The Story of the Squiggle.

In the early-nighties, a decade of grunge, raves and hip-hop, I was working as an illustrator and designer for Xerox Europarc in Cambridge, UK. A European outpost of the famous Palo Alto R&D Lab. Where it was explained to me their process of designing innovative technology solutions. Things like the Personal Computer, the GUI, Interpress, The Laser Printer, etc. Their process began with an abstract notion, through research moved to a concept and then finally ended with the design. So as I pursued my own career in design, I began to write proposals and pitch the process of design using the terms: Abstract, Research, Concepts and then Design. However, back then clients were only interested in the last bit: the design. Having no interest in any prior steps to the process. For them, as it was for many, design was the simple act of making ordinary things pretty.

The Squiggle came to life at the beginning of the next decade when I had the opportunity to design some complex desktop software. And the need to convince the client of the value of the process of design, in less than thirty seconds. (Their limit not mine) So I created the sketch. Picking one from a handful I’d made using a Wacom tablet, I labeled it, and used it to compel the client to allow us to proceed methodically in designing their software.

When I was working at IDEO a few years later, a colleague surprised me by having found it online (somehow) and using it for the IDEO Intern ’06 T-Shirts. After that I became aware of people using it and looking for its source. So I published it with a Creative Commons Copyright, making it easy for people to freely use it with attribution.

I’ve personally used the Design Squiggle in almost every client presentation, including in Japan and Korea. It also helped me tell the story of our journey in the two-year long Future of Fish design project. (new animation below needed)

The illustration seems to accurately convey the messiness and uncertainty in the creative process as well as the goal of focus and clarity. I’ve been humbled to see it used in books. Including such titles as, Business Model Generation, or the excellent Make it New by Barry Katz. You can find a list on the In Use page.

There are some Squiggle T-Shirts out there. My favorite is the Stanford Graduate Design Program’s ME313 class of 2015 using it for their Loft T-Shirt.

Please visit the download page for usage terms and how to contact me for permission to use it in publications. (When your publisher insists on getting a Permission to Publish license signed by me.)

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