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2011 Fall Issue 4 (October 7, 2011)

Design logs: valuing process over product

October 7, 2011
By Stuart Urback

A design document (much like an assignment paper) is a traditional plan used by designers to describe and document what they’re planning for a project. The design log outlines the problem, potential challenges, sets guidelines and creates a basic structure for how the designer should solve the problem.

Before continuing, let me properly cite my sources.  I am basing my argument from an article titled “Game Design Logs” on www.lostgarden.com. The author is a well-known and respected game designer who writes about the craft of game design. 

With that out of the way...

The author of “Game Design Logs” argues that the design document often creates an incredibly restrictive structure.  As a result of the constricting guidelines of the document, the designer’s job is reduced to filling in the blanks instead of acting creatively.

Despite his critique of the design document, the author aptly notes there is still the need for documentation.  In the world of design, setting goals and communicating with teammates is incredibly important (much like in academia).
The author proposes the design log as a solution to the restrictive design document (this is also not his original idea either, but a tool that is quickly becoming popular in the design world).   He proposes that the design log may serve as an ongoing digitally documented conversation between the individuals working on a project.

I think this idea could translate perfectly to an academic setting and serve as a great way for students and professors to communicate through the process of working on a long-term project.

For example, the author suggests starting a design log with a concept instead of a rigid plan.  Beginning with a concept would allow the student to respond and develop the outcome of the project based on the research they were doing.  They could end up creating a paper, visual media, presentation, or even website depending on the needs of the project.  Simultaneously, it would be very easy to use traditional assignment guidelines as the first entry.

A log would be unique to the group or individual turning in the project.  The student(s) would input information into the log every time they did new research or work on the project.  A sample entry could be a link (or citation), a short quote, an idea of how the student intended to use the source.  It would be a useful place for students to keep track of their work and reflect on how their thoughts on a project change over time.

The professor could review the document later and make comments to guide the student(s), or to analyze progress.  Ideally, it would be like having a long-term conversation about the work (and would of course, never take the place of face to face discussion). Even if this were to happen only once or twice a week it would be an extremely useful method of quick communication between the group or individual and the professor assigning the work.

As the project neared completion the student could create more concrete entries.  On a writing assignment he or she could include a paragraph they were struggling with or even a sentence they couldn’t decide how to phrase.  The professor could then respond to the problem in that paragraph or sentence already having the context of the rest of the design log to refer back to.

At the end of the term, the professor would have more information to assess the students’ work.  The completed project would show the outcome of the work while the design log would show the evolution and growth of the project throughout the term.  In this way, the professor could potentially give more useful feedback in their comments.
While I feel this implementation would be possible right now, some questions still remain.  Would this take too much time for the professor?  What types of programs could help implement this? (The author suggested staying away from Word, E-mail, or Blogs, favoring a tool like Google Docs instead because of its ability to leave comments.)  Would students be interested in doing this?  What types of projects would work best?    

Ultimately this could be a way to change the emphasis of the evaluation away from the product and point it at what is arguably more important, the process.

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