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With the parallel design technique, several people create an initial design from the same set of requirements. Each person works independently, and when finished, shares his/her concepts with the group.
The design team considers each solution, and each designer uses the best ideas to further improve their own solution. This process helps to generate many different, diverse ideas and ensures that the best ideas from each design are integrated into the final concept.
What is most striking about parallel design is how many ideas can be considered in a very short time period.
Seeing and trying others' designs improved final solutions
Parallel design works because each team member can generate ideas from seeing other team member’s designs. What teams find is that no matter how good the original interfaces were, every one was improved. Team members quickly identify good design ideas and effectively integrate those ideas into their own designs.
Creating many designs produced better results
In a case study entitled Improving System Usability Through Parallel Design (1996), Jakob Nielsen supported the value of parallel design (i.e., multiple designers working independently on interface designs). Case study results showed the improvement in measured usability from version 1 to 2 was 18 percent with traditional iterative design and 70 percent with parallel design.
What Others Have Shown
McGrew (2001) published an article confirming the value of parallel design. He applied parallel design to develop an invoice reconciliation program interface. Designers included the project manager, team members from the software and hardware team, two subject matter experts, three users and McGrew (who is a human factors engineer).
The team worked independently and sketched a proposed design using paper and markers. Sketches were posted on the wall and reviewed. Participants then each sketched two additional designs. McGrew required that each new design include at least one idea from another person's design and an idea that no one had yet proposed.
After design review, the team began to agree on an optimal design fairly early in the process and were able to reach consensus on the final user interface before the end of the day. Team members considered 40 design alternatives before beginning the iterative process. Participants also responded immediately to good ideas.
Once you have a preliminary site structure from Card Sorting, content to write for the web, and a preliminary design, you can create a prototype to evaluate and test. Learn About Evaluations to select the right one for your current needs. Learn About Usability Testing so that you can start an iterative series of usability tests.