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Friday, October 16, 2009

Design Process Models

Design Process Models Paper
Julie Malone
University of Phoenix
OI 462 Business Management and the Principles of Design
Ray S. DePuy, PE
November 24, 2008


A design process model consists of a series of activities and methods drawn together in a way which meets the requirements of a problem or project in order to achieve an intended purpose, goal or outcome. Although, the models have similarities within companies, models can have different design processes which vary depending on the size, scale and nature of the problem. This report describes four different design process models and distinguishes between their similarities and differences. In addition, the report identifies a model that best fits a company known as Pixar Animation Studios.

Design Process Models Paper

Designers play a central role in shaping the world around us. People, products, and places are all touched by a design that was created and produced by a company. Design at any company can be an innovative and ambitious undertaking especially when building on the existing strengths of the current structure. Different designers manage the process of design in different ways. Following are four ways that companies use the design process models, including a sample of a familiar company known as Pixar Animation Studios.

Internal Creative Process of Design

When the design process becomes a creative act within a company, it presents a five-stage model called the internal creative process of design that describes what designers do when working on a problem consisting of defining, understanding, and thinking about the problem, developing an idea, and detail, design, and testing the final product. This model focuses on how designers can think through a problem (reason for the model name).

The creative process is rarely linear since new information or insights may require designers to return to an earlier stage and amend the definition or design at any stage. When problems emerge within the organization, the designer’s results are evaluated and developed further elsewhere in the company. A new product or corporate identity will be launched having an effect on the company’s environment and creating new design problems.

This particular model recognizes the difference between the process used by the individual designer, design skills use to solve a problem, and the design process as the strategic planning of product development. The model demonstrates the design process as it occurs from the individual’s perspective and describes the thought process as the problem is addressed, which is often personal and based on education and experience (Cooper and Press, 1992, p. 36).

External Productive Process of Design

In contrast, on a corporate level the process called the external productive process of design (reflects two key activities of planning and production) has a much broader scope and incorporates external factors such as finance, marketing and tangible measurable aspects of business. The external productive process of design includes:
• Concept: Developing concepts that fulfill given objectives.
• Embodiment: Structural development of the most suitable concept.
• Detail: Confirming precise specifications and production processes.
• Production: Manufacturing the product or providing the service.
This model succeeds in reflecting a combination of the corporate design process and the individual designer’s process, and its more structured methodology and process to design activities can help to anticipate problems and manage risk (Cooper and Press, 1992, p. 38).

Total Process of Design within Management

In the total process of design within management model, objectives are set within each phase, planning procedures are established, and methods of evaluation implemented. The input to the concept phase is a design brief, which defines the nature of the problem (market research) to be solved. The output from the production phase is a product or service which meets the requirements of the brief. This is distributed and advertised, performance evaluated, and a new or amended brief may be set depending on if market research if required.

Hollins and Hollins (Cooper and Press, 1992, p.38) compared their concept of the total design to Walker’s and came to the conclusion that the total design should include an indication of market pull or technical push, emphasize the multidisciplinary and iterative nature, and to explain that the purpose is to produce a product or service, and goes beyond the start of production, including the issues of product disposal. Total design integrates market research, marketing strategy, engineering, product design, production planning, distribution, and environmental monitoring within one cyclical model. Both theories see design as internally applying new technologies, developing product concepts and externally meeting the needs of the market and the wider environment, and guided by planning process. Both see design as a process involving more than just design skills. The difference between the two theories is that Walker’s design process contained on one side by planning and production on the other side.
The total process of design within management model is based around the internal and external environment of a company. The Internal and external part of the environment include the brief, proposals, product launch, market test, and research. These five areas encompass objectives, concept, embodiment, detail, production, advertising, distribution, use, perceived value, and reassess. Planning, design and development, production, and market response surround everything (Cooper and Press, 1992, p.39).

Design as a Planning Process

Design as a planning process, begins with the design process, extending out to information collection (markets, technological innovation and competitor activity), strategy (product, distribution, marketing, and production), and specification (product performance characteristics, product image, production processes and allied activities) that develops strategic planning on new product development (Cooper and Press, 1992, p.41).

Similarities and Differences

Each design process model of internal creative process of design, external productive process of design, total process of design within management, and design as a planning process all have the similarity of sharing the basic process of defining a problem, developing an idea, design, and testing the final result. The difference between all four is the expansion of the process. The internal creative process of design works internally and uses the basic process; external productive process of design goes beyond the basic process and uses external factors such as finance and marketing; total process of design within management uses both internal and external parts of the environment and the process is extremely thorough from conception to production; design as a planning process tends to “plan” the design by using product specifications and gathers information for research.

Design Process Model at Pixar

Pixar Animation Studios (filmmaking process) can be described as an internal creative process of design since designers define and contemplate a problem, develop ideas, provide a detailed design, and test the particular piece of artwork. The artwork may require designers to return to an earlier stage and amend a design at any stage. When problems emerge with a particular piece, the designer’s results may be evaluated and developed elsewhere at Pixar. Each designer used personal education and experience during the process. Pixar’s design process is based on a few simple approaches, traditional skills (drawing, painting, sculpture and storytelling, and low-tech (rather than high-tech). The designers work as a team and ideas are developed slowly using an iterative process that adds value to everyone’s work (Pixar, 2001).


The above report introduced four types of design process models and how each worked within a company, a comparison of how each model offered similarities and differences, and provided Pixar Animation Studios as a sample of a model. As one can see, each design originates as the basic process, but then expands with the process needs of the company.


Cooper, R. & Press, M. (1992). The Design Agenda: A Guide to Successful Design
Management. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

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