© Gary Swift

Inventing the Future with Structured Planning
Systems Design Methodology for Software Products

Version 2.1, June 6, 1995


In a competitive marketplace good design is an essential part of corporate strategy, and there is a growing awareness of its importance within the computer industry today. For example, user-centered design has always been a core part of product development at Apple which has recently employed psychologist and usability guru Donald Norman. Similarly, IBM is trying to recapture its lead in the industry with innovations like its "Leapfrog" prototype, and by employing design talents such as Edward Tuft in its Strategic Design Department. Indeed, almost every major computer hardware and software company today has an in-house user design group of some sort or another.

This heightened design focus, however, is primarily on the hardware. In the software sector design is still in its infancy, a situation not unlike that faced by depression-era industries as they were just discovering the power and marketability of industrial design. Although attention to user interface issues has grown over the last decade, represented by groups like SIGCHI and the Association for Software Design, the software industry is still largely driven by what can be done (focusing on engineering the internals), not what should be done (focusing on what the users need and want). Meanwhile, design schools and firms have recently scrambled to add user interface or interaction design to their capabilities.

Unfortunately, industrial and graphic designers trained in the tradition of the Bauhaus are good at responding to user needs, but they generally don't understand the technology underlying software, and few have the skills to deal with large, complex open systems. Consequently their contributions, however grounded in a sound understanding of human factors, are largely limited to the cosmetics of "look and feel". On the other hand, those who understand the technology are good at engineering and implementation but they generally pay little formal attention to user design requirements. Those rare generalists who have experience with both user and technical issues typically lack the methodology to apply their design insights to the product in more than a piecemeal fashion.

This document critically scopes the issues faced by today's software products, then describes a systems design methodology to deal with those issues. Called "Structured Planning", it provides a way to find, record, and correlate design insights from many sources, then to map them into a strategy for proble0m solving and design synthesis, and finally to translate them into comprehensive, integrated, systems design specifications. Serving as a front-end to product design and engineering procedures, a strategic design methodology based on Structured Planning could translate a wealth of information about customers, products, and the industry into a product stream of innovative and competitive software solutions.