- The notion of Parti (also referred to as “the Big Idea”, which Wikipedia defines as the chief organizing thought or decision behind an architect’s design presented in the form of a basic diagram and/or a simple statement
- The Design Sandwich – which Wroblewski says “is really the way that we can make informed decisions that help us deliver on this big idea, this parti.”
Furthermore, Wroblewski approaches the concept of parti not from the vantage point of a traditional architect, but from the perspective of someone who architects digital spaces in the role of an Interaction Designer.
The video is displayed below:
The presentation slides accompanying the video can be found here.
I have to say that this notion of parti presented by Wroblewski has really influenced my thinking around modeling and explaining complex spaces lately – as a way to rise above the detail to get to the “essence of the thing”, in a simple and visual form.
Anyway, the rest of this post explores some of the key messages delivered by Wroblewski in his presentation.
Introducing the concept of Parti – or “the Big Idea”
OK, so what is this Parti notion? I mentioned above that Wikipedia defines parti as “the chief organizing thought or decision behind an architect’s design presented in the form of a basic diagram and/or a simple statement“.
Wroblewski quotes Frederick who defines parti as “the central idea or concept of a building“. Here’s the presentation slide:
Parti is much more than just a concept. Says Wroblewski:
The interesting notion behind that is it’s the Big Idea behind a structure. So a structure in the architect’s world could be a building. A structure in the Interaction Designer’s world could be something different.
And in particular, what makes this a little bit different than what traditionally people talk about as product vision, or a mission statement, or a core idea, is the way Fredrick outlines how architects depict this and work through this, in which he says “It’s expressed as a diagram that depicts the overall organization or the overall structure of something. But at the same time really points to experientially or aesthetically what’s the theme of it. How does it roll up together.
And I think this is where that distinction really falls, which is that there’s almost a design artifact this product vision, this big concept – which isn’t necessarily the case when you get some sort of thing coming from someone on the business side or the product management side – that’s a statement right, here’s our vision statement – “we’ll be #1 in 5 years”. It’s a very different kind of articulation of where you’re trying to go.
And particularly the things that really resonated for me is this concept of the small diagram representing the big idea, and its organization and experiential sensibility. I thought that was cool.
Frederick presents examples in his book that illustrate this core concept of a building in a simple and straightforward way. Here’s the slide Wroblewski presents:
Here’s Wroblewski’s comments on Frederick’s illustrations:
So if you look at this “odd shapes intrude on a pure space”, you kind of get a sense of how that might feel, you get a sense of what the core idea is of the building, and how it might manifest itself.
Or “L’s in conflict” – there’s kind of a tension there, you can sort of begin to think about what that might feel like, and how that might act.
I do think that even these simple diagrams – especially the odd shapes and L’s in conflict – they do depict the general floor plan for the building, but they do have an aesthetic or an experiential sensibility. You start to get a sense of how they might actually engage you on an emotional level versus just a functional level. Functional level, it’s like “oh, I can put my office in here”. Emotional level, you might start to think about how you’d actually feel working in that space, the kind of mood it creates, and so forth.
Applying the Parti concept to the redesign of the Yahoo! homepage
Wroblewski then proceeds to discuss how this notion of parti can be applied to his recent work (in early 2009) redesigning the Yahoo.com homepage. I’m not going to elaborate on his discussion around the redesign of Yahoo.com’s homepage. If you are interested, please view the video.
A Parti must reflect its environmental forces
However, I will briefly address some broader concerns that Frederick discusses in his book around applying the parti concept. And the first is that a Parti is deeply related to its environmental context, which is inevitably shaped by several forces. This is illustrated in Wroblewski’s slide below:
On the one hand, this is very reminiscent of the notion of forces applied to architectural design patterns in the manner that Christopher Alexander discusses.
However, I appreciate the reminder that the “core concept”, and the “essential structure and aesthetic design” of “the thing”, must also reflect, and be an expression of, the fundamental forces to which it is subject to in its environment and usage.
A Parti diagram will address the essential concerns for a project in a holistic way
Wroblewski quotes Frederick:
A parti diagram can focus on any specific aspect of architecture that it defines. It could be massing, spatial hierarchy, site relationship, core location, interior circulation, public/private zoning, solidity, transparency, and so on and so forth.
