Design as ‘discipline’

Design is about discipline.

I’ve learned over the years that “process” can be a… touchy word in hi-tech culture. It connotes bureaucracy and politics, time-wasting tedium on checks-and-balances, for their own sake. To suggest that a team follow a design process can imply emphasis on the project management aspects, sauntering through a sequentialized, mechanized, procedure. Yawn.

And yet, we desperately want to ensure that design is seen not as some idiosyncratic art of spontaneity (cue those ‘Mad Men’ scenes of drinking and spacing out), that there is indeed rigor with systematic thoughtfulness, and deliberation towards tangible — and yes, measurable — outcomes. So, I sometimes use the word discipline with design, either as proxy or as reinforcement.

Like: As a team and company, we should establish an internal discipline of design. Let’s apply design discipline to this problem or opportunity. We need to take a disciplined approach to tackle the ambiguity or complexity.

This emphasis on discipline suggests a couple things which help the designer in their rationale:

  • Design as rigorous activity with intensity & reflection, a methodical cadence of doing per rules, constraints, and criteria.
  • Design as an established approach with respect & value accorded to it for the sake of how it supports the team’s intentions.

By applying the notion of “discipline” to design, this confers a level of professionalism to the practice of designing, and sets up the designer as a serious practitioner of merit and respect.

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