DDG introduction

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The Delft Design Guide

The design methods presented in this book can be very useful for you as a designer, both during your time as a student and as a practitioner. Our aim is that you will use it as a source and reference during and after your design education to gradually build a repertoire of different ways of approaching the design of products.

It is crucial to be aware of two issues before starting to use the Delft Design Guide:

First, design methods are not recipes for success, just like strictly following a cooking recipe is not a guarantee for good food. Methods will help to bring structure to your thinking and actions (so you will be reminded of essential steps, work efficient, achieve your goals without too many detours, communicate with your team or client more easily, so you will not drown in the complexity of designing). Reflecting critically on the path you choose to take and the methods that you use is a competence that you mostly learn by experience.

Second, there are many ways to accomplish something. You yourself will need to learn how to find an appropriate approach for each new situation that you will encounter. To be able to perform well, you need to adapt any method to the specific situation that you are dealing with. The selection of an appropriate approach depends on your goal or task, the circumstances, your personality, background and experiences, etc. For every combination of designer, design problem and environment there will be multiple applicable methods that all have their own benefits and limitations. The more methods you have experienced, the better you know which way(s) of working fit you and thus the better you will be able to approach design problems effectively and efficiently.

Designing is changing existing situations into preferred ones

Designing in the widest sense of the word, is “changing existing situations into preferred ones” (Simon, 1996 pp.111). This means that designing is a way of thinking and acting that is aimed at understanding and intervening in the world around us through the design of products that aim to help satisfy people’s needs and wishes. Characteristic for design education in Delft is the focus on the design process. By teaching design methods we aim to educate designers that have a fluent control of design processes and through that can come to successful design projects.

Designing is dealing with uncertainty

Designing distinguishes itself from other disciplines by the combination of a number of activities, for example: visualizing, creative thinking, empathizing with the user, reasoning from function to form (innoduction). But in essence, designing is an activity that is supposed to lead to new possibilities and an embodiment of those possibilities. That means that designing asks you to deal with uncertainty – to play with possibilities – to come to new insights that can lead to innovations. As a designer you have the difficult task to understand the world around you and at the same time to create new products that change the current world. How does that work? You could ask yourself a number of questions like:

  • Is there a specific way of thinking of designers? How is their mind set?
  • How do I need to act to come to good results? Which steps do I take? Which phases will I go through?
  • How do I determine the boundaries of the context I am designing for?
  • How can I map the ‘world’ of the user?
  • When can I stop analyzing and start creating?
  • How do I generate solutions?
  • When is my design proposal good enough to present to others?
  • How do I choose between a variety of solutions?

Design methods and tools can help you answer these and many other questions. The Delft Design Guide contains most methods that are used in the education in Delft and that often have been developed in Delft!

Designing is situated

Why do we need so many different design methods? Why is there not one method that fits all? Although designing is a distinct type of activity – i.e. different from accounting, or construction, etc - design processes can have different forms (Visser, 2009), depending on the specific combination of a designer and the designer’s situation. A designer that is designing a surgical instrument for the Dutch market with a series size of one hundred will show a different process than an interdisciplinary team of nine people that is developing the new customer experience for Schiphol airport. This is something you will probably recognize from experience: on a detailed level every design process is different. But as we zoom out, more and more commonalities between design processes become visible. For example, both designers will probably start with analyzing the problem, both will subsequently start generating possible solutions, simulate and evaluate these solutions, and so forth.

Although we admit that some – usually experienced - designers do not always start analyzing extensively but immediately come up with a preliminary design. If we zoom out to a more abstract level, we can see specific activities and ways of thinking that might be valuable to apply in other design situations as well. The field of study that focuses on these issues is called design methodology. It aims at understanding the complex discipline of designing and develops methods that can help in teaching and supporting designers. It aims to study and describe the structure of design processes that is common to successful performance. That knowledge can then be used to develop methods. In turn, these methods can help designers to understand and execute design projects in efficient and effective ways. Although many methods can be used in multiple domains, they are often intended for a class of activities, for example for product design or service design or architecture.

However… it is important to understand that a method exists on paper only. A method is an abstract description of a possible structure that can be applied to one’s thinking and actions. They are not recipes that tell you exactly what to do; rather they enable you to focus your mind on certain activities and information - in a certain order - to bring structure to your actions.

