Spiral Design - What is spiral design?

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What is spiral design?

   The spiral design method is a software development process that combines both elements of the prototyping method and the waterfall method in order to integrate the advantages associated with both methods. It is a process characterized by iteration. Consequently it is a very useful method for complex, expansive projects. It was first defined as a method in 1986 by Barry Boehm in an article entitled “A Spiral Model of Software Development and Enhancement”. Boehm and other computer scientists at the time were exploring models of iterative development. In this article, we will discuss both how to implement spiral design as a user interface design methodology and the positive and negative aspects associated with the method.

What is the spiral design process in the context of user interface design?
   The spiral design process is a long and arduous process that is best used for systems that are already in place and need an overhaul. It is generally recommended that the iteration process be conducted over a span of 6 months to 2 years. Spiral design is a method whose iterative process is made up of the following steps:

• Definition of system requirements: breaking down the system requirements in as much detail as possible by brainstorming and interviewing internal and external users and user interface designers alike. This is the step that seeks to get as much expository information as possible.
• Preliminary user interface design creation: This step is the most important in spiral design as it is the creation of the new version of the user interface design. All possible strategies and requirements are analyzed for their risks and benefits and then the user interface design team chooses a model on which to base their new UI design. During this phase prototyping and usability tests may be used in order to ascertain the information vital to the new system’s success. This is typically the longest stage in the process.
• New system prototype: The UI design team constructs a prototype of the new system based on the preliminary UI design from step 2. The prototype is usually a scaled down, approximation of the final product.
• Fourfold prototype: This prototype is constructed from the following information:
• Evaluation of the strengths, weaknesses, and risks of the first prototype
• Definition of the second prototype’s requirements
• Planning/designing the second prototype
• Testing second prototype

   The four step process mentioned above can be an endless UI design cycle, hence the spiral design concept. There is flexibility in that user interface designers can employ various methods within the scope of spiral design. For example, step two can utilize wireframing, usability testing etc.

Benefits of spiral design in user interface design
   As previously mentioned, spiral design is a method that serves large projects well, particularly because it requires a lot of time and a lot of iteration. However, its ability to be both flexible and structured makes it unique and facilitates the various styles and strengths of design team members equally. As a cycle it is endless, meaning it is a process that can continually be used to evolve the same system over and over again.

Problems with spiral design in user interface design

   Spiral design is an ambitious process that requires a lot of time, resources, and manpower. It is not one of those UI design methods that is easily accessible to those at all levels of development. Additionally, the fact that it is a spiral process indicates that it is an endless cycle. This can sometimes lead to quagmires and overly high expectations on the part of the user interface design team, as there is no linear beginning and end of the process.


   Spiral design can facilitate great improvement in a particular system and is very useful for those who work in large corporations, the military, at universities etc. It is a method that integrates all voices—users and stakeholders— and opinions while simultaneously allowing the experts to do their job when it comes down to the nitty gritty of interaction. As with all design methods, spiral design is best used when you understand the time and resources you have, but since the very nature of user interface design is creativity, there is always the freedom to come up with variations of spiral design that can be used on a much smaller scale.

About The Author:

Pidoco.com – Interface Design, Spiral Design, Wireframe, Wireframe Software, Interface Design Software, User Interface Design, Online Wireframe Tool, Wireframe Tool, Interface Prototyping, Clickable Wireframes, Usability Testing and Digital Paper Prototyping. User centered design for improved UI Design.

Article By: Martin Metz

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