The thinking


In a 2012 essay titled From Blueprint to Genetic Code: The Merits of an Evolutionary Approach to Design, Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, calls for a shift in thinking on how we see design because formats such as blueprints and journey maps are too static, he suggests. Designs can be more adaptable to changes and open to new use, if it is possible to represent them as executable scripts, as in the case of genetic code or software.

As fields and disciplines mature, they are able to represent their knowledge in the form of code. Design is knowledge in executable formats. Music is code. DNA is code. Software is code. Software, service, design, and code are contemporary paradigms. If software is eating the world it is largely through services. Every day there is a new software-defined something, and more solutions are being offered as services. This leads to the idea of “service as software, design as code”.

The thinking is to implement change by encoding it in strategic narratives. Each narrative is a story 16 sentences long in a language everyone can understand, to have a clear, complete, and shared concept of the design. A system called 16x generates the narratives. It is based on the 16 elements of design found in every service. Every sentence of the narrative each is therefore a declarative statement on one of the 16 elements of design.

The 16x frame organizes the elements into logical blocks, like in sudoku. Each block of fixed length stores information in a who-why-how-what format, and itself forms a story thread – with a dramatic arc, or beginning, middle, and end – independently written and read. The blocks define the ‘data structure’ of the 16x frame, and the basis for analysis and synthesis. Every 16x narrative has eight interwoven threads.

Designs in 16x format become readable, referenceable, and reusable. Small changes to an existing script create versions that are huge improvements. They make portfolios of services more manageable. Entire ecosystems of services become more observable and easier to monitor. Changes can propagate through entire families of designs. If we find flaws in one design, we can quickly identify designs with predispositions towards certain kinds of failure.

While this is a new way of thinking, several organizations have made the necessary leap of imagination. 16x has been put to work at Lowe’s, Boeing, Johnson & Johnson, UnitedHealthcare, the US Department of Defense, and, most notably, several agencies of the Netherlands government – among the first to not only use it, but also encourage its development. Designcoders are a small band of professionals, many of them trained in 16x by Majid Iqbal.