What is parallel design and how does it relate to user interface design?
Parallel design is a method which, broadly applied, can be employed by anyone undertaking a process of creation, but it lends itself particularly well to user interface design. Parallel design starts with a large pool of ideas, uses heuristics to evaluate these ideas, and then selects the best ideas to generate new and better ideas about the new user interface design. It functions very much like the process of natural selection—the strongest ideas survive and go on to produce more ideas and the weak ideas die off. Therefore, parallel design is a process that offers a space for a vast amount of user interface designer input despite the fact that all these ideas will not survive. It is a process that starts big and leads to a constant string of ideas that eventually engender a common solution.
The parallel design process
The parallel design process leaves a lot of room for flexibility. Parallel design is a guiding ideal and does not come with a strict set of procedural guidelines to follow. Still, parallel design does come with a protocol that serves to facilitate the creativity and independence of user interface designers. The parallel design process can be broken down into cycles which comprise the following steps:
- Create user interface designs independently
- Present user interface designs
- Evaluate UI designs
When a UX/UI design team decides to undertake the parallel design process, they typically go through at least four of these design, present, and evaluate cycles in order to eventually converge on a common solution to the problem. Thus, the parallel design process is built upon a foundation of repetition and collaboration and it requires that each member of the user interface design team have as much cooperative energy as creative energy.
Benefits of parallel design in user interface design
One of the major benefits of parallel design is its ability to incorporate internal and external stakeholders into the UI design process equally. Since parallel design frames the solving of a problem as a collaborative process, UX/ UI designers are able to include users as well as people from other disciplines into the presentation and evaluation parts of the parallel user interface design cycle. The many different points of view, expertise, and feedback of those outside the team of UX/ UI designers helps formulate a better solution for a stronger final UI design.
Beyond using the diversity of input for a more successful final user interface, parallel design can help strengthen the relationships and overall purpose of the internal and external stakeholders. Parallel design promotes an environment of cooperation which helps with team-building, thus strengthening the organization. It also allows stakeholders from different disciplines to better understand each other and better understand the mindset of interdisciplinary team members from different disciplines.
Problems with parallel design in user interface design
As with most methodologies, parallel design’s greatest strengths can be its greatest weaknesses. First, a method that relies heavily on the input of many can quickly become bogged down by indecisiveness and petty squabbles. Collaboration is not always as easy to execute in the real world as it is in the theoretical world. Additionally, it is important to keep clear boundaries in terms of information that needs to be left strictly to the user interface design team and information that is made available to other stakeholders. For example, users and other outside stakeholders may not understand the heuristic analysis used during the design cycle of parallel design. Therefore, they should be kept away from the complexities of such specialized problems. Cooperation in parallel design is about finding the common ground that all stakeholders can connect on, not about involving everyone in every aspect of the process, particularly if their skill sets are not up to the task.
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