Wroblewski then adds:
But not every little diagram covers all those sorts of things. So if there’s something that’s really defined by its core location or there’s something that’s really defined by its spatial hierarchy, that’s the center point of the little parti diagram.
The key message here is that a Parti diagram will address the most essential forces or factors acting on the design, and it will address those factors in a holistic way.
The Design Sandwich – Using the Parti concept to help guide Design Decisions
In the second part of Wroblewski’s presentation, he discusses how design decisions should reinforce the core concept of the design (i.e. the parti). This perspective is shared by Frederick, as presented in the slide below:
The Design Sandwich
The Design Sandwich is a conceptual framework developed by Wroblewski to provide a framework for making good design decisions that align to the parti (or the big concept or idea) underlying the design. Here’s how Wroblewski describes it:
The Design Sandwich is really the way that we can make informed decisions that help us deliver on this big idea, this parti.
So without further ado, here’s what the Design Sandwich looks like:
Wroblewski describes the different elements of the Design Sandwich as follows:
And at the very top is this notion of Design Principles. And Design Principles, as I’ve laid it out here, are really filters we’re going to use to see if the decisions we’re making line up with that central concept. So if this is a guidepost, a thing to use to evaluate where we’re going, these are the sort of checklists, or high-level principles that we’re going to use to see if we’re going towards it, or if we’re going away from it. And if we’re going away from it, we should probably change what we’re doing.
At the bottom, you have what I call Design Considerations. These are the factors you weigh when you consider what design decision you’re going to make, what solution you’re going to go with. It could be the environment, the technology, skill level of people, the domain, goals, needs, existing workflows, so on and so forth. There’s this whole slew of things we have to think about when we choose between even simple things like interaction elements.
Patterns and Best Practices
Luckily there’s ways that we can make some informed decisions out of those considerations. And one of the most common ones that people talk about in interaction design circles is Patterns and Best Practices.
So the other set of informed considerations that we get is by Testing.
And that’s sort of my middle-of-the-sandwich composite, which is this is where we make Design Decisions, right? We go from looking at all these opportunities and limitations, and all this different context and things we have to consider when we decide what to do with a specific aspect of the design. We can test some of that. We can turn to Patterns or Best Practices for some of that. But across the whole board we have to make decisions.
And why do I focus on decisions so much? And why is this sort of the whole “meat” of this sandwich?
Well two things. One is I care a lot about how Design Decisions get made because I see a lot of decision-making squandered to org chart. I see a lot of decisions squandered to who screams the loudest. I see a lot of decisions squandered to things we’ve done before, or things that are out of context, or things that don’t relate to the project we’re doing.
Applying the Design Sandwich – Case Study
Wroblewski then gives a couple of examples of how the Design Sandwich can be applied to organizing a couple of design books that his group at Yahoo! had recently published. The slide below shows how Key Considerations, support Key Principles, support the overall parti – “Fast and Effective Web Forms” – of Wroblewski’s book Web Form Design:
A Parti is subject to change
Wroblewski concludes his talk with a final, powerful message – that the overall coherence and integrity of a parti is subject to change over time. The slides below quoting Frederick really say it all:
So here’s the summary slide for the talk.
A truly wonderful and inspiring presentation.
Bill Moggridge and Interaction Design
Bill Moggridge is a bit of a legend in the Design world, having co-founded IDEO, and authored the wonderful book Designing Interactions. I recently watched a video of a presentation that Moggridge gave at Stanford in 2007 on this book, which can be viewed below:
Design’s role in a Business Innovation
Like many folks in the Design world these days (see here and here), Moggridge also speaks of Design in the context of Business Design. In the slide deck from his recent presentation, Moggridge presents an interesting model/framework for business innovation, which is shown below:
I really like this simple visual, which positions Business Innovation at the intersection of Business, Design, and Technology.
Business Architecture – another view of the intersection of Business and Technology
This diagram reminded me a lot of another diagram which shows the confluence of three disciplines that span business and technology. The diagram below is from an IBM whitepaper, which positions Business Architecture at the intersection of 3 key core enterprise disciplines – Strategic Planning, Business Execution (or operationalizing Business Strategy), and IT:
Like Moggridge’s Business Innovation framework, this visual crucially positions Business and Technology as overlapping concerns – from both a strategic and operational vantage point. But unlike Moggridge’s framework, it leaves out Design as a strategic consideration in and over-arching Business Design framework. Increasingly, I think this will prove to be an important omission.
