When I was offering freelance design services, I was not comfortable calling myself a "graphic designer". The marketplace, I felt, believed that graphic designers were good at making cool-looking logos and illustrations. While I love that stuff too, my approach to design projects tended to go deep into understanding the problem itself before I drew a swoosh or selected a color swatch.
My search for the unspoken truth behind a given problem reminded me of investigating a crime scene. A potential client would say what they wanted and when, but oftentimes there would be missing context that I would have to tease out to form a more complete working model of what they were doing. I would ask a variation of these questions:
- What is the ACTION you want to take?
- What is the EXPECTATION that you have from completion of the ACTION?
- What is the INTENT behing the action?
- What is your MOTIVATION for handling this now, versus some other time?
I wouldn't have to always ask them one-after-the-other, but I would be taking notes on what each of these elements were so I could imagine what would go toward the solution. Then I would deliver a brief that outlined everything to confirm our understanding.
This is not a popular approach to take with people who just want a logo.
Therefore, I started using the "Investigative Designer" label to indicate that there was more to it. I described it on my old design for hire website as follows:
Applying the Investigative Design Process - I begin every project by asking a few basic questions: What do you want to do? What do you expect will happen? Why are you doing this right now? Why do you think it will work? This line of questioning uncovers the unspoken assumptions that we often forget to mention, and all you need to do is talk; I'll take all the notes and do all the writing while we chat. It takes about 30 minutes, and the end result is your action map that shows all your available courses of actions.
- Investigative Design article from 2007