Design is an infinite game

Are you still playing to win?

In game theory there are two types of games. Finite games are those in which participants obey rules, recognise boundaries and announce winners and losers. While the infinite game has changing rules, flexible boundaries, organic interactions and exist solely for the purpose of continuing the game.

How often have we looked at design as a means to the end. We meet user goals. We meet business goals. And we try and meet revenue goals. But is a designer’s work ever done?

As designers, in our guts, we are never done .This is a problem design has with processes like Agile. The engineering process is looking for a done state. In fact they are looking for a ‘done-done’ state.

Unfortunately, current design processes also operate with a similar mindset. They are also working towards an end state.

Square boxes and linear processes

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John Fire Lame Deer observed that the modern man is a prisoner of self created boundaries. Similarly, design also imposes a lot of boundaries on itself. In fact the most common definition for design is:

Design is the intentional solution to a problem within a set of constraints.

This forces us to move in a tightly constrained fashion.

So while our material possessions may be squares (as per Lame Deer), all our processes are linear. The much hated (and loved) waterfall process of software development is linear. Although Agile is supposed to be iterative, where ever I have worked, I found the implementation to be linear. And most definitely, Design Thinking is Linear.

All popular design thinking processes are linear

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The Stanford D School process is linear. And uses hexagons much to Natasha Jen’s ire. This is more or less the standard pattern that every process following. A few might have some nuances and a few bells and whistles here and there.

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This that is available on website has lines that jump back and forth. Which is a good thing to do. But when you are working with people who want to release an MVP, there is usually no going back in this process.

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And even though this is drawn as a circle, the process in reality is linear. Look at it more closely and you will see that the circle is incomplete at the end. And while that might be a mistake in the illustration, that is the true reality of the software development process.

What we need is a process that promotes readiness for an infinite game. Just like in life, where we strive for human flourishing, in design we should strive for Design flourishing.

And this is what I’m proposing. A Design Flourishing Process.

Stay tined for more about this process in the coming weeks.

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I’m in the process of developing an alternate design process that aims to overcome the drawbacks of the current one. If you wish to know more do get in touch.

Originally published at .

Written by

Heading design at PhonePe | Ex Google | Ex Yahoo

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