The Four Planets of Design

Concept by Adam Becker and Brie Anne Demkiw
Images by Marly Gallardo
Text by Ian Stewart

We call our design process “deep design” per a talk I gave at WordCamp Europe in 2018. It emerged from the realization that by being so technology-focused, we spent a disproportionate time on Planet Deliver. So we needed to consider the breadth of the process of design as bringing a new kind of “depth” to the work to be done.

“Deep Design” traverses four states. Ideally, fluidly. And never staying for too long in one particular state of being. We liken it to Pablo Picasso’s dynamic work of Light Paintings.

1. Discovery
2. Hypothesis
3. Deliver
4. Listen

Planet Discovery

A person holding a flashlight and walking on a desolate planet. Searching for something in the darkness.
Planet Discovery image by Marly Gallardo

Where we go to understand product landscapes and find the real problems that need answers. Its pull seems safe, but that’s a mistake. Orbits decay quickly, and it’s easy to use up your fuel crafting solutions. Remember — you’re not actually building anything here. Gather information, then move on before you burn up, leaving nothing behind.

Planet Hypothesis

A person holding a beaker with bubbling, dangerous fluids but looking calmly.
Planet Hypothesis image by Marly Gallardo

Visit to test at a rapid pace, using the information mined from Discovery as fuel. The more tests the better; speed now makes you more effective on the further-out planets. Prototype, test, and go. Don’t get too attached to any one test or look for any perfect solutions — you’ll miss the launch window for Planet Deliver.

Planet Deliver

A man fixing a structure in outerspace orbiting a planet with a woman in the background fixing something too.
Planet Deliver image by Marly Gallardo

It’s time to build. This enormous planet offers massive rewards, tempered with massive dangers. As soon as you enter its orbit, the lights start flashing. The smell of ozone hits the air, the walls shake, and the ship feels like it could blow at any time. Here’s where things really start to happen — but beware the seduction of endless discussions and insignificant changes that lead to entropy. Go in with a plan, and get out fast. You can make it.

Planet Listen

A woman in a spaceship cockpit piloting in relation to the orbit of a planet.
Planet Listen image by Marly Gallardo

A secretive, resource-rich planet on the outskirts of this system, only accessible by shippers that made it to Deliver and got out. Circling Planet Listen can feel like inactivity, but the precious fuel mined here will power multiple expeditions — usage is like oxygen for ideas. You may need to warp back to Deliver again and again for the energy to extract it all. It’s worth it.

By John Maeda

I'm a learner. By training.