White Paper: Progressive Design, An Abbreviated Introduction

Good theories are build on dynamic circumstances, i.e. being build for an adaptive solution. In order to process the problem, we must first define the taxonomy and terms, to categories the input and output. The theory of progressive design (PD°), defines four primary principle areas of design, each detailed in four subsequent principles.

All principles brings a different contrast and mindset to the process and will force you to uncover hidden perspectives of your design, balancing all angles, as you build from the inside out, keeping the customer in the center.

Great designs has dimensions, created with progression, like an onion, it has multiple layers and can be unraveled by interaction. There is more then mets the eye, there is a story, a function, a journey, an experience.

Design must transcend the superficial and become rooted within the product at its core, ensuring that your designs don’t become placeboes. True beauty is the story of the product, the customers believe and design spirit. What could the product truly achieve, if it had a language and wanted to communicate?

Design is a perception of the mind, discovering hidden challenges, answered with achievements and managed by passionated people.

There are many processes and theories influencing design, most prominent is lean and measurable processes, engineered to create designs based on data and specifications. From both development houses and design agencies, different perspectives and angles are shaping the solutions, as they manage the process based on their offerings. But the truth is, that they are all right and wrong at the same time, as the answer is in the grey area.

Design is not a question about data, process or approach, as the principles must initially be based on the goal, to create a balanced product through and through. From the people and teams involved in the process to the management ruling the process and shaping the culture. From the critical limitations and concerns to the disruptive blue sky opportunities and budget shortcuts.

The four primary principles of design are,

  1. Perceive, communicating your story, infusing the message, delivering the vision. Design must be emotional, for it to be believable. As a designer you must understand yourself, your capabilities and how to express them.
  2. Challenge, the discovery of questions, broadening your horizon and defining your canvas with critical questions. Design limitations must be known, as wide or narrow they might be. Knowledge is the key to challenge your designs.
  3. Achieve, searching for the hidden meaning, connecting the dots, answering your questions, declaring your creativity in iterations. Design must evolve, as a story, derived from rapid prototyping.
  4. Manage, a visionary culture, carving your rosetta stone, to lead your product rules and principles through lean and agile development, defining your inputs and outputs. Design must be cultivated, based on a shared ideology. Establishing a design language and a strong team, is vital for the design manager.

The tangible work are your challenges and achievements, also described as the why and how. A double question that you must remember as an initial thought to every decision you make.

The intangible work is your perception and management, also described as your mind and your team culture.

The tangible and intangible creates two axis of design, where each pole is balancing you path, to create a meaningful product.

The teachings in this book, can be applied in many different constellations and work on many levels, as each word can be interpreted to fit your circumstances.

The word product refers to all types of customer offerings, which can be services, digital applications, fashion, food, consulting, management, physical products or components of products.

The word company or organization, refers to all types of design paradigms, which can be the entire organization, startups or a single entrepreneuring department within a larger company. It can also be consultants and freelance designers, operating on their own accord, working with companies to implement design methods.


The achievements are specified into the four phases of story, function, journey and experience, also known as the four vertical how phases. As you approach each phase, the product will increasingly add definition and credibility as it approaches the final creation. These phases control the development and moves the process along, focusing on achieving. As design must be balanced, each phase must be subjected to challenges, creating a critical and subjective approach to each achievement.

The challenges are specified into the four phases of strategy, operation, tactic and creation, also known as the four horizontal why phases. Each phase will sequently define an approach to the underlaying achievement phase, as they are applied throughout each stage in the achievement. The four challenge phases will create a critical approach in each achievement, as strategy through creation is subjecting each achievement to the why and how of design. This will balance the two categories and their interdependent departments, that drive these phases. While the achievement is balanced with the challenge, it is important to understand the perceptive mind behind the input and output of each conflict between the two.

The perception is specified into the four phases of poet, engineer, architect and artist, applied on both axis in the matrix, as the perception is an approach of both challenges and achievements. This creates stages where one or two mindsets are applied to the stage at hand, working the input and output. The perception of the challenge is questioning the input and the perception of the achievement is reflecting on the output. While the perception is creating a point of view on achievements and challenges, rules must be applied from principles and culture, to manage the design in an organizational structure.

