© Gary Swift

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

Version 2.1, June 6, 1995


5.1 Left Brain, Right Brain and Whole Brain Methods

Traditionally, design methods in the engineering disciplines tend to be "left brain", focusing on analytic approaches to problem solving, many invented for the defense and aerospace industry in the 50s and beyond. On the other hand, the design methods in architectural, industrial, graphic and environmental design tend to be "right brain", focusing on conceptualization, synthesis and aesthetics, owing to their historical ties to the arts.
Structured Planning provides a framework for all -- a "whole brain" approach.
Encompassing all theories of creative problem solving, the science of design methodology offers a holistic view where both orientations are equally valid, and neither is more "creative" than the other. A complete design process takes advantage of both where appropriate: left brain approaches for analysis, right brain approaches for synthesis. More importantly, a technique like Structured Planning provides a framework for all - a "whole brain" approach.

5.1.1 Glass Box Theories: Design as Information Processing

Glass box theories are left brain. These view design as a matter of complex information processing and thus tend to foster rational methods and tools whose strengths are in problem identification and analysis. (Most computer companies are engineering driven. Hence, much of the data bearing on designing insights are gathered and presented using left brain problem solving tools.)

Glass box methods and tools include:

5.1.2 Black Box Theories: Design as Magic

Black box theories are right brain. These hold that the creative process is inexplicable, like magic: we know it works but we do not know how. Although psychologists have tried to explain it, much of it is beyond our conscious control. While we can't specify a procedure for the "eureka" experience, we can employ techniques that foster lateral thinking and intuitive ideation. The strengths of these techniques are in solution generation and synthesis.

Black box methods and tools include:

5.1.3 Design as a Self-organizing System

A synthesis of these two seemingly opposed orientations holds that the design process is a self-organizing system. The design process in fact cycles between left and right brain approaches to creative problem solving; you do whatever is appropriate and works, but you do it in a structured way. You organize information from the analysis of the design problem so as to maximize the effectiveness of solution generation.
Structured Planning ... is a metaplanning activity where the design process itself is designed.
Structured Planning is a way to accomplish that sort of self-organization in a design project. It is a metaplanning activity where the design process itself is designed. Moreover, it is grounded in an a paradigm of functional aesthetics that is in turn based on a profound understanding of morphology. Structured Planning is thus perfectly suited to strategic design and breakthrough concepts.

5.2 Participatory Design Methods

Pioneered by social engineers for projects like community planning, the importance of small interdisciplinary teams that include the eventual users of the design has become clear. In the software industry, the design process should support interdisciplinary participation. It should also include input from all the users, including not only those we normally think of as customers (end users, ISVs, OEMs, VEUs, and development partners), but also those responsible for building, integrating, bundling, selling, and supporting the products. Structured Planning provides a framework for this sort of participation in the design research and analysis phase of a project.

5.3 Systems Generating Systems

At its highest level of sophistication a good design process would be a system that generates systems. It would not be geared to simply inventing a series of disjoint individual products. Instead it would be geared to generating a family of products that evolve over time: a product stream of open systems solutions that adapt to changing needs

The Structured Planning process supports this sort of evolution. As described below, it can feed into an evolving design language that serves as corporate memory for product design criteria. This is the sort of methodology required by a software product design framework.