Parallel design


Parallel design is a method where alternative designs, often interface designs, are created by two to four design groups at the same time. The aim is to assess the different ideas before settling on a single concept for continued development. The design groups work independently of each other, since the goal is to generate as much diversity as possible. Design groups should not discuss their designs with each other until after they have produced their draft design concepts and presented them in a design workshop. The final design may be one of the designs or a combination of designs, taking the best features from each.

Although parallel design might at first seem like an expensive approach, since many ideas are generated without implementing them, it is a very cheap way of exploring a range of possible concepts before selecting the probable optimum.


  • Allows a range of ideas to be generated quickly and cost effectively.
  • Parallel nature of the approach allows several approaches to be explored at the same time, thus compressing the concept development schedule.
  • The concepts generated can often be combined so that the final solution benefits from all ideas proposed.
  • Only minimal resources and materials are required to convey product feel.
  • The technique can be utilised by those with little or no human factors expertise.

However, parallel design requires a number of design team members to be available at the same time to produce the concepts and it requires a lot of time to be invested over a short period for the design work to be carried out. Also, time must be allocated to compare parallel design outputs properly so that the benefits of each approach are obtained.


The method requires design team members to be available concurrently in order to carry out design work in parallel. A requirements document is needed to make sure that the design groups are given the same information so that design work starts from the same starting point.

The following procedure may be adopted for implementing this method:

  1. Define clearly the boundaries for the parallel design, i.e. goal of system, tasks that it should support, user characteristics, etc. Each design team should receive the same set of requirements before starting the design activity..
  2. Each design teams may use whatever media they prefer to present their designs. It is recommended to use a low level of prototyping. No extra points should be given for ‘sophisticated’ prototypes.
  3. Design teams should have roughly equivalent skills.
  4. Decide beforehand how much time to allocate to the design work and set a clear time limit. 10 - 20 hours per group is often sufficient.
  5. Agree on the criteria by which the designs will be assessed.
  6. Allow sufficient time to carry out a fair comparison of the designs produced. This is often carried out in a design workshop, where all groups and their member participate.
  7. Discuss each design separately and then discuss how different aspects of the designs may be combined.
  8. The objective is to settle on one design concept based on the total effort.

More Information

Nielsen (1993)

Next Steps

Evaluate the design ideas.

©UsabilityNet 2006. Reproduction permitted provided the source is acknowledged.