How to use iterative design to fuel innovation

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Practice makes perfect.
Try and try until you succeed.
Be the best version of yourself.

We’ve all heard these idioms before. They’ve been ingrained in our minds since childhood. We’re hardwired to keep going and getting better, to survive and thrive. When we’re faced with problems for the first time, we take a first crack at it, and when we fail, we try again, each time doing something differently from how we did things previously until we find a solution that sticks.

In essence, this is what we do when we engage in iterative design.
Cycles, not linear steps, save time, and money, and produce better outcomes. The iterative design process allows us to continuously improve our designs, while also addressing any changes needed to stay on course with the product’s original goals. By gaining quick insights into what works and what doesn’t, we increase the likelihood of successfully meeting project objectives.

But how does iterative design help us innovate?

There are three things that set iterative design apart from traditional problem-solving. First, it allows multiple ideas and concepts to be tested rapidly, which presents a wider variety of options to choose from at the end. Second, it encourages critical thinking and collaboration amongst team members, with each person taking responsibility for their assigned tasks. Finally, it allows us to have a focused and realistic view of the outcome from the start, so we can better manage expectations with our clients, customers, and stakeholders.

It’s easy to think of an iterative design process as a series of connected steps or phases that work together towards a common goal. The process begins with an initial idea to be developed, followed by several intermediary steps where ideas are tested, evaluated, and refined. The final step solidifies all the design details into something complete and functional.

While it’s easy to understand how each individual phase contributes toward innovation, what’s less obvious is how the phases work together to support an iterative design process. That’s why, at its core, iterative design requires everyone involved in the project to be open to the possibility of change —both immediate and on the blurry horizon.

Parker Lee

Parker Lee is the managing partner of Territory, a design consultancy, who has developed and led teams in transformation, design thinking, and business development for decades. Co-author of The Art of Opportunity, he has created and facilitated dozens of design and visual thinking engagements.

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