There would always come a point in a Sherlock Holmes story when the detective's brilliant deduction would perplex Watson. A bemused Holmes would merely turn to his partner and say, "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains however improbable must be the truth."
Design, like detective work, seeks an answer, a solution to a particular problem. Which is something Harry Brignull, of Clearleft, pointed out during a talk where he spoke about creating an iPad app for a British magazine. He called for a new metaphor for design rather than the old played out one of design as a purely artistic endeavour. Instead the metaphor should be, he said:
Design as detective work.
Take a look at the video below and notice how Harry's company used detective-like work to deduce a problem with their prototype:
What really caught our ears was when Harry said:
Detective work rarely takes you to a solution.
In other words, detective and design work doesn't take you directly to a solution. You have to be willing to take many side streets and wrong paths to get to your destination.
As Harry points out, good detective work is about following leads, no matter where they would lead. This is how we approach problems, be them design or otherwise, at ZURB. We refer to it as opening up the problem, exploring all the possibilities before closing down the problem. Through following those leads, testing out our theories, we eventually define and frame the problem before we begin to close it down. We explore what works, what doesn't. Then we take notes of what went wrong and why so that we can come up with other, and hopefully better, solutions.
Now that's not to say that there's no artistry in design. However, that artistry doesn't matter if the design isn't solving a problem. By exploring possibilities and chasing down leads, honing what works and doesn't work, our designs become much more than just pretty pixels. They become lasting, usable and brilliant works of both art and deductive reasoning. It's elementary, after all.