Let’s start with a retrospective. While studying industrial design in Barcelona, all the way back in the late 80s, some of our class’ courses followed Bruno Munari‘s teachings, whose methodology was captured in “How Are Objects Born?”
A PROJECTIZED DESIGN MEDTHODOLOGY
Munari’s world was introduced to our class as a multifaceted down-to-earth creative. He positioned a so-called “projectized methodology” as a logical sequence of desing operations aimed to maximize outcomes by applying the minimum required effort.
Munari emphasized the merits of painstaking work addressing “objective values” to generate creative outcomes… and strongly dismissed any whimsical and fanciful approach that would shortchange thoughtful due diligence and, therefore, proper design.
In that context, no disciplined practitioner should ignore the fact that discovery and iterative workstyles can lead to modifying and improving any method, as design tools and process also become a subject of design. Why? The set of assumptions, principles and rules deployed a project’s front-end… might not necessarily be the ones delivering successful outcomes at the project’s backend.
THE UNDERLYING THINKING
Munari’s referred to Rene Descartes’ “Discourse on the Method,” which was published 344 years before “How are Objects Born” was released. Most people relate Descartes’ better known “I think, therefore I am,’ statement. At the expense of possibly sounding corny, let’s translate that into “I Design Think, therefore…” for the purpose of this discussion.
In the 17th century, Descartes positioned a proven-fact based approach to problem solving: “true and sound judgements” that we can “intuit or deduce with certainty.” The so-called cartesian doubt involves methodological skepticism: nothing is taken for granted. The Scientific Revolution was taking hold. Earlier momentum generated the Renaissance was taken to new levels of enlightenment.
Descartes taskflow entailed decomposing complex matters down to what become atomic level ones: those are still coherent and manageable enough (cognitively speaking) for us to effectively address. His method calls for solving for the ones that can be successfully tackled first.
GETTING THE DESIGN JOB DONE
Munari’s mind-mapping illustrated a taxonomy of primary, secondary and more granular lower level problem statements as needed, followed by data gathering and analysis. Experimentation ran options assessment.
New discovery was encouraged. Technical and production feasibility considerations being instrumental early in the process so that constrains and implementation choices were well understood. Once testable prototypes become available, iterative user involvement and validation drove improvement and optimization A design prospectus and project file would feature:
- Final design proposal and prototypes.
- Problem mindmap.
- Design specifications sheet.
- Notes on streamlined design considerations optimizing for simplicity.
- Production cost and comparison analysis.
- Use cases, expected functionality and performance.
- Sensory and experiential assessment, accounting for all senses.
- Ergonomics, usability, maneuverability, including health hazards.
- Journey touch points and wear & tear: upkeep, maintenance, serviceability.
- Impact of ad-ons, packaging, and any other attached and surrounding items.
- Aesthetic coherence and modular design components.
- Social value and cultural contribution.
THE GREATER VALUE OF DESIGN’s WHOLE
Back to Descartes, he would point to the need for addressing the integrity of the overall system and, therefore, the higher value of the composite view. This also is about ensuring that no gaps, breaking points, ruptures, weak-links, leaks, and loopholes remain. Basically, stress testing our solution with a “continuous and wholly uninterrupted sweep of thought” as he would put it.
Just a couple of more things about Descartes… in his “Rules for the Direction of the Mind” explicitly he stated that “we need a method if we are to investigate the truth of things” and should investigate “what others have already discovered.”
And in the “Discourse on the Method” he introduced data visualization by means of correlating values with the cartesian coordinate system, which intersected geometry and algebra to become the foundation of analytics geometry.
The Bauhaus’s centenial anniversary, 1919-2019, is worth highlighting. During my industrial design studies, the German Bauhaus‘ lasting influence was quite significant and largely conveyed by professors and program directors with a professional background in architecture. Here is a summary of what that meant:
- Form follows function.
- Less is more: straighforwarness, abstract simplicity, and great refinement.
