That Squiggle of the Design Process

Years ago I dropped a simple illustration into a proposal to convey the design process to a client. It was meant to illustrate the characteristics of the process we were to embark on, making it clear to them that it might be uncertain in the beginning, but in the end we’d focus on a single point of clarity. It seemed to work. And from then on, I’ve used it since. Many many times.

Even years before this, I had the fortune to work at Xerox Europarc as an illustrator. I’d help convey the scenarios the researchers worked on in cartoon form. My father, a principle scientist there, told me that for them the design process started with the abstract, moved to the concept and then finally the design. So I used to use these three words, back in the day, to convey the process of design to my unsuspecting clients. It wasn’t as effective—even if I knew what it meant. So I found myself saying, “Here, it looks like this…” and drawing the squiggle.

More recently at IDEO, the squiggle was discovered by an intern, Adam Sant, who used it (with permission) to mark the IDEO ’06 Interns T-Shirt. I also used it throughout my tenure at the firm, in presentations and for workshops. It particularly helped with my Japanese client to convey the uncertainty in the ethnographic approach we used for our program.

It’s been asked for, referenced, recalled by past clients and colleagues, and overall very useful for characterising what I, and a lot of other people, do. So I’d like to share it, and hopefully it will be as useful for others as it has been in my experience.

Yes—we’re making T-shirts of it, and I’ve got it as a tattoo.

No. I don’t have it as a tattoo. That would be weird.

Enjoy the illustrator file + InDesign file. If you want a CS2 version or any other format, let me know. Take both files if you want the InDesign file to work for you as it links to the squiggle.



If the files don’t download in their native form and get screwed up, you can get both zipped up here: (1.4Mb)

This is licensed by a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


Creative Commons LicenseThe Process of Design Squiggle by Damien Newman, Central Office of Design is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.