The Synthesis Process

The synthesis period in the design process, according to Kolko, can be split into three different steps with different methods available to help complete them. The sections he isolates are Prioritizing, Judging, and The Forging of Connections. Here is a short explanation of each step:

Prioritization: The step in synthesis where the designer prioritizes subjectively the important information of their past research. A way to do this is to agree on a set of guidelines the information must follow and then subjectively scale the importance of said information.

Judging: What is the relevant information that has been filtered through prioritizing? Is this information relevant to the problem the designer is trying to solve? This step is primarily there to re evaluate the priorities you have set but with a global view of the problem.

Forging of connections: The step in which the designer will try to create connections  between the different elements they have isolated so far. Another way to view it is the creation and identification of the stories and patterns within the elements.

Many methods can be used to help the synthesis process, I will outline some in my next post. When and how to use each method is to the designers discretion and often varies with the problem they are facing and the information they have gathered.

Design is a story

"… During synthesis, it is not the discrete elements of data that are interesting so much as the relationship between these elements. Identifying a relationship forces the introduction of a credible (although rarely validated) story of why the elements are related." - Jon Kolko

The fact that design synthesis creates stories out of research is a beautiful way of understanding it’s importance in the design process. If synthesis creates stories, then design is the story. This definition of design as a story is echoed in this linked video by non other then one of the most important storytellers of the past 10 to 20 years, Pete Docter, a screenwriter, animator and director at Pixar (Monsters inc., UP)

Pete Docter on Design being a Story

Damien Newman, the creator of the “squiggle”, explains briefly the Synthesis process his agency has used to try and provide insights to the problem of over fishing that has arisen over the past 30 years. He doesn’t specifically name any method that they are using but they do seem to use a combination many different ones. The first method that is apparent is “insight combination”, the process of combining research with personal experience to provide insights. Another method his agency seems to use is a method of creating interesting stories out of key points, a similar process to the concept mapping.

The most interesting aspect of this video is how “Central" (Damien Newman’s agency) are demonstrating the use of these methods in a collaborative environment using post it notes of different colour on a white board. This video demonstrates the versatility of synthesis methods by being both helpful to an individual and a group by creating an opinionated discourse to structure information.

Jon Kolko gives a short presentation about “The phenomenon of Synthesis” at a Ted conference. It is powerful in it’s brevity and concise nature and suggests “insight combination" and "reframing" as two useful synthesis methods. If you enjoy his methods and viewpoint you can find longer presentations (the PDF’s) on his website http://www.jonkolko.com/

handy hint: I would suggest the PDF “Methods of Synthesis”

Considering Design synthesis is a part of the design process it is  quite important to first try and explain this process. After all, it is extremely chaotic considering how  clear a final design outcome ought to be. This illustration… or  “squiggle” is what I believe to be the best representation I have come  across of this chaos. Damien Newman the creator of the  squiggle explains how it came about.

"Years ago I dropped a simple illustration into a proposal to convey  the  design process to a client. It was meant to illustrate the   characteristics of the process we were to embark on, making it clear to   them that it might be uncertain in the beginning, but in the end we’d   focus on a single point of clarity. It seemed to work…" Damien Newman

This squiggle has spread like wildfire in the last few years and it  should be mentioned that Damien Newman has released it as creative  commons on his companies website here. Another reason this image was posted is that it works beautifully to illustrate synthesis as it  visualizes the funneling of chaos into a single actionable point.

Considering Design synthesis is a part of the design process it is quite important to first try and explain this process. After all, it is extremely chaotic considering how clear a final design outcome ought to be. This illustration… or “squiggle” is what I believe to be the best representation I have come across of this chaos. Damien Newman the creator of the squiggle explains how it came about.

"Years ago I dropped a simple illustration into a proposal to convey the design process to a client. It was meant to illustrate the characteristics of the process we were to embark on, making it clear to them that it might be uncertain in the beginning, but in the end we’d focus on a single point of clarity. It seemed to work…" Damien Newman

This squiggle has spread like wildfire in the last few years and it should be mentioned that Damien Newman has released it as creative commons on his companies website here. Another reason this image was posted is that it works beautifully to illustrate synthesis as it visualizes the funneling of chaos into a single actionable point.

What is Design Synthesis?

First off, I think it’s important to mention that Design Synthesis can’t be explained in one post. Yet with the help of specialists and my humble paraphrasing I’ll give it my best shot.

Firstly it’s important to mention that the word “design” in Design synthesis is just there to specify that we are talking about the design process. Synthesis itself is used in many professions but this blog will be promoting the methods used specifically in design.

Synthesis is an important part of the design process and happens when a designer takes all the research and data collected previously to try to create new insights with actionable objectives. Jon Kolko the Executive Director of Design Strategy at Thinktiv defines it this way

"Design synthesis is an abductive sensemaking process of manipulating, organizing and filtering data in an effort to produce information and knowledge."  Jon Kolko, 2010

I would suggest you have a dictionary handy to dissect half these words but it is a good, short and concise way of defining Design synthesis.