- Clean design and aestic finesse, all production friendly and scalable.
- Adopting and pushing the boundaries of emerging technologies.
- Designing is not a profession, but an attitude.
- Indivisible unity of formerly separated and indenpendent fields and silos.
- Craftmanship pride and signature designs that make a difference.
The American New Bauhaus influenced the post-World War II culture and settled in Chicago at the Institute of Design, part of th IIT, Illinois Institute of Technology.
Our class was confronted with a compeling Bahuasian approach that could result in highly formal, rigid and austere geometrical configurations while Barcelona’s environment was (and continues to be) a reminder of the contrasting Catalan Modernism of the early 20th century, unapologetically being:
- Abstracted organic shapes, shapes and structures that are nature inspired.
- Carefully crafted eclectic sophistication and visually arresting outcomes.
- Celebratory by mashing up historical elements under a new light.
- Theatrical experiences as people become design’s live audiences.
- Strong sense of cultural change agency.
Also worth recalling that the late 80s intersected Post-Modernism, a movement that featured a wide variety of optics and was a departure from rationalism and, therefore, purposevely confrontational. Subjectivity and and criticism abounded.
DESIGN FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Munari’s “projectized methodology” helped dissect problems and got the design job done while keeping any rushed and whimsical design at bay: no need for the overly and out-of-touch “romantic” stuff as he saw it. Munari also confronted any “luxurious” and “fashionable” design statements, which he qualified as superfluous and frivolous, and the antitesis of design.
But, it did present the sort of shortcomings that can come from applying constrains from the get go. The fact is that freethinking can make a difference at the project’s onset. Applying Descartes’ methodological skepticism would neutralize that. However, relying on Descartes’ rational wisdom alone does not suffice. Damasio’s “Descartes Error” exposes the following:
“Reason may not be as pure as most of us think it is or wish it were […] emotion assists with the process of holding in mind the multiple facts that must be considered in order to reach a decision. The obligate participation of emotion in the reasoning process can be advantageous or nefarious […] when emotion is entirely left out of the reasoning picture, as happens in certain neurological conditions, reason turns out to be even more flawed than when emotion plays bad tricks on our decisions”.
My next article will continue this late 80s and early 90s restropective, which takes me back to my college years. I will switch to my experience in engineering school for the purpose of deliverating about what QUALITY really is about. As an example, I will exchange views on TQM, Total Quality Management, and Operational Excellence… and will circle back to this post to connect the dots to clearly define QXbD, Quality Experiences by Design.
- Damasio, Antonio R.. Descartes’ Error. Penguin Publishing Group, 1994.
- Munari, Bruno. Como Nacen los Objectos. GG, 1981
- Descartes, Rene. Discourse on the Method. 1637
- The New Bauhaus. Opendox, 2019. Accessed on May 12, 2019 https://www.thenewbauhaus.com
“[They] lost their quality leadership to new, aggressive competition. The most obvious consequence was lost of market share (…) [due to] quality features that were perceived as better meeting customer needs [and] they did not fail in service as often.”
“Loss of market share is not the only reason behind [it] (…) a second major force has been the phenomenon of life behind the quality dikes. We have learned that living in a technological society puts us at the mercy of the continuing operation of the goods and services that make a society possible (…) without such quality we have failure of all sorts (…) at the least these failures involve annoyances and minor costs. At their worst they are terrifying.”
“A third major force has been the gathering awareness by companies that they have been enduring excessive costs due to chronic quality-related wastes (…) about a third of what we do consists of redoing work previously done (…) lacking expertise in the quality disciplines, they are amateurs in the best sense of that word.”
J.M. Juran’s assessment on Quality issues in the 1960s-70s.
What follows are some of the insights driving the work that I’m doing on reviewing, leveraging and updating QbD (Quality by Design) in the context of today’s fast growing and all-encompassing digitalization.