Bill Buxton would concur
Buxton says he’s working more these days to help Microsoft redesign its organization and processes that on product design.
Secondly, and this is very fascinating to me, Microsoft is developing an approach to business innovation and product development it calls BXT – Business eXperience Technology. That is, Microsoft feels it needs to bring business thinkers and doers, technology thinkers and doers, and design thinkers and doers, and have them work together in a cohesive fashion around business innovation and product development. Buxton talks a bit about this approach in a piece he wrote for Business Week in 2009.
Here again we see Buxton and Microsoft treating the intersection of business, design, and technology as strategic to business innovation.
I think Moggridge and Buxton are definitely onto something here.
A colleague of mine recently conveyed what I thought was a very powerful approach to product design and brand building – that is, to “align to broad human virtues”, which he credited as being inspired by Tara Hunt.
Then on the weekend, I stumbled across a video presentation by Nathan Shedroff, delivered at Interaction10, titled Meaningful Innovation relies on INteraction and Service Design, which can be viewed below:
Here’s the slide presentation that accompanies the video.
Shedroff is interested in what makes for meaningful experiences that people have in their world. First, he offers his definition of meaning:
Meaning is the deepest connection that you can make with your audience/user/customer. Meaning is established between people, between people and objects, people and places, etc., and it is the deepest part of those invisible connections.
However, you can’t really talk about “meaning” in this context, without talking about experience. In fact, Shedroff defines Design as “the process of making experiences”. So, it’s the understanding of Experience that we’ll turn to next.
The dimension Shedroff focuses on in his talk is the Significance dimension, which encompasses the consideration of meaning in the experience. Here’s a slide from Shedroff’s presentation that positions Meaning at the heart of the Significance dimension:
[The Significance dimension] moves from Features/Performance into Price, which are fairly shallow connections, right? … And this makes a lot of sense. If your business is about lowest price like Walmart, you may have a lot of appreciation from your customer, but you don’t have a lot of loyalty. Because what happens when the store next door has an even lower price? That’s where they go.
But once you move into these deeper levels, that’s where we build customer loyalty, that’s where we get the type of experiences and connections that are much harder for competitors to take from us.
Shedroff has found 15 core meanings that are universal – everyone in the world understands what they are and what they mean. These meanings are listed in the slide below:
The challenge, however, is that different people prioritize and express these meanings differently.
Shedroff encourages people to ask the following questions:
- What are the top 5 meanings for your organization?
- What are the top 5 meanings for yourself (or team)?
- What are the top 5 meanings for your customer?
That is really cool I think.
Finally, Shedroff’s presentation explores the positioning of a few selected companies in terms of the meanings they represent – Apple, Nike, and Disney. Below is the slide for Apple:
In conclusion …
Pretty interesting stuff for a guy new to Marketing and Product positioning. It certainly speaks to me.
The book also, however, put me onto the subject of Design Thinking, upon which I crafted to additional posts shortly thereafter: The Design of Business, and Roger Martin and More on Design Thinking – IDEO CEO Tim Brown.
Now, as I begin the Prototyping section of the book, I am introduced to a fascinating story involving the legendary Canadian-born architecture Frank Gehry. Here’s the story, taken from the book:
With a look bordering on panic, Weatherhead School of Management Professor Richard Boland Jr. watched as Matt Fineout, an architect with Gehry & Associates, casually tore up plans for a new school building … Boland and Fineout had been struggling for two full days to remove some 5,500 square feet from the floor plan designed by star architect Frank Gehry, while leaving room needed for meeting spaces and office equipment.
At the end of the marathon planning session, Boland had breathed a sigh of relief. “It’s finally done,” he thought. But at that very moment, Fineout rose from this chair, ripped the document apart, and tossed the scraps into a trash bin, not bothering to retain a single trace of the pair’s hard labor. He responded to Professor Boland’s shocked expression with a gentle shrug and a soft remark. “We’ve shown we can do it; now we need to think of how we want to do it.”
