How does your way of working compare with the description of the ideal process described above?

It begins with research and problem framing, then falls rapidly into an iterative loop of exploration and refinement exercises, where ideas come to life and grow, gradually solidifying until they’re ready for the more linear finalization phase. As designers, we have to ride this loop repeatedly to find the right solution, and sketching is there at every turn. From an early thumbnail sketch at a brainstorm to refined detail sketches to final presentation renderings, it’s our best friend throughout the ride.

As with research efforts, it’s important for students to start by “going large” in their sketch exploration. That means filling the wall in their studio, working fast, banging out as many ideas as possible. Only when the wall is full should they take a step back and start sorting.

The design themes, character boards and 360 models serve as filters here, for organizing the sketches into groups, and helping to identify the most promising ones. Now it’s time to dive a level deeper, merging ideas and considering finer details. Invariably, students hit a point when they insist there are no more ideas and the exploration is running dry—we call this the ‘shit zone’ in my class, and the only way out of it is more sketching. I have them go back and re-sketch previous concepts, combine existing ones, or re-work the details on an established gesture. Despite the complaints and frustration, their best concepts almost always appear after they’ve gotten through this part. This difficult phase is one of the most productive and realistic parts of the class, and something we face regularly in the professional world.

Design school is not a theoretical exercise. It’s a professional program; a set of courses that prepares students for a complex creative job upon graduation. Much of this complexity comes from the fact that designers don’t just define and develop solutions, we must also present them. Good designers are able to tell three different types of stories, and if students want to hit the ground running, they need to know all three intimately.

1. The process review – telling the story so far to an internal team.
2. The final presentation – telling the big picture story to a client or professor.
3. The portfolio – telling a capability story to a prospective employer or client

The process review is the least formal of the three stories, but in many ways it’s the most important. Think of it like a trailer for your movie: it draws the viewer instantly into the story, summarizes the plot up to a point, but doesn’t give away the ending just yet. Unlike the other two stories, the process review is just as much about receiving information as giving it, so it’s up to the presenter to get the audience up to speed quickly, so they can respond in a helpful way..


Answer these questions:

Why do you think I asked you to read this?

Think about your personal approach to exploration of a design idea. How does your way of

working compare with the description of the ideal process described above?