I am dusting off my research from 2010 on the 3Q Model. Back then I was a senior manager at Alcatel-Lucent’s Solutions & Technology Introduction Department. My current role is Senior Studio Director at Nokia Software’s Solutions Engineering. Note that the scope is End-to-End Solutions. These are holistic system-wide (cross-sectional and longitudinal) undertakings intersecting different domains to deliver the higher value of the whole. I have discussed QbD for Digital Transformation projects at the Design Thinking 2018 event and at the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) conference on CQR (Communications Quality and Reliability) back in April and May of this year. Interestingly enough, both events were held in Austin, Texas.
QbD was first coined by Juran, a renown pioneer of quality practices, whose work on that specific topic started in the mid 80s. He linked Quality to customer satisfaction and reliability as the two dimensions to focus on:
“Features” were defined as “quality characteristics,” which meant properties intended to satisfy specific customer needs. That would also include “promptness of delivery,” “ease of maintenance,” and “courtesy of service” to name some examples. “The better the features, the higher the quality in the eyes of customers.”
As far as reliability and, therefore, replicability and consistent performance, “freedom from deficiencies” conveyed the fact that “the fewer the deficiencies the better the quality in the eyes of customers.” A “deficiency” is a failure that triggers dissatisfaction, which calls for incurring higher costs to redo prior work.
“Fitness for use” was mentioned as an attempt to capture the above two together. The so-called Juran Trilogy entails Quality Planning, Quality Control, and Quality Improvement.
More than three decades have passed since Juran started to work on “New Steps for Planning Quality into Goods and Services.” Let’s decompose QbD’s acronym at face value and distill its essence.
As a designer, my belief & practice system focuses on “serial innovation” consistently delivering superior value. This is achieved by means of purposeful and elegant solutions equipped with capability models and optimal functionality leading to Quality Experiences.
Customer Delight, rather than just satisfaction, being the sought after outcome. This applies to both small and large undertakings, and as A. Kay, a pioneer in graphical user interfaces, best put it, “simple things should be simple, complex should be possible.”
Following that train of thought, “Designing Quality into Solutions” should become center stage to: (a) collaborative and iterative ideation, (b) agile development, (c) continuous delivery and (d) the dynamic diffusion of (e) new and mass-customizable digital services for consumer and enterprise markets, as well as no-for-profit. Overall, QoB is key to Operational Excellence.
In a world where “Continuous Improvement” leads to incremental and breakthrough innovations, Quality’s critical KPI, Key Performance Indicator, can be expressed in terms of measurable advances in QoUX, the Quality of the Users’ Experiences. These are lagging (outcome) metrics that are far from static because they evolve within and over lifecycles. Therefore, reliability is not just applied to production operations, but also to the solution’s consistent performance and serviceability over time and under changing scenarios and events.
Given Quality’s unequivocal narrative around the “experiential” paradigm and, therefore, human-centric-optics, QbD’s best work should optimize for user “delight,” which is defined as superior “satisfaction,” rather than just aiming for requirements compliance.
It is very tempting to rally around core competencies within comfort zones that exist, and then settling on just aiming for “customer satisfaction” around “must-meet” baseline requirements. Though, that might not suffice given the necessity to innovate and better compete by leveraging unique sources of sustainable differentiation.
Let’s now state the obvious: “designing” Quality Experiences into digital solutions is best addressed by means of Human-Centered methodologies that optimize for (f) users’ “acceptance criteria” and (g) the kind of “adoption levels” that foster user base growth.
The opposite approach would risk the adverse effects (and hidden costs) that can be incurred when technical myopia leads the way. A. Cooper’s “The Inmates are Running the Asylum” captures that very well. His book is referenced below.
Just for the record, the year is 2018 and we are gearing for a pervasive digital world dominated by software defined systems. The 4th Industrial Revolution’s floodgates are set wide-open.
