In professional design circles, there’s a familiar concept known as the triple constraint or iron triangle (seen below). The idea is (too?) simple: pursue two of these to your benefit and the third will inevitably suffer (e.g. a high-quality product at a low cost will take extra time; something designed quickly at a low cost will be of lower quality; a quality product made quickly will always be more expensive). It’s a golden rule that has driven creator/client conversations for many years, and one I’m glad to have been exposed to very early in my work as a designer and educator.
You think this should be a 1-week turnaround? Not a problem, but let me introduce you to my little triangular friend.
The Iron Triangle of Instructional Design
So with this simple framing, I want to explore a similar version of this idea with a slightly different (and surely less familiar) focus. In reflecting on my work as an instructional designer over the last few years, I’ve come to realize that there are constraints we contend with that have a similar two out of three intrinsic schema. As designers of educational experiences (working within educational systems) we’re often dealing with complex combinations of products, processes, and people.
These are the foundational elements that underlie nearly all of our work, just as quality, cost, and time are critical to traditional designers within a business context. As instructional designers, we must often make difficult decisions regarding where we focus our attention (if I’m all about process and product, relationships often get neglected; when my attention is on people and processes, there’s often little to show as far as tangible product; and when people and products become all that matter, we often grow inefficient).
Personal Product Neglect
So I ask…where do you focus your attention and how intentional is the distribution you’ve chosen? Do you place equal focus on all three, do you fluidly rebalance your focus given the unique context of a project or set of circumstances, or do you lack control over the distribution altogether? The more I considered these questions, the more I’ve come to realize my current truth and unique balance. Relatively speaking, and aside from the occasional blog post or tweet (ok, the tweets come more than occasionally), I have been disproportionally focused on people and process at the expense of product. Not to say it’s right or wrong; it’s simply a realization and accurate reflection of my reality over the past two years.
In working (and growing) to understand the intersection of instruction, educational leadership, technology, and design within higher education, I’ve spent the vast majority of my time building relationships and refining processes (both personal and professional). When deciding between the creation of a new product (i.e. blog, podcast, video, book, course, etc.) and meeting a new colleague, I’m almost always choosing the latter, and similarly, I’m showing frequent preference towards the refinement and/or invention of process.
The Come to Jesus Moment
So what’s the right move? I often wonder how my life might change if I were to proportionally refocus my time and attention on process and product. The networks and relationships I’ve spent years cultivating would surely persist…wouldn’t they? I’ve always been a creator at heart and love the satisfaction of bringing new ideas into the world. Are there undiscovered layers of personal satisfaction awaiting me with a simple triangular shift? While I’m tempted by the idea, I’m also incredibly grateful and fulfilled by the current balance I’ve chosen. People are what give products meaning, and processes are what make people uniquely human.
Perhaps next year I’ll make the shift, if only to get a taste of what a more product/creation-centric approach to life feels like, but for now, I’m satisfied. I’m energized. I’m focused. I’d rather work to broaden a growing network of professionals interested in reshaping and redefining paradigms, and if that comes at the expense of a few more blog posts, so be it.