Ultimately, you will be the one that acts. You can apply a method to guide your thinking and steer your actions, but a method is not the same as your activities or your thinking.

The function of the Design Guide

The curriculum at the faculty of Industrial Design Engineering has been organized in such a way that you will experience a number of different situations that you might encounter in practice, and a number of methods that can help you to structure your thoughts and actions appropriately in those situations. It is a school that aims to produce designers that are capable of designing complex products (or services) through a thorough understanding and control of design processes. Of course there are many topics that you learn about, for example ergonomics, mathematics, material science, production technology, etc. but most of the design related courses teach you various aspects of designing through methods.

The Delft Design Guide is a collection of methods that is developed to help you to be ready for many new situations that you will encounter in the future. We would like you to be able to fluently act upon those situations through a mastery of a variety of methods. The collection of methods can help you to stage effective processes to come to radical – or incremental – innovations that humanity and our planet needs. In short: the more you know about these methods, and the more you have experienced them, the better you will be able to deal with the complex problems of our time.

The Delft Design Guide is first and foremost intended for teaching designers such as our students. It is complementary to the teaching material in design courses and the books and readers that accompany them. These include the yellow book by Roozenburg and Eekels, Integral Product Development by Buijs and Valkenburg, papers on the ViP method by Hekkert and van Dijk (their book is forthcoming), Order and Meaning in Design by Muller and many more. Part of the content of these sources has been used throughout this guide.

Besides that, the guide is intended for design tutors: to give an overview of the methods that are available within the Delft curriculum. Tutors can use the guide to make a selection of methods for a specific course. Finally the guide is also intended as a reference guide for design practitioners.


  • Simon, H. (1996). The sciences of the artificial. (pp. 111), MIT press.
  • Visser, W. (2009). Design: one, but in different forms. Design Studies, vol. 30 (3), pp. 187-223.

Guide for readers

The editors of this guide are aware that this collection of methods is not complete, since new methods are being developed right now! The design of this guide facilitates additions.

Part 1 - Approaches to product design in Delft

In part one of the Delft Design Guide, descriptions of the processes of product design and innovation that are used in Delft are presented. These models mostly originated within the faculty, but they draw on wider (international) research on product design and new product development.

  1. Product design in Delft
  2. The Product innovation process
  3. The Basic design cycle
  4. Engineering models of product design
  5. The Fish trap model
  6. Vision in product design (ViP)
  7. Emerging design methods: ZEN design method and Multi-sensory design

Part 2 - Design methods

This section will present a variety of design methods which can be used in the product design process. The design methods present­ed here are categorized according to the activity for which they can be used.

  1. Creating a design goal
    1. Strategy wheel
    2. Trend analysis
    3. Cradle to cradle (DDG)
    4. EcoDesign checklist
    5. EcoDesign strategy wheel
    6. Collage techniques
    7. Process tree
    8. WWWWH
    9. Problem definition
    10. Checklist for generating requirements
    11. Design specification (criteria)
    12. Design vision
  2. Creating product ideas and concepts
    1. Creativity techniques
    2. How to's
    3. Mind map
    4. The brainstorm method
    5. Synectics
    6. Function analysis
    7. Morphological charts
    8. Role-playing techniques
    9. Storyboard
    10. Written scenario
    11. Checklist for concept generation
    12. Design drawing
    13. Threedimensional models
    14. Biomimicry
    15. Contextmapping
  3. Decision and selection
    1. C-Box
    2. Itemised response and PMI
    3. vALUe
    4. Harris profile
    5. Datum method
    6. Weighted objectives method
  4. Evaluation of product features
    1. Product simulation and testing
    2. Product concept evaluation
    3. Product usability evaluation

Part 3 - Competences in Design

In this part of the Delft Design Guide we present some methods, tips, deliberations and so on, on more generic topics that are of interest while learning and practising design. The topics are not specifically attributed to one particular phase in the design process, but useful and applicable in a more general sense. As for the other parts of this Design Guide, the reader should be aware that this material offered does not cover all the knowledge of these topics but serves as a starting point for further study.

  1. Planning & Design
  2. Communication & Design
  3. Reflection & Design
  4. Traps, Tricks and Strategies & Concept Development
  5. Teamwork & Design
  6. Finding Information & Design


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