The management is specified into the four phases of ideation, exploration, application and solution, also known as the four ruling phases. These phases are dividing both challenges and achievements into subcategories. As the management phases are implemented as loopbacks, where phases will be subjected to segmentation, as each management phase covers half of two achievements and challenges. This will secure that the management and the departments within, is interdependent between the covering stages.

Staging Your Design

The methodology of progressive design PD° describes sixteen stages as an iterative and adaptive company template. A stage is a practical step in a chronological order, driving your design step by step. Each loop in the progressive design matrix is a product variation, defining version by version. As you approach the final sixteenth stage, you will start to define the next iteration as you start over, creating or alternating the concept in the never ending evolution in your product design.

Each stage is defined by the categories and the specific phases applied, thus subject to a specific mindset, culture, question and answer technic. While each stage differ in approach, so do the category, as you move through the template, you also move through the different phases within the category, shifting the approach for each category applied to the stage.

Process your design through the following sixteen stages in chronological order:

  1. Opportunity, understanding your story. In this stage you will discover your hook, what customer circumstance your product will solve. This is your first and initial stage where all ideas are applied into a poetic brief, describing your intensions purely as a poet. This is the initial offer that you are prepare to deliver to the market, defining all the elements that must be part of that offer.
  2. Persona, finding your market segment. While you have discovered your concept, you must define the limitations and customer needs within the market. In your persona theory, you will discover the real life situations and circumstances that the concept must adapt to.
  3. Investment, calculating your tactical investment. As your persona theory is applied, you can define your investment accordingly for the specific personas chosen.
  4. Napkin, creating your first rough storyboard, illustrating your stories, nicknamed a napkin prototype. As the investment is made, your napkin will prove the economy and your amount of work, as an early validation, before spending more then necessary. In this stage, the project can quickly be terminated if the result is a disaster or reevaluated if necessary.
  5. Potential, finding the possibilities, the blue sky dreams.  While your napkin has proved the validity of your ideas, the research will now discover how far your ideas can take your design.
  6. Requirement, defining your technical obstacles and needs. While your research has defined your canvas, your diagrams will limit your choices as limitations must be made, restricting your abilities within reality and purpose.
  7. Framework, creating a faster, leaner and stronger path to your product creation. As the diagrams has grounded your ideation, your framework will deliver a structure, strengthening your design and adaptability in future development.
  8. Paper, creating your first rough hands-on prototype, nicknamed a paper prototype. As the framework is established, it will now be implemented into a rough prototype, to test its strength. The paper prototype implements small but vital purpose build explorations.
  9. Interaction, understanding your users behaviors and interactive needs. As the paper prototype has validated you ideation and exploration, your interactions will relate to the customers actions and reactions.
  10. Expectation, validating the interactions against customers actions and reactions, operating the roller coaster ride of customer emotions.
  11. Component, synthesizing your product into synonyms and components. As the principles have streamlined the product, it must be subjected to simplicity and fierce reduction. As you reduce redundancy and establish simple denominators, your apply these findings to components. The components will secure that there is consistency in the communication and the functionality, without confusing the user, while also creating a faster production process.
  12. Cardboard, creating your second refined hands-on prototype, nicknamed a cardboard prototype. As the components has been defined, you will now subject them to your second prototype, building and refining your framework.
  13. Believe, understanding the users desires and emotional relation to your product. Your cardboard prototype has validated the user journey and is now ready for the magic and the experience. This is where you must explore the products emotional expression, to achieve customer believe and trust.
  14. Language, finding the accent in your language, that will resonate with the customers, communicating at the level of expectations. As the expectations has been aligned, you will apply your findings as an accent, a designers language. This a a process of communication and establishing a relation with the user.
  15. Fidelity, shaping the product as a user- or ego-centric design. This is where the designer will shape the final image, the final stroke on the canvas, applying soul into the last details. This is a critical stage, where it is easy to force the product, which might be behind deadline or running out of resources. In this stage, you must make sure that you tie all lose ends and apply a tactical eye to your processes and organizational weight, pressuring you to finalize the production.
  16. Concrete, creating the final prototype, nicknamed a concrete prototype. This prototype is often an MVP candidate, ready for early release, before going into a more mainstream and refined production process. This is the final stage, where the product is either ready for deployment or production. As the concrete prototype has implemented the fidelity work, the product has added its final layer and concluded the solution, ready to restart its next iteration, incrementing the version number on the product.

This article is from the book, Product Design Dilemmas. A modern design ideology for customer driven designers and managers.