Designing in the Linear... but Repeated

Prophet. "You value your ignorance of what is to come?"

Sisko, "That may be the most important thing to understand about humans. It is the unknown that defines our existence. We are constantly searching, not just for answers to our questions, but for new questions. We are explorers. We explore our lives, day by day. And we explore the galaxy, trying to expand the boundaries of our knowledge. And that is why I am here. Not to conquer you with weapons or ideas, but to co-exist and learn."

- Deep Space Nine: Emissary

Harvest Moon over Lynnwood

Sometimes we think of linear design as strictly a step-by-step process that holds no possibility of using our imagination. However, the reality is that when we design in the linear an unlimited number of possibilities can occur. We generally try to set some sort of strategy with our design. With each new consequence that our strategy creates, the final design begins to take on more shape. But we never really know what will happen until we come to the end.

In contrast, dynamic design (nonlinear) is simply the repetition of a series of linear. This is because we are locked in by the concept of time — we exist in the linear. Of course, each repetition should bring something new or we will simply be repeating ourselves. The value of repeating the linear by bringing something new to it is that it brings the possibility of learning from new information. That is, our previous linear experience brought about certain consequences... some of them unintended, thus we now have new information that we can connect with our design.

“The value of any piece of information is only known when you can connect it with something else that arrives at a future point in time,” - Ira “Gus” Hunt.
The value of dynamic design is that it allows us to connect new information that we previous didn't have. Each repetition of the linear is called an iteration that normally comes in two forms:

  • Design or interpretive iteration — testing a learning method, function, feature, etc. of the learning or training process to see if it's valid.
  • Release iteration — releasing it to the business unit or customer even though it may not be fully completed or functional because we believe that it is good enough to be of use.
We have at least five design methodologies to use, depending upon our needs (see A Table of Five Design Models):


ADDIE normally uses two types of Procedural Analysis Methods. When the task to be learned is primarily overt behavior, there are set procedures to follow, and you have an expert performer, Behavioral Task Analysis is normally used. Since this is one of the more easier analysis to perform, few or no design iterations are required.

The Information Processing Analysis tool is used when there are both overt steps that require a set order and covert steps that require decision making of a yes or no nature (if, then, else), which means Flow Charts are good tools for this method. Since there are behaviors that cannot be seen, more design iterations are normally needed.

Design Thinking

Design Thinking often uses Rule Based Analysis Methods as there are no set procedure for performing the task and most of the task steps are normally of an overt nature.

Two forms of analysis can be used, GOMS Analysis and the Critical Decision Method. The task to be learned may best be represented by one or the other and sometimes both.

GOMS analysis is good if you can readily determine the Goal, Operations, Methods, and Selection rules (see Rule Based Analysis Methods). Since you have four main branches, mind or concept maps are good tools to use. Because the behaviors are mostly covert, several design iterations are normally used in order to fully capture all the required behaviors.

If you have an expert performer who has recent experience then the Critical Decision Method is a good method as it allows you to capture their stories in a case study format.

Agile Design

Agile Design is primarily used when the final product (learning or performance process) will take some time to fully complete but can be of use to the customers. Thus, release iterations are used as the benefit is that the customers will get part of the product without having to wait for long periods of time.

Both Rule Based Analysis and Procedural Analysis Methods are normally used, however the problem should be complex enough that it will take several weeks or months to complete the final product (if it only takes a short while there is little need to make constant release iterations).

System Thinking

The System Thinking method is for processes that will be implemented across several parts of the organization. Since each part normally has particular needs that must be met it often requires that trial tests (iterations) be run in each part to ensure it meets all the customers needs. The result of these iterations will determine the need, if any, for more iterations while the product is fined tuned for each part of the organization.

X Problems

We are constantly searching, not just for answers to our questions, but for new questions. It is this unknown that defines our existence for it is at this point that we can expand the limits of our knowledge. The X Problems method is a good choice for this exploratory nature in us. Since it is exploratory, several design iterations are often required. In addition, release iterations are also often used if it is believed that what we learned so far will be of use to our customers.

1 comment:

Bart Miller said...

Incredible to discover your blog as I embark on my summer professional development project focused on design. Thanks for posting, looks like I have a lot of quality reading to do.