Book Review: How Designer’s Think: The Design Process Demystified by Brian Lawson (4th Edition).

A month ago, in preparation for an in-house design workshop, we handed out 30 copies of Brian Lawson’s Book “How Designers Think:The Design Process Demystified” to our designers. I first came across the first edition of this book nearly 10 years ago when I started a job at a small design firm in Salt Lake City. I had just moved from a large fairly structured company into a small, very organic company with very little structure at all. I found a first edition book on the company bookshelf and started reading.

I’ll have to admit that the first read was very difficult. The book is quite academic – the author approaches the subject from the perspective an architect who also happens to have doctorate in psychology. Most of the examples in the book discuss architecture and it can take some extra mental work to draw parallels to the profession of graphic and interaction design. In many ways, I found Lawson’s book to be very refreshing.

Lawson’s unique background allow him to approach design from a unique “scientific” perspective, while his design background from architecture, a design discipline provides a balanced perspective. It doesn’t go to far into esoteric design theory that is often discussed by practicing designers, and it doesn’t try to be to prescriptive, a fault which often appears when scientists and engineers write about design. He is able to talk in the language of design, where other authors like Don Norman and Jacob Nielson seem to speak about design in the language of science. There’s actually a great chapter in the book where Lawson illustrates the difference between the scientific approach, and the “designerly” approach. It’s especially comforting to hear it from someone who has practiced both disciplines.

I think that this unique perspective makes the book especially interesting and useful to any practicing designer. Lawson covers the essence of design, the definition of problems, and artfully describes different approaches to the design process. His model of the design process is the best I’ve ever found (chapter 3). He describes design as a “negotiation between problem and solution through the activities of analysis, synthesis and evaluation.” Other essentials deal with strategies for measuring the success and value of design (Chapter 5), and chapter 7 provides an excellent overview of the nature of design solutions, problems, and processes (chapter 7).

My favorite chapter, and the one that has influenced my work perhaps the most, is chapter 13: Design Traps. Lawson outlines several common traps that designers find themselves in. You can’t read this chapter and not have an “aha” moment, or cringe at the things which might be affecting your design right now.

I consider this book a “must read” and believe that it is one of the best books on the subject. The viewpoint is unique, and it provides beneficial knowledge that will help you in all aspects of the design profession.

We’re looking forward to the discussion next Friday.

posted by John Dilworth on Thursday, Jul 10, 2008
tagged with design, books