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Effects of Idealized Design

So far, we have described the way idealized design is put into practice. However, planners should be aware of an additional dimension to the process. It has a number of beneficial effects on those who engage in it and on their organizations, as follows:

  • Promotes understanding of that which is designed
  • Transforms the designers’ concept of what is feasible
  • Simplifies the planning process
  • Enhances creativity
  • Facilitates implementation

Let’s look at each in turn.

Promotes Understanding

There is no better way to gain an understanding of something than by designing it. Designing something as simple as a door handle on a car requires the designer to understand how the human hand grasps a handle and then turns (or pulls) so that the design produces a comfortable and functional handle.

Furthermore, in the design process, for example, one is forced to consider the assumptions on which the design is based. This consideration frequently reveals the irrationality of some of the features of the existing object and allows for their replacement. For example, in nearly all men’s stores, clothing is arranged by type; a section for suits, another for overcoats, another for shirts, and so on. When a group of male planners engaged in an idealized redesign of a men’s store, it became apparent to them that this arrangement was for the convenience of those who run the store, not its customers. They found that a far better arrangement for customers was to arrange the garments by size, not type of clothing, putting all the suits, coats, shirts, and so on in the same place so that each shopper—small, medium, or large—could find everything he might want in one place. Bookstores have always known this and arrange books by subject (because most browsers know what interests them, even if they do not know which books are available).

Transforms Designers’ Concept of Feasibility

The principal obstruction to what we want most is ourselves. The great American philosopher Pogo recognized this in his classic observation that "We have met the enemy and he is us." Our tendency, however, when we stand where we are and look toward what we want, is to see all kinds of obstructions imposed from without. When we change our point of view and look backward at where we are from where we want to be, in many cases the obstructions disappear.

Banking is a good example. Years ago, banks employed many tellers who handled transactions with customers. They received deposits and filled out deposit slips, cashed checks, and entered interest in savings passbooks. Bankers had to hire legions of tellers as their business grew. However, a few visionary bankers asked themselves what would be the ideal bank. They concluded that it would have few—perhaps no—tellers and would process all the same transactions. This vision led them to create automatic teller machines that allowed customers to do the work rather than the tellers. In turn, this led to online banking, where customers do not even have to go to the bank to manage their accounts. The obstruction bankers thought they faced—how to find and pay all those tellers—disappeared when they realized that banks could operate just as well with a decreasing number of tellers. Although some customers complained about this change, many more were pleased at not having to stand in line waiting to be helped by a human being.

Simplifies the Planning Process

Planning backward from where one wants to be reduces the number of alternatives that must be considered when making a choice of how to get there. It simplifies the planning process considerably.

An organizational example of simplification—requiring the details of planning backward and forward—is too long for our purposes here. So we offer instead an example drawn from a tennis tournament that nicely encapsulates how working backward greatly simplifies idealized design. If 64 players enter a tennis tournament, how many matches must be played to determine the winner? This is not hard to determine. There will be 32 matches in the first round, then 16, 8, 4, 2, and 1, successively. Added together, these equal 63 matches. However, if we start at the end and ask "How many losers would there have to be?" the answer is obviously 63, and no arithmetic is required. The advantage of working backward is even more apparent if we start with a number of players that is not a power of 2, say 57. The arithmetic now becomes complicated because some players must be exempted from the first round to make the number of players left after that round a power of 2. If we work backward, however, it is apparent that there must be 56 losers; hence this number of matches.

Enhances Creativity

Human creativity is as old as humankind, but it was not very long ago that we began to understand what it is. We believe that it is a three-step process. First, it requires that we identify a self-imposed constraint, an assumption that we make consciously or unconsciously that limits the number of alternatives we consider. Second, we must deny or eliminate that assumption as too limiting. Third, we must then explore the consequences of this denial.

These steps are conspicuous in solving a puzzle (because a puzzle is a problem we cannot solve if we make an incorrect assumption). When the solution to a puzzle we have not been able to solve is revealed to us, we want to kick ourselves because we realize that we were the obstruction between the puzzle and its solution.

For example, consider the following puzzle that most of us were confronted with when we were youngsters (see Figure 1.1).

Then you are supposed to place a pen or pencil on one of the dots and, without lifting the pen or pencil from the paper, draw four straight lines that cover all nine dots. It cannot be done unless you deny an assumption of which you may not be conscious: that you cannot draw the lines outside the boundaries of the square formed by the nine dots. If you are not told that you can draw outside the boundaries, however, you must take it that you can. And when this assumption is put to rest, the solution is relatively easy (see Figure 1.2).

Furthermore, other possible solutions exist when all assumptions are ignored. If you fold the paper a certain way, the nine dots can be covered with one line using a felt-tip pen. An eight-year-old watching adults trying to solve this puzzle asked why they did not get a "great big fat pen that covered all the dots and just go blop." No constraints were imposed on the size of the pen used.

Creativity flows from this process.

Facilitates Implementation

A major reason most plans are not fully implemented is that those people responsible for implementing it have no sense of ownership of it. This leads to resentment and subversion of its implementation. Idealized design, however, requires the participation of everyone who will be affected by it. Therefore, ownership of the resulting plan is widely spread among those who must implement it. This avoids resistance and subversion. Implementation of a design and plan based on it is usually carried out enthusiastically by those who had a hand in preparing it.

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