Creative Studio


A blog about design, user experience, startups and everything in between.

Design Process: Start From The Core And Design Outward


Have you ever seen how architects plan and design a house? They don’t think of what kind of tiles will go into the shower or what brand of dishwasher to put in the kitchen until the floor plannings are done. Every architect knows that the details will only complicate the process, so that’s why they leave it for later.

I am a firm believer that details make the difference in the long run. But you can’t let yourself drown into them because you will lose focus on what is essential. If you get into details, you will start debating early on in the process, on what is essential and what is not. This will lead to long meetings, management problems, lost time and opportunities. Nail the basics first and focus on the specifics later.

Walt Stanchfield, a famous Walt Disney Studios animator, said once in a lecture: “ignore the details first”. Details don’t buy you anything in the beginning. You will anyways understand better the details once you will start building and use the product. Then you start feeling what is missing. Until then, it’s guesswork.

Designing from the core focuses on true essence first, and then build outward. Let’s take a blog page as an example. You start ignoring the details at the beginning which are: the navigation bar, tabs, footer, side bard, logo, colours etc. Instead, you start with the most important thing first, which is content. What type of content will we have? How much content? How often? How many authors?

Only when you finish with the “floor planning” then you start thinking about the second most critical thing. Then after the second one, you will move to the third essential thing and so on. That is starting from the core. This approach is different from, let’s build the frame and then drop in the content.

In the case of framework first, you start designing the shape first, then you add the nav/footer, then marketing stuff, then the small details and only after that you add the content. You cram the content in what is left. You let the actual purpose of the page be poured in corners. It is a messed up process that takes what should be a top priority and saves it for the end.

This process is taken from the car industry — first you design a car framework, tweak the details and the fit in the rest into it (the chairs, wheel, small details, engine, etc.)

There is nothing wrong with the process, but let’s take another example. What if you want to build a smart electric car? The core of it would be the system or the CarOS (operating system). You would think that we need to design the body first and what type of batteries to use. Not really. Those are already details. In this case, you don’t even need the car at all. All you need is the brain first. The reason why you are building this car is the CarOS, that’s what makes it a smart car. Once you get that right, you focus on the batteries, then on the body, then on the interior and later on other small details.

Designing from the core to outward flips the process and allows you to focus on what matters from day one. Essentials first, extras second. Plus it allows starting the discussion between designers and developers on what matters for your product, rather than waiting for all the details to fall in.

Eugen Esanu