The Synthesis Process

The synthesis period in the design process, according to Kolko, can be split into three different steps with different methods available to help complete them. The sections he isolates are Prioritizing, Judging, and The Forging of Connections. Here is a short explanation of each step:

Prioritization: The step in synthesis where the designer prioritizes subjectively the important information of their past research. A way to do this is to agree on a set of guidelines the information must follow and then subjectively scale the importance of said information.

Judging: What is the relevant information that has been filtered through prioritizing? Is this information relevant to the problem the designer is trying to solve? This step is primarily there to re evaluate the priorities you have set but with a global view of the problem.

Forging of connections: The step in which the designer will try to create connections  between the different elements they have isolated so far. Another way to view it is the creation and identification of the stories and patterns within the elements.

Many methods can be used to help the synthesis process, I will outline some in my next post. When and how to use each method is to the designers discretion and often varies with the problem they are facing and the information they have gathered.

Design is a story

"… During synthesis, it is not the discrete elements of data that are interesting so much as the relationship between these elements. Identifying a relationship forces the introduction of a credible (although rarely validated) story of why the elements are related." - Jon Kolko

The fact that design synthesis creates stories out of research is a beautiful way of understanding it’s importance in the design process. If synthesis creates stories, then design is the story. This definition of design as a story is echoed in this linked video by non other then one of the most important storytellers of the past 10 to 20 years, Pete Docter, a screenwriter, animator and director at Pixar (Monsters inc., UP)

Pete Docter on Design being a Story

Damien Newman, the creator of the “squiggle”, explains briefly the Synthesis process his agency has used to try and provide insights to the problem of over fishing that has arisen over the past 30 years. He doesn’t specifically name any method that they are using but they do seem to use a combination many different ones. The first method that is apparent is “insight combination”, the process of combining research with personal experience to provide insights. Another method his agency seems to use is a method of creating interesting stories out of key points, a similar process to the concept mapping.

The most interesting aspect of this video is how “Central" (Damien Newman’s agency) are demonstrating the use of these methods in a collaborative environment using post it notes of different colour on a white board. This video demonstrates the versatility of synthesis methods by being both helpful to an individual and a group by creating an opinionated discourse to structure information.

Jon Kolko gives a short presentation about “The phenomenon of Synthesis” at a Ted conference. It is powerful in it’s brevity and concise nature and suggests “insight combination" and "reframing" as two useful synthesis methods. If you enjoy his methods and viewpoint you can find longer presentations (the PDF’s) on his website http://www.jonkolko.com/

handy hint: I would suggest the PDF “Methods of Synthesis”

Considering Design synthesis is a part of the design process it is  quite important to first try and explain this process. After all, it is extremely chaotic considering how  clear a final design outcome ought to be. This illustration… or  “squiggle” is what I believe to be the best representation I have come  across of this chaos. Damien Newman the creator of the  squiggle explains how it came about.

"Years ago I dropped a simple illustration into a proposal to convey  the  design process to a client. It was meant to illustrate the   characteristics of the process we were to embark on, making it clear to   them that it might be uncertain in the beginning, but in the end we’d   focus on a single point of clarity. It seemed to work…" Damien Newman

This squiggle has spread like wildfire in the last few years and it  should be mentioned that Damien Newman has released it as creative  commons on his companies website here. Another reason this image was posted is that it works beautifully to illustrate synthesis as it  visualizes the funneling of chaos into a single actionable point.

Considering Design synthesis is a part of the design process it is quite important to first try and explain this process. After all, it is extremely chaotic considering how clear a final design outcome ought to be. This illustration… or “squiggle” is what I believe to be the best representation I have come across of this chaos. Damien Newman the creator of the squiggle explains how it came about.

"Years ago I dropped a simple illustration into a proposal to convey the design process to a client. It was meant to illustrate the characteristics of the process we were to embark on, making it clear to them that it might be uncertain in the beginning, but in the end we’d focus on a single point of clarity. It seemed to work…" Damien Newman

This squiggle has spread like wildfire in the last few years and it should be mentioned that Damien Newman has released it as creative commons on his companies website here. Another reason this image was posted is that it works beautifully to illustrate synthesis as it visualizes the funneling of chaos into a single actionable point.

What is Design Synthesis?

First off, I think it’s important to mention that Design Synthesis can’t be explained in one post. Yet with the help of specialists and my humble paraphrasing I’ll give it my best shot.

Firstly it’s important to mention that the word “design” in Design synthesis is just there to specify that we are talking about the design process. Synthesis itself is used in many professions but this blog will be promoting the methods used specifically in design.

Synthesis is an important part of the design process and happens when a designer takes all the research and data collected previously to try to create new insights with actionable objectives. Jon Kolko the Executive Director of Design Strategy at Thinktiv defines it this way

"Design synthesis is an abductive sensemaking process of manipulating, organizing and filtering data in an effort to produce information and knowledge."  Jon Kolko, 2010

I would suggest you have a dictionary handy to dissect half these words but it is a good, short and concise way of defining Design synthesis.


The Synthesis Process
What is Design Synthesis?

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This is a blog created to try and dissect, study and ultimately understand various methods of design synthesis. Ideally it will be used as a potential educational tool as we believe strongly in the idea that the best way to learn is to teach.

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