Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Learn to Get it On Paper

Visual thinking is an important weapon in the arsenal of a designer. It not only helps solving complex problems but also helps in depicting complex relationships, task-flows, processes, etc. in a simplified manner.

Two days back one of my project managers came to me and requested help for a production support model, which he himself created in Microsoft PPT and was not happy with. He told me that his boxes/blocks model that spread across three slides was not really convincing and presentable. It not only lacked important relationships between components but had some of the components spread across multiple slides. He was not sure how to fit them together on a single piece of paper.

The crux: Information was in his head but not on the paper.

I decided to take the challenge. I sat with him for 2 hours where he explained me the entire model and the components associated with it.

My task was to:
1. Simplify the complexity
2. Establish clear hierarchy and relationship
3. Represent all the components
4. Make everything look presentable to an EVP
5. And create a single diagram.

This is what I created…

And here is the response from my PM after looking at the new diagram:
“This is exactly I wanted and it looks awesome. Thanks a lot!”
Not a bad day, considering that all this happened on Monday.

How did I do it? Here is a simple process:
  1. Jot down all the components on a piece of paper.
  2. Draw all these components on individual 3M Post-Its. Draw people as people and not as boxes; servers as servers, etc. You do not have to be an artist for this. Use simple graphics. Post-Its allow easy movement of components without drawing them all over again.
  3. Paste the Post-Its on a whiteboard or a big sheet and using markers try to draw lines to establish relationships between them.
  4. The art is to minimize the number and criss-crossing of lines.
  5. Move the Post-Its if the current relationships do not make sense.
  6. Keep on repeating step 3,4 and 5 until you have got what you wanted.
  7. Whoa! You are done. What a nice job! :)
Remember, this is an iterative process. The more the time spent on thinking the better the end product gets.