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Chapter 4Process

For as many attempts have been made at structuring creative processes with theoretical frameworks, the practice of design remains chaotic and difficult to capture. This project is no exception: while some deadlines were set up front, the process mostly steered itself.

4.1 The Lean Process Model

The model that, in my eyes, has captured the spirit of a design process the best is the Lean Process Model. Conceived by Dave Landis (Landis, 2014) and adapted by me (2020), it combines Design Thinking's Double Diamond (Nessler, 2016; Black, 2008) with ideas from Lean UX (Gothelf, 2013) and Agile (Ibanez, 2019).

The design process starts in the concrete problem space and is then abstracted through primary and secondary research. Through an iterative process of ideation and experiments, a solution is honed in on. Then, the solution is built using agile methodologies, its success is measured, and the results of those tests are used to inform another build phase. If we learn that the solution isn't working on a fundamental level, we can pivot back into the design thinking process once more.

The Lean Process model. Conceived by Dave Landis (Landis, 2014), adapted by me (2020).

In practice, this project has followed an adapted form of the Lean Process model. The project can be split up into three phases:

  • A theoretical literature review,
  • The conception of a new model based on literature and validation thereof through a small-scale study,
  • A case study meant to teach how well the model could be applied in a "real life" setting.

The complete process is depicted below. It shows the regular switching between abstract and concrete, and between problem-space and solution-space.

4.2 Process in detail

Theory: Literature Review

The goal of this first phase was to get a baseline academic understanding of flow and related concepts, as well as to get acquainted with the current industry of digital tools and best practices thereof.

Much of the academic literature on flow is based upon the work by Csikszentmihalyi, and so his seminal works on flow (2009; 2004; 1975/2000; 1988), together with Seligman's concept of positive psychology (2002; 2000), were taken as a starting point. Beyond that, a number of studies detailing examples- and accounts of flow in specific contexts were considered, particularly game design (Deterding et al., 2011; Prensky, 2001). Books such as Krishna's "The Best Interface is No Interface" (2015) helped steer the literature review from academic theory towards applied design practice.

The research into the state of tools followed a more practical and example-driven approach. I studied a number of blog posts and videos by companies explaining the reasoning about their new interface (Friedman, 2020; Vohra, 2020; Moore, 2019; Todoist, n.d.). Speculative works such as Mercury OS (2019), and Palmer's (2020; 2019) thinkpieces about spatial interfaces, helped immensely to go beyond product examples and see the possibilities for the industry at large.

Finally, in addition to the secondary sources, some small-scale primary research experiments were conducted. I used Apple's VoiceOver system to control my phone and computer without touching, to see how different modalities would impact the experience. I studied the interfaces I used every day, and questioned how- and why they provided value to me, and how they got me into flow.

Based on the literature review, it became clear that there was a need for a mental model for flow in digital tools.

The full literature review can be read in Chapter 5.

Research: Model Development

The development of the model started by coming up with a hypothesis, which itself was based on the literature, experiments, and philosophical pondering I had engaged with throughout the first phase. It then became time to validate this model.

A small-scale research study was set up to test the model's validity. The domain of photography was chosen as an example to study, and users of all skill levels were asked to participate in sessions that combined an open-ended interview and an ethnographic observation of the participant using their preferred interface for photography. Additionally, two experts interviews were conducted.

After the quantitative- and qualitative results were analysed, modifications and additions were made to the model. The fully-realised Flow Funnel model details the needed balance between a user's skills and an interface's challenge.

The full explanation of the model can be found in Chapter 6.

Application: Case Study

In this final phase, the model was applied as a tool in a real product development process. I partnered with The Engineering Company to improve their engineering development platform named Flow. This phase lasted five weeks. It closely followed the double diamond design process, with each step lasting around one week.

First, the typical process of a Flow user was examined through conversations with team members and exploratory interviews with users. Next, the Flow Funnel was used to help map the user's process and identify weak points of the application. One of these weak points was chosen and ideated on in a number of agile sprints, and the most fruitful ideas were combined into a prototype. The prototype was shown off to users and their opinions influenced a final iteration of the design. Finally, all findings and ideas were bundled into a final presentation given to all employees.

Having completed the entire process, I concluded that the Flow Funnel could definitely become a useful addition to the designer's toolset in making strategic product decisions and building features.

The full case study can be read in Chapter 7.
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Literature Review