Jon Daiello Designer + Front-End Engineer

Journal

Tandem Divergent Iteration

What is tandem iteration? It’s the concept of exploring the universe of possibilities with different methods all at the same time. Often, this will include multiple people or teams working independently to achieve the same goal. Whatever method of production you choose to use, tandem iteration can be a powerful asset to your projects.

The Challenge

Immediately, you are probably going to call, “Foul!” You’re wondering,

“Why on earth would you tell different people to go design, build, or architect the same thing independently. What a waste!”

If your only goal is cutting costs or doing the job as quickly as possible, then I see your perspective. From this way of looking at things, you are requesting people to waste time and energy when the problem has already been delegated to someone. This may be true if you are operating under the assumption that a single person can generate a perfect (nearly perfect or even adequate) result. You may even have some confirmation bias where past experiences have shown you that this approach is unnecessary.

I am arguing that there are a high level of benefits (read: return) from a multi-disciplinary approach to divergent iteration. Ok, let’s boil this statement down.

  1. Multi-Disciplinary Approach
    Utilizing a variety of user experience skills throughout the scope of a project or portion of a project. For example you may have each team member approach an interface design from a different UX discipline.
  2. Divergent Iteration
    Splitting team members (or teams) into different directions for individual conceptual and design work independent of one another.

The Requirements

To successfully implement this approach to work there are two main requirements.

1. User Experience Disciplines

First, you need to engage with different disciplines across the user experience field. Here is a short list of the UX disciplines you can consider in your approach to different projects:

  • Design Thinking
    Understanding problems before we try to solve for them. This can also be done through divergent and convergent thinking. This one is fundamental to every other discipline.
  • Strategy (Service Design)
    Understanding what it looks like to win, and how we can get there. (i.e Understanding the values you provide to the user, and creating plans to carry that out.) Focusing on bring the abstract into the concrete.
  • Information Design
    Taking quantitative and qualitative data, and designing it in a way that’s easily understandable for humans. Understand the intent of the information and design it well to communicate it.
  • Interaction Design
    Designing the actions a user would encounter as they move through the concrete layers of the product.
  • Interface Design
    Defining the components of an interface along with their function and value.
  • Information Architecture
    Organizing information in understandable ways.
  • Visual Design
    Focuses on the Proximity Alignment Repetition Contrast (PARC). This is the final polish that makes a product look amazing.
  • Design Facilitation
    Facilitating and fostering great design work. This involved being able to talk through design principles to keep work focused on the overarching design. Identifying team member’s strengths and utilizing them in the UX disciplines.
  • Writing for UX
    Being able to explain and articulate your designs with understandable words.
  • Design Research
    Qualitative research (interviews, polls, focus groups, workshops, etc.) that answer a particular question, or inform other designers in a helpful way.
    Quantitative research (Business Analytics/The Numbers)

Whether you’re a large team or a one-man shop, you can successfully engage with different disciplines in your project. If you’re in a team environment you likely have access to people that are good in one or many of the UX disciplines. If you’re a one-man (or limited) shop, consider using this opportunity to learn new disciplines on a project or task. Exploring these new approaches can give you a broader perspective in your work and lead to greater value in your career over the long haul.

2. Convergence

The second critical part of this process is convergence. I can not emphasize enough the critical nature of the convergent process. Without a clear convergence of the work, divergence is useless. Let me repeat that concept: If you don’t bring the ideation process back together, you end up with a disorganized and wasted effort.

If the convergence process it to carried out successfully, you’ll need to gather all of the assets generated and conduct a review with the teams and teammates involved in the work. You can do this through a formal design review process, or a less-formal standup style report. Either way, you must work together as a team talk through the benefits and drawbacks to the approaches that have been generated.

The Benefits

Now that the process has been better defined and explained, we can take a look at the main benefits of this process. I’ve identified 4 main benefits to this tandem divergent iterative process.

1. Increased Problem Identification

Whenever you approach something from multiple angles you can more quickly begin to identify problems. This is one of the huge benefits to this tandem process. You can identify and prioritize these problems to discover the feasibility of a project. With many perspectives working on a project, your scope of problem identification is increased exponentially.

2. Increased Velocity of Problem-Solving

Problems are exactly that…problems. As you identify your problems and their severity, you can also begin to attack them by designing solutions. The whole design process is oriented around creating solutions to the problems we face every day. Another benefit to this approach is that you can create many diverse solutions that build a better perspective to the problem.

3. Increased Divergence

A design process is only as good as the breadth of its divergence. That means, if you’re prototyping an interface and only explore one option, then you haven’t explored the potential for that interface. On the other hand, if you design 10 different interfaces for that prototype, you’ve learned vastly more about the potential of that interface. With this process, you can create a greater divergence that allows a greater convergence of these ideas to a more cohesive design.

4. Opportunity for Skill Development and Team Betterment

Lastly, a divergent process like this allows for practice across skill-sets. Team members can try out new disciplines inside the field of user experience and gain valuable experience. This leads to skill improvement of your employees as well building better, broader abilities throughout the team as a whole. On the team that I lead, this is something I look out for every-day work. I want to invest in my team-mates. I want to make them better. I want to challenge them and develop them into a deeper more seasoned user experience designer.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are great reasons for you to consider a tandem divergent iteration process. It’s better for the product and better for your team. It helps build a stronger user experience not just for the here and now project, but for the future as well. And, that’s the goal, right? As designers, we’re not in it for the money or the glory. We’re here to serve the user both now and in the future. We’re in it to make a better the digital experience for everyone.