- It starts with an idea.—In the beginning, somebody has an idea. They see a market opportunity, or they see a solution to a problem, or they see something that they find fun or enjoyable. They have vision, they imagine a product or service, and they want to make a commitment to make it real. That is where it begins: in the mind, in the realization that an opportunity possibly exists to create something new and different—or better.
- Then, the idea must become real.—Having an idea is not enough. For the idea to have value, a company must make it real. If it does not work, there is no product. For a software product, making an idea real requires engineering, and engineering can also produce the product’s user interface. It may not be very usable or attractive, but at least it can work. It is through engineering that the product becomes real.
- Finally, the real must become ideal.—This is where design often enters the equation today. Once engineering has built a functional product, people realize they need to make it more attractive and/or usable, and formal, professional, intentional user interface design becomes necessary.
Traditionally, before the industrial age and particularly before the discovery of various forms of convertible energy such as crude oil or coal, making ideas both real and ideal was design: it was the entire process of giving an idea form, shape, structure, and function. A single person could take creating something like a great dining table from idea to fully realized product. But once we learned how to convert various natural materials into energy, the problems of creation became exponentially more complex. There are many scientific and mathematical issues around integrating and using these forms of energy in products. For example, there are thousands more variables in creating a jet airplane as opposed to a horse-drawn cart, specifically because of the highly complicated physics and chemistry and the overall complexity that accompany such manufacturing. The amount and degree of knowledge this takes is beyond the capacity of any one human being.
Creating software is similar, in that making software requires a great deal of engineering acumen, which typically requires a very different skill set, process, aesthetic, and training than user interface design. Whereas with a table, one person (the designer) could accomplish both the what (idea) and how (creation), software requires another complicated step (engineering) to provide the how. This is true to a large degree on a product’s back end and to a lesser degree on its front end. It is highly unusual and—in the case of large or complex products, literally impossible—for any one person to craft the entire thing in a truly skillful way.