Bill Nye the Science Guy and his Upside-Down Pyramid of Design

I am a big fan of Bill Nye (yes, the Science Guy, above left) and recently had an opportunity to hear him speak in Los Angeles. In his new book, Everything All At Once, Nye introduces a process concept that should be part of basic training in the attractions business. He calls it the Upside-Down Pyramid of Design.

sam gennaweyBy Sam Gennawey (right).

The process is based on a simple idea. Nye said, “If the design is bad, no matter how well everyone else does their job, the result is never going to be any good (or at least “never as good as it could be’)”. It is easy to get things almost right.

Nye argues that there is “a constant temptation to stop at the point when things are 90 percent good.” It takes an extraordinary level of commitment and discipline to push all the way through 100 percent. It is just human nature.

Nye’s solution is to put a lot of the energy right up front. “Work it through and be absolutely certain it works on paper before you commit someone else’s time, someone else’s skill, and someone else’s material to a finished part or assembly.” Take time with the design. The more time you set aside to think, the better the created thing will be.Upside-Down Pyramid of Design bill nye a (1)

The Upside-Down Pyramid of Design

Imagine an upside down pyramid. Slicing horizontally through the pyramid are layers which represent a step in the creation of whatever it is you are designing. On the bottom, at the pointy end, is where the design takes place. In this phase, everything you need to consider should be on the table.

This is the point in the process with the fewest people involved, where you have the greatest flexibility, and ultimately is the cheapest step in the process. As you work through the problem, you have the The Upside-Down Pyramid of Design Imagine an upside down pyramid. Slicing horizontally through the pyramid are layers which represent a step in the creation of whatever it is you are designing. On the bottom, at the pointy end, is where the design takes place. In this phase, everything you need to consider should be on the table. This is the point in the process with the fewest people involved, where you have the greatest flexibility, and ultimately is the cheapest step in the process. As you work through the problem, you have the ability to filter through the information and then develop ideas fully in the hypothetical. Through trial and error you can dial in onto the best possible solution or opportunity. When done correctly, this is when great things can happen.ability to filter through the information and then develop ideas fully in the hypothetical. Through trial and error you can dial in onto the best possible solution or opportunity. When done correctly, this is when great things can happen.

As you move upward, comes more people, procurement of raw materials, and the point where you start really spending serious cash. The next level is production. This is when things really get expensive and where things can really go wrong. Unless, you use the Upside-Down Pyramid of Design.

A thorough analysis at the beginning will take into account various scenarios and the project team will already be prepared to deal with any issues. (If you are interested in my primer on Scenario Planning just drop me a note at gennawey@yahoo.com).

Questions during the design phase

To close, Nye suggests asking the following question while in the design phase.

1. Do you honestly believe in the course of action?

2. Does it address a meaningful problem?

3. Does it invite right use?

4. Would it make the world a better place?

5. If it succeeds, will you be proud of it?

6. If it fails, will you have learned something in the process and be glad that you tried?