Looking back, Boland describes the incident as an extreme example of the relentless approach to inquiry he experienced while working with the Gehry group on the new Weatherhead building. During the design phase, Gehry and his team made hundreds of models with different materials and of varying sizes, simply to explore new directions. Boland explains that the goal of this prototyping activity was far more than the mere testing or proving of ideas. It was a methodology for exploring different possibilities until a truly good one emerged. He points out that prototyping, as practiced by the Gehry group, is a central part of an inquiry process that helps participants gain a better sense of what is missing in the initial understanding of the situation. This leads to completely new possibilities, among which the right one can be identified.
For Professor Boland, the experience with Gehry & Associates was transformative. … Together with fellow professor Fred Collopy and other colleagues, Boland is now spearheading the concept of Manage by Design: the integration of design thinking, skills, and experiences into Weatherhead’s MBA cirriculum.
Well, motivated by this experience, in June 2002, 60 managers, designers and scholars gathered at the Weatherhead School of Management in the Frank Gehry design Peter B. Lewis building to consider the topic Managing as Designing. And, they made a video about this experience. It’s available on YouTube in seven parts. Part 1, the Introduction, can be viewed below:
The remaining six segments of the Managing as Designing video can be viewed at the following links:
- Part 2: Why This? Why Now?
- Part 3: Multiple Models
- Part 4: Thrownness
- Part 5: Collaboration
- Part 6: Liquid-Crystal
- Part 7: Legacy
Bloody fascinating! BTW, for a wonderful glimpse into the mind and world of Frank Gehry, check out the DVD Sketches of Frank Gehry.
Tim Brown, as well as being CEO of design and innovation consulting firm IDEO, is also the author of the book Change by Design, publishing in 2009. Here are a couple videos I found where Brown speaks about this thoughts on Design Thinking, and the role design-based approaches can play in solving challenges in larger systems and society.
First, a TED talk delivered by Brown in 2009:
And then an interview with Bruce Nussbaum, also from 2009:
In this video, Brown says the following when asked to provide a definition of “Design Thinking”:
On the one hand, [Design Thinking’s] purpose is to accelarate innovation and our ability to solve some of the problems that face business and society. That’s the way I think of the [purpose of Design Thinking].
And what it is? It starts with people, what many of us here might call Human-centered Design. And then it uses a set of creative tools – the set of tools we have developed as designers like experimentation, prototyping, storytelling, visual thinking – to develop ideas such that they become useful solutions.
So it’s fairly simple. In my mind there’s nothing complex about the idea of Design Thinking.
Brown also talks about the role of participatory design – or “including the people who are ultimately going to deliver the change in the design process”. Talking about participatory design in healthcare, Brown says:
Literally the design teams are made up of nurses, IT specialists, union members, desigers. And they’ve been redesigning the way nurses change shift, they’ve been redesigning the way drugs get delivered, they’ve been redesigning the way information gets delivered to mothers as when they have new babies – lots and lots of processes within the system are getting redesigned.
And I really think that because it’s participative, because the people who are going to be responsible for delivering the change are designing the change, we end up with that change actually happening
As Nussbaum says, in this model of open source or participatory design, the people who used to be “designed for” are now participants and co-creators in the design process.
Next, Brown discusses the importance of applying design thinking to the big problems of our time – deep problems that involve complex systems and social dynamics.
Finally, Brown echoes Roger Martin’s (not sure whom influenced whom) conviction in the importance of divergent, integrative thinking to creative problem solving. In considering this multi-disciplinary approach to problems solving, I’m reminding of the feel that surrounded the founding of the Sante Fe institute – the desire amongst participants to work across disciplines to holistically approach important, fundamental, and often complex problems.
Another person’s work whom I’m just encountering is that of Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. Martin wrote a book in 2009 titled The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage. To be honest, I’ve haven’t read the book, though I do have it on order and look forward to reading it.
I first heard of Roger Martin through an interview by Alexander Osterwalder. Having read Daniel Pink’s book A Whole New Mind, and with Apple’s incredible success designing and launching new technology-based products, I was aware of the view that design is playing an increasingly significant role in business today. My sense is that Martin is part of this “movement”.
I’ve found a couple videos on the web of Martin speaking, but this one looks the most interesting:
I’ll update this post as I learn more about Martin’s views and approach.