June 15, 2012

Feature Freeze v/s Design Intent

I imagine you're reading the title and thinking, huh and huh? These are terms from my product design past. They're vital components of the creative process. They help you understand what solution you are trying to generate before you generate it. And they're useful in writing as well.

Feature Freeze: A list of components that you MUST, SHOULD, and COULD have in a solution.
Design Intent: A list of qualities that your solution MUST, SHOULD, and COULD possess.

Here's an example:
If I were designing a dishwasher, I would first list the feature freeze items. It must hold dishes, it should be easy to customize, and it could be used for washing clothes as well as dishes. You can see that the "must" items are a requirement, whereas by the time you get to the "could" items they are questionable but interesting options. The feature freeze items tend to be physical features.

Then I'd plan my design intent. Intent focuses on what I want the user's experience to be like. I want the dishwasher to be easy to use, quiet, simple in appearance, attractive, and modern. These are qualities, and they influence HOW I will execute the various features of the design.

Me planning a product's Feature Freeze

A writing example looks like this:
First, I list the physical features of my goal--for writing, they're usually plot points. I plan the plot points for each chapter or scene. For example, my main character must end up at the museum (or he must learn/discover/go XYZ). He should accompanied by character B. He could visit the snack bar (and progress a sub-plot) on the way. Of course, there are usually many plot points listed for each scene.

My design intent would be about what I want the reader's experience to be like. The chapter should be fast or slow-paced, or sad, or lighthearted, or informative, or scary. The design intent is about the tone and the underlying message of the work, and therefore what the experience of reading it will be like for the user.

Feature Freeze and Design Intent can go by different names, those are just the terms I used as a product designer. But the goal is for the two planning methods to work in concert, and produce a solution that both reaches the goals you require, and provides the experience you desire.


  1. I like the design approach, the way you plan plot points; sounds like my process, only more organized. The importance of keeping the purpose of a chapter while you write it cannot be overstated. I've come up with witty banter only to excise it once I compare it to the whole chapter's intended tone. Thanks Meanie.

    1. Thank you! I know what you mean. It's nice when you can start avoiding the extreme excess up front, rather than having to chop it out later. Although I love the delete key, too.

  2. Holy crud--you are so super organized! My idol. I don't know how you do it all.


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