, pinpoint what will make your solution stand out.
IBM refers to these elements as the "Who," the "What," and the "Wow":
Who: Specify your target users. Make it clear who you intend to serve.
What: Identify the needs your users have. Translate these needs into project objectives.
Wow: Determine how you will set yourself apart from competitors and how you'll measure success.
In my current project, which focuses on individuals managing grief, one effective coping strategy is to facilitate conversations. By verbalizing their emotions and thoughts, individuals can connect with someone who listens, understands their feelings, and offers support.
Here’s the statement of intent:
(Who) Individuals who find comfort in expressing their emotions and thoughts through conversations (What) can seek support from others (Wow) at any time and from any place to find comfort and soothe their feelings.
This statement outlines an opportunity to seek emotional support through conversations, without prescribing a specific solution or method. In my case, the goal is to create a space where people can find conversation-based support. The solutions could take various forms, such as a support group for those experiencing grief, talk with a grief counselor, or other innovative approaches that align with the end goal.
Here are other examples from IBM:
A GMU-based sales leader can assemble an agile response team in under 24 hours without management involvement.IBM Connections, 2012
It should take no more than 30 minutes for a developer to build and run an app using IBM and 3rd party APIs.IBM Bluemix, 2014
Don't aim for perfection in your initial statement of intent; it can evolve and be fine-tuned as the project advances. For example, we later shifted our statement's focus to emphasize support from therapists specifically.
Avoid formulating your statement of intent in isolation. Often, a casual conversation with your boss or team is sufficient to establish a shared understanding. After achieving that, document it as your official statement of intent and share it with your team.
Being intentional is essential when you're working on a project. It helps you make better choices and prevents you from wasting time. It will guide your project towards the desired outcomes. Think of intentionality as your guiding compass, helping you navigate through all the uncertainties that come up in your project. Writing down a 'statement of intent' can ensure that everyone on your team is on the same page. This statement doesn't have to be set in stone; it can evolve as the project progresses.
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I'm writing two handbooks to guide designers with valuable insights, helping them thrive in their craft.
Frameworks for Thinking offers various frameworks and tools to help designers and creatives think critically, generate new ideas, and solve complex problems.
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