Performance Architecture: The Well-Designed Process

Is there an object in your home or office that is particularly well-designed? Is it an appliance, an iPhone, iPad, or other iObject? Perhaps it is artwork or furniture? What about a website, user guide, or travel reference? What makes the object well-designed?

To a building Architect, design means how a structure will look, function, and fit into its environment. The resulting edifice is the solution to a problem or need.

To a Performance Architect, design means the solution's look-and-feel, accessibility, adaptability, ease-of-use, alignment with the Worker, Work, and Workplace, and cultural compatibility within the organization. Performance Architects know, from painful experience, that a well-designed solution can make the difference between desired results and dismal failure. And, as with any kind of improvement project, thorough preparation on the front-end will pay off in success on the back-end.

For the last four years we have used this space to explore aspects of Performance Architecture in the service of business processes. We now add good design as a critical component of all business process solutions.

Design Defined

Let's first establish a general understanding of what we mean by design. Broadly, “…diverse kinds of objects may be designed, including clothing, graphical user interfaces, skyscrapers, corporate identities, business processes and even methods of designing.” (Brinkkemper)

“Design is the creation of a plan or convention for the construction of an object or a system (as in architectural blueprints, engineering drawings, business processes, circuit diagrams and sewing patterns).”(Cambridge Dictionary)

“Design [can] be viewed as an activity that translates an idea into a blueprint for something useful…”(Shaffer)

And from Steve Jobs: “Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it's this veneer – that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!' That's not what we think design is. It's not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” (Walker)

Universal Principles of Good Design

Much study and thought has been devoted to defining good design. Dieter Rams, the respected industrial designer, compiled a list of universal principles of good design that helps us evaluate design quality and reminds us to use the principles ourselves:

  1. Good Design Is Innovative: The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.
  2. Good Design Makes a Product Useful: A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product while disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
  3. Good Design Is Aesthetic: The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
  4. Good Design Makes A Product Understandable: It clarifies the product's structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user's intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.
  5. Good Design Is Unobtrusive: Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user's self-expression.
  6. Good Design Is Honest: It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
  7. Good Design Is Long-lasting: It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today's throwaway society.
  8. Good Design Is Thorough Down to the Last Detail: Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.
  9. Good Design Is Environmentally Friendly: Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
  10. Good Design Is as Little Design as Possible: Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity. (Rams)

Why Good Design Matters

Clearly, a lot of thought and care goes into designing something pleasing, simple, beautiful and useful. Why, then, does good design matter?

  • Things that are pleasing to look at or touch encourage use – a favorite kitchen knife, for example, may be a utensil that you reach for regularly because it is well-balanced in the hand and cuts soft foods like tomatoes well.
  • Good design increases efficiency, saves time, and reduces costs – if the technical support section of a website you access at work is easy to use and consistently provides the information you seek, its efficiencies will translate to increased productivity for you.
  • Good design is intuitive and reduces the need for user manuals and training – Apple products are revered by many because they are simply and logically designed. If you have a MacBook, for example, you will find it easy to get to know an iPad.
  • Good design is competitive – a telephone service provider with well-designed sales and service processes will attract and retain subscribers over a competitor that is difficult to reach and inefficient in responding.

Good Design for Business Processes

As we explore what good design means for business processes, it is useful to consider the Performance Design Lab's definition of process:

“Process is a construct for organizing value added work to achieve a business valued milestone so it

  • Can be performed effectively and efficiently
  • Can be managed effectively
  • Offers the potential for a competitive advantage” (Rummler, Ramias, Wilkins, p. 16)

This definition speaks immediately to good design because a process that produces the desired result and does so smoothly is likely to be well-designed. It is probably easy to manage because it is designed to be as simple and uncluttered as possible. If the process improves worker speed, efficiency, and accuracy, then it probably contributes to the competitive advantage of the product or service it supports.

Ultimately, a well-designed business process will add value for the end-user. It is important that this process be as streamlined as possible without unnecessary activities. A well-designed business process should increase the effectiveness of the product or service, adding value for the customer, and at the same time increase efficiency, reducing costs for the organization.

As Geary Rummler reminds us, process design benefits from a specific methodology that should also be well-designed:

Figure 1. A Well-Designed Process

Figure 1. A Well-Designed Process

(Rummler, Ramias, Rummler, p. 194)

The characteristics of an effective process improvement methodology, in our view, mirror those of the resulting well-designed process:

  • Teachable
  • Repeatable
  • Replicable
  • Principle-driven
  • Logically sequential
  • Highly structured
  • Scalable
  • Addresses all elements of business process improvement
  • Adaptable to specific business needs (Rummler, Ramias, Rummler, p. 193)

Recipe for Good Process Design

Let's pull together the ingredients for good process design:

  • The 10 Universal Principles for Good Design
  • The Well-Designed Process Methodology
Table 1. Universal Design Principles Applied to Business Process

Table 1. Universal Design Principles Applied to Business Process

And some valuable added advice drawn from designers at giant websites like Google and Facebook:

  • Understand who you are designing for – the people who will use the process
  • Just because users can become efficient at using bad design is not an excuse for producing it
  • Design for where people are now (Gould-Stewart)


Our world is filled with designed items, both tangible and intangible. As users, we are acutely aware of the differences between well- and poorly-designed items. Generally, design is an activity that takes an idea and creates a blueprint for a useful item. Good design matters. Items that are well-designed can be said to adhere to some or all of Dieter Rams' Universal Principles of Good Design. And, these principles can be adapted and applied to the design of business processes. A well-designed business process adds value for the end-user and for the organization where it is used.


Brinkkemper, S. (1996). “Method engineering: engineering of information systems development methods and tools”. Information and Software Technology 38 (4): 275–280. doi:10.1016/0950-5849(95)01059-9.

Cambridge Dictionary of American English, at (esp. meanings 1–5 and 7–8).

Rams, D. 10 Principles of Good Design. Retrieved from“good-design”/

Rummler, G., Ramias, A., Rummler, R. (2010). White Space Revisited-Creating Value Through Process. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco.

Rummler, G., Ramias, A., Wilkins, C. (2011). Rediscovering Value – Leading the 3-D Enterprise to Sustainable Success. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco.

Shaffer, D., Oct. 8, 2013

Stewart, M. G. (March, 2014) Retrieved from:

Walker, R. “The guts of a new machine.” November 30, 2003 .New York Times. Retrieved from:

Roger Addison & Carol Haig

Roger Addison & Carol Haig

Roger Addison has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from Baylor and is Certified in Performance Improvement Technologies (CPT). He is the co-author of Performance Architecture and an internationally respected performance improvement consultant. He is the founder and Chief Performance Officer of Addison Consulting. Previously he was the Senior Director of Human Performance Improvement for the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) where he was responsible for educational programs and implementing performance improvement systems. Carol Haig is a Certified Performance Technologist (CPT) and has more than 30 years of multi-industry experience partnering with organizations to improve their employees' performance. Carol is known for her superior skills in project management, analysis and problem/opportunity identification, and instructional design and facilitation. She has consulted with executives and line managers, established and managed training departments, trained trainers, written for professional publications and mentored performance consultants. She is co-author of Performance Architecture.

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