Designing by intuition

Sometime during winter last year, I moved to a used cold shell apartment. I had to fit a new geyser in my bathroom. The most obvious place to fit the geyser was close to the ceiling near the water line outlets. The old apartment bathroom had broken plasters and other traces of a geyser fitted by the earlier tenant. Also, I could see a firmly fitted clamp from the wall, still in good shape. I was anticipating some additional trouble since the old clamp has to be removed and a new clamp has to be fitted.

When the plumber came he was very sure about his task and quickly had tools to remove the old clamps & fit the new one. I just asked him to pause and see if my new geyser can actually be hooked on to the old clamp.

“Sir, Your geyser is a 7ltr one and these clamps are for a 2-3 ltr ones, Please let me remove these ones…” said the confident plumber. Though I wasn’t as surefooted as the plumber, I asked him to give it a try. After a bit of disputation the plumber with contempt agreed to check if it can be reused. I had to give the plumber a hand in lifting it up to the ceiling and all the while I was worried because it would be waste of his time if it doesn’t fit.

“Wow! This fits like a magic. May be it’s an illusion that the clamps are looking smaller than what they are!” grinned the plumber.

Certain times going by intuition can save huge amount of time, effort, resources & bring in some serendipity. Caution: It can also backfire. If the old clamp didn’t fit the new geyser, the plumber would have cribbed about waste of time and might even try to tinker the old clamp in desperation. And the reuse strategy might result in unsatisfactory end result.

What could be the scrupulous way to solve a problem?

Conventional process: e.g. measuring the geyser clamp holder size & comparing it with the old clamp size before trying to fix it?


Precautionary / Anticipatory design! : e.g. It could be done much earlier by inspecting the geyser location even before buying one. But doesn’t it sound crazy to buy a geyser to fit a clamp?

There has to be a balancing act of taking a gut call, against time + effort + resources.

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Collaborative problem definition

In one of my projects, the client wanted us to design an app for a targeted set of users to make suggestions based on user’s context. The design briefs were typically of this format:

“We want something magical in life of a traveller to happen.”

“The app should surprise the user every time they open it up.”

While the client’s views gave us lot of inspiration & encouragement to jump into designing prototypes for the product, the very need to understand the users & the problem in-depth was missing.

This constant race between inspirational briefs from the client vs the urge to impress the clients with designs end up in multiple iterations and distress after a point of time.

The clients anxiety shoots up by trying out all permutation-combinations of the various components in the prototypes and the designers get restless because even after multiple iterations, they still don’t know what do the client expect nor the real user’s need.

Juciy SalifCan every designer be Philippe Starck working for Alessi? To get the revolutionary “Juicy Salif” out of the sketches made on a pizzeria napkin during a holiday?

This juicy salif attained the status icon to product design and a decorative object/ornament. But if the initial brief were to be designing an ornament out of some juicer then Starck might have not ended up designing something like Juicy Salif.

If the early stage of the project is well spent on understanding the user/business needs, it could lead to a well-defined problem statement. If articulating the problem statement very precisely demands too many questions to clients, should designers hesitate? “A prudent question is one half of wisdom.”

What if the client has only a vague idea of the market they are targeting at?

Collaborative problem definition

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Embellished systems thinking

Assuming that day-to-day money transactions involve lot of coins & currency notes to be exchanged, A Company decides to develop an innovative product that helps people to easily handle and use money in the market. The company (stakeholders) now approaches a design firm to share their dream of producing this “smart wallet”. Designers are equally exited and feel that it will be a very useful product.

Stakeholder’s inspirational briefs –

“The wallet should be smart enough to dispense the money required, based on user’s need.”

“The device should be easy to handle huge amount of money”

“The device should be compact enough to carry along”

“It should be easy for the users to refill their wallet”

Since the stakeholders and the designers feel it’s a common problem they don’t see a need to spend time to understand and analyze the problem/need in-depth. So, the designers start to prototype taking into account their understanding of the problem & the inspirational briefs from the stakeholders.

Designers explorations includes –

A wallet with a meter to input the currency needed and it will dispense it to the user. Diverse forms and material as explorations. It doesn’t stop here… There are also these additional features like – Denominations display after the money is been dispensed, The total amount spent for a day, Beep from the wallet when the wallet goes low balance.. Etc.

These could be brilliant ideas, but are they still addressing the core need? These ideas are probably in sync with the inspirational brief. If the designers where to understand the real user’s need and had a better knowledge of the system they could have ended up designing something like atransaction card” or a “Debit/Credit card” which actually even questions the very need of carrying currency! & That’s called systems thinking.

Embellished systems thinking

What if the designers go a mile ahead combining the systems thinking to the inspirational briefs from the stakeholders! They could have come up with something like an “ubiquitous transaction” with just mobile device or even with watches.. And that would be an embellished systems thinking!