Approach to Design: Context Over Tools

Recently a friend of mine asked this simple question during a commute,

”What’s your approach to design?”

Intrigued by his question, I asked, ”in regards to what?”

He replied, ”Well, are you a stickler when it comes to process or methodology, for example, the lean process: learn, build, measure?”

I believe many of us have had similar conversations to assess the suitability of implementing specific new process or methodology: six sigma, lean, agile, design thinking etc.

It’s natural — ultimately we want to ensure there’s a high degree of success when embarking on the journey.

In my experience, the reality is less about the process and tools, more on understanding *the context* (the organisation’s structure, capability and culture) and then choosing the appropriate way to solve the challenge.

To apply one of the contemporary design approaches is akin to forcing a solid cylinder into a square hole. You’re doing it because it’s what’s everyone preaches and felt compelled to do it, else you’re missing out.

Back to the lean discussion I had with my friend.

“What were the considerations that lead to the project being created? How is the team set up? Are you clear in the different roles and responsibilities?”, I asked.

I could sense there’s a confusion, and I iterated,” To me, what’s more important than any approaches out there is a true alignment among everyone who is part of the team”

Knowing why the project exists, who are the stakeholders and how the project will be measured for success will determine how the project should be set up and structured.

In my practice, I find it useful to go back to the basics first by asking some fundamental questions before we start.

Let’s start learning walking together before we start sprinting — shall we?

Before I go, I like to ask if there’s anything significant that I may have missed out? Strongly disagree? I would love to hear your opinion and feedback so that my perspective can be widened.

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Shah Widjaja
Shah Widjaja

Shah is an experienced designer and strategist with over 20 years of experience who has worked and delivered digital projects successfully for local, regional and global clients, across high-tech, retail, finance industries on strategy, innovation, product and development. He loves working in complex problem spaces where he can collaboratively create and optimize the appropriate experience with the aim of delivering value to business by delighting its customers through well- crafted and appropriate design solutions.

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