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A Parallel in Industries


Recently, we began a series of redesign discussions with SPEC Process Engineering in Burlington, MA. We’re thrilled to be working with them and have already learned quite a bit about an industry we otherwise knew nothing about. They essentially design & build large scale manufacturing plants, research laboratories and chemical engineering plants.

The most interesting aspect so far from our meetings with them is the realization that their industry has always operated in a tightly traditional way and that their process is dramatically different, causing some potential clients to raise eyebrows.

Instead of bidding separately for Architectural, Engineering and Building contracts, SPEC’s proprietary methodology allows them to handle the entire contract with their in-house employees from start to finish. This method allows them to be far leaner and more rapid than their competition. However, when we discussed this in greater detail, it became clear that the industry is so deeply entrenched in the way things have always been done that this aspect of their approach was at times a warning sign to potential clients.

Although when you weigh the costs and benefits, SPEC’s approach enables them to finish a project in 8 months that could easily take a series of various contracting firms 24-28 months. While an architect at SPEC is designing, they can order the parts they anticipate (and some of these parts can take 16 weeks minimum to arrive at a jobsite).

This made us think about how web applications and sites have historically been created. In our industry, the traditional method involved a long and complex technical spec that was often very difficult to interpret by the designers and programmers involved. For the last several years, we have seen many web application designers starting with the design first – a method that we like to call Rapid Prototyping. This not only makes the process easier to understand, but allows you to A: get feedback from potential users, B: raise capital by demonstrating an application to investors in its XHTML/CSS state, C: make changes much more easily and quickly than if the application had already been programmed and D: give the programmers a finite road map to work from.

Here’s to breaking with tradition and increasing efficiencies – in any industry!

Author Alex Fedorov

Alex is a strategic thinker with a gift for information architecture, known for his ability to wireframe complex workflows and multiple states of applications at the speed of light. He is passionate about clean, data-driven design.

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