Notes on Jared Spool’s Anatomy of a Design Decision

From the talk given by Jared Spool at Productcamp, 05/02/2015, link to slides here.

How do we make design decisions? Here are 5 decision-making styles—all have their place, good designers strive to apply the appropriate style

Decision-Making Style 1: Unintentional Design (little focus or thought on anything)

  • Best when our users will put up with whatever we give them and we don’t empathize with their frustrations or care about support costs

Decision-Making Style 2: Self Design (focus on complexity and ease of use)

  • Best when our users are just like us and we regularly use it just like our users do
    • (Sounds like an edge case to me!)

Decision-Making Style 3: Genius Design (focus on designing for users beyond ourselves)

  • Best when we already know our users’ knowledge, previous experiences, contexts and we are always solving the same problems

Decision-Making Style 4: Activity-Focused Design (focus on designing something entirely new to us)

  • Best when we can easily identify uses and their activities; we need to go beyond our own experiences; there’s permission to remove complexity and innovate
  • Example: Designing for a lab where people request tests, find samples, send results etc–activities we have never designed for

Decision-Making Style 5: Experience-Focused Design (focus includes filling the gaps between activities)

  • Best when we want to improve users’ complete experiences, including gaps between activities; we can be proactive about design; game-changing initiatives are top priority
  • Example: Designing for the previous example’s activities, but also considered what it’s like to be a nurse, to be a rotation resident, what is the context where test results are given, what does the total experience look like? etc

2 Types of Decisions:

  1. Rule-based decisions—prevents creative thinking, fails on exception and edge cases
    1. Process informed mostly by dogma and methodology
    2. Decisions made according to preset style guides
  2. Informed decisions—requires creative thinking since it includes all cases
    1. Process informed mostly by tricks and techniques
    2. Decisions made by examining design patterns from various trusted sources

Useful Tips:

  • Use the same style for an entire project. Ensure the entire team agrees upon and understands it
    • The more advanced the style, the more expensive
    • The more advanced the style, the better
  • Agencies often can’t go beyond Genius Design since they tend to not be activity- and experience-focused and they aren’t totally immersed in the design problem context
  • Encourage your team to focus on informed decisions over rule-based decisions
  • Techniques and tricks are more effective than methodologies and dogma

Jared Spool is the founding Principal of User Interface Engineering (, the largest usability organization in the world. And a pretty smart fella….thankfully he believes in sharing his knowledge with us all!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s