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Everyone iterates.

Iteration refers to making a series of design versions. This is a classic design practice; its purpose is to push designers past the first expression of ideas in order to build them out, identify their advantages and drawbacks, and revise ideas before prototyping begins.

Iterative Process

An illustration of the iterative process. Every iteration is related to each other and either directly build on the previous round or contradict or change previous iteration(s) so as to act as a comparison or contrast to other iterations.

Most people, in any profession, iterate constantly: they just define the iterations they're making in terms of their immediate outputs, whether those are emails or processes or methods, instead of their strategic goals. In design iteration, teams use iterations as a way to approach the strategic goals of the project as well as fulfill the immediate goals of it.

To understand iteration at the immediate, daily level, think about emails. Any email that requires a bit of thought, whether it's for work or a personal matter, requires iteration. When we write thoughtful emails, we think about what to say. We try out wording, delete words, and move things around until we think we have expressed in the best way what we want to say. Then we send it. All those different email versions were iterations of the email. They weren't the email’s final form; they weren’t even the second or the third. They were how ever many versions that had to be made in order to reach a version that seemed to be the most clear, best way to say what needed to be said.

Turning Insights & Opportunities into Design Iterations

Designs must emerge from Discovery. Below is the process diagram from the HCD Discovery Phase Guides and the Designed Things section of this Guide. Here, the diagram is further developed by the use of puzzles called tangrams to show how each opportunity can be developed into multiple iterations.

Process of turning Insights into Opportunities

*Previous stages in this process are available in the Human-Centered Design Discovery Stage Guides.

The tangrams in the Fields of Opportunity are stand-ins for an iterative design process. Why tangrams? Because a tangram puzzle is a useful way to talk about the cycle of ideation and iteration during the design phase. Every tangram is comprised of the same seven shapes, called tans.

All seven tangram shapes

All seven tangram shapes. Note that each is a different size and shape from the other.

To solve a tangram puzzle, a player looks at an outline of a tangram shape and re-creates the shape using all seven tans, with no alterations and no overlaps permitted. (Find out more about the history of tangram puzzles.) Each different tangram is representative of a new iteration within a field of opportunity cone. And, like design iterations, each tangram takes on similar, though not identical, shapes.

Similarly, the design team is putting together pieces identified in the Discovery Phase, pieces that, through ideation and iteration, become a new product, service, or system.

Tangram puzzles Coming up with only one design option will almost never produce the best solution. That's akin to walking into a supermarket and buying the first apple you see because it’s an apple and you need an apple. You don’t do that. You examine several apples, considering their size, sweetness, and defects in the light of what you need before making the final decision.

Tangram puzzles It is the same with design solutions. You work with many possible solutions to arrive at a selection that is best suited to the needs of your participants.

Tangram puzzles All your iterations are related to each other, but none is identical. Instead, they build on one another, just as all tangrams are built from the same seven shapes into an infinite variety of finished creations.

Additionally, like the constraining rules of the tangram puzzle game—only the seven tans, no alterations, and no overlaps—there are many times your solutions will need to address or operate inside some strict constraints dictated by factors like time, costs, and climate.

In your work, the team has a need to create something new based on research, insights, and opportunities identified in the Discovery Phase. Sometimes, this process can seem daunting or even pointless, but, as in the Synthesis portion of the Discovery phrase, you will find that the more you and your team work with the ideas for design, the more possibilities you will see.

Why Tangrams?

Tangrams are dissection puzzles consisting of seven flat shapes, called tans, which are put together to form shapes. Since a tangram puzzle allows us to create many shapes out of the same component parts, they represent a useful parallel to solving a design problem. If these tangram puzzles were actual design solutions, they would reflect the similarities of their origins while illustrating the process of iterating on ideas. Find out more via this link.