Low and high tech perform best when playing a supporting role. Technology enables “Services” which justify it, otherwise the so-called Chasm and Valley of Death wait around the corner. It pays to emphasize that “Services” are defined by “Use Cases.” So, it shouldn’t take much effort to see that “Use(case)ability” (“usability” being the proper term) is a CSF, Critical Success Factor. “Fitness for use” in other words.
Let’s take that further and couple “usability” with designing for usefulness,” “utility,” “consumability & serviceablity” as well as “affectivity” because perception and human affects orient satisfaction and dissatisfaction levels.
QbD cannot be put to work without adequately addressing Human Dynamics, which entails psychological (e.g. cognitive models, information architecture) physiological (e.g. device form factor, workstation ergonomics) and social dimensions (e.g. network effects increasing value for users.) That happens to be the SoW (Scope of Work) of HFE’s (Human Factors Engineering) interdisciplinary teams in Design Studios… and the topic of my next post on QbD’s Intellectual Capital.
A few more thoughts…
In spite of one’s day-to-day work and/or belief system being either closer to or removed from the kinds of jobs and tasks that make tech human, it makes sense to engage in meaningful outcome oriented and goal driven practices by applying HCD, Human-Centered-Design. The purpose is delivering quality and achieving customer acceptance and delight, given that customers are human beings. That is the reason why Design Thinking has outgrown the field of industry design and is applied to a wide variety of domains and disciplines nowadays.
Tech’s roller-coaster industry is packed with well intended technologies that fail. We all know that this is a fiercely competitive environment in constant change. Though, it is also true that, in many of those cases, UX, User Experience, professionals were not engaged at any part of the process, or were purposely involved at the back-end, or were called to come to the rescue in the eleventh hour. That leaves no room for Design to make a difference. Superficial changes just amount to bells-and-whistles and shiny-objects to disguise the underlying quality issues that are likely to re-surface at some point.
QbD’s top objective should be excelling at effectively & efficiently addressing our customers’ acceptance and adoption criteria. That remains true even in the context of full automation. Humans still get promoted and demoted (or fired) based on those system’s performance. D. Newman’s recent article on Forbes magazine rightly states that “you cannot run your business without people (…) you cannot operate technology without people (…) research have shown that people are a critical component for digital transformation.”
Today’s best practice calls for “reverse engineering” solutions by working from that human-centered understanding around Human Machine Systems (HMS.) That is substantially different from only relying on a far riskier “if you build it, they will come” model and its costlier brute-force mindset.
When dealing with challenging, intractable and complex projects, overlooking that fact typically results in exponential project risk and plenty of the, otherwise, avoidable zig-zagging course corrections ahead (e.g. opportunity costs in financial analysis and hidden and latency costs in systems engineering.)
Agile’s iterative development and ability to pivot shouldn’t be a refuge for either subpar or no design effort, but a vehicle to best implement QbD and augment development capacity while minimizing technical debt. This is why this revision of QbD for today’s tech industry calls for Design Sprints to lead the way.
Last but not least, before dismissing this QbD revision as a philanthropic and humanistic only endeavor, I suggest deep thinking around its (1) business criticality and (2) contribution to risk mitigation.
J. de Francisco
Bell Labs, Distinguished Member of Technical Staff
Nokia Software, Senior Studio Director @ Solutions Engineering
A. Cooper. The Inmates are Running the Asylum. Why High-Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity, Sams Publishing, 2004.
D. Newman. 3 Reasons People are Critical for Digital Transformation Success. Forbes, June 2018.
J. de Francisco. IEEE ETR 2018, Emerging Technologies Reliablity Roundtable – Human Factors Session (2). Innovarista: Innovation at Work, July 2018 innovarista.org
J. de Francisco. IEEE ETR 2018, Emerging Technologies – Human Factors Session. Innovarista: Innovation at Work. May 2018 innovarista.org
J.M. Juran. Juran on Quality by Design: the New Steps for Planning Quality into Goods and Services, The Free Press, 1992.