Seeing the road ahead — Catseyes and iterative design

  1. We are not testing our assumptions: inevitably, during the analysis and design process, while having some knowledge gained from research, we will make assumptions that have not been verified. If these are not tested, we have no way of knowing whether they are correct, and therefore whether this solves user requirements and issues.
  2. We are not getting feedback: as well as seeing if our assumptions are correct, we are not getting clear feedback from the users for the designs themselves. Perhaps the way in which we have designed the solution may offer up new problems that we had not previously considered, and would not be aware of, had we not tested them with users.

Catseyes, a story of iterative design

The original story

Photo of a Catseye set into a road, with the rubber housing and the glass reflectors visible
An original form Catseye in the UK (ELIOT200 on Wikipedia, public domain)
Photo of a motorway at night, with Catseyes reflecting the light of headlamps back at the vehicle it is coming from
Catseyes on the M6 motorway in Ireland (Zoney on Wikipedia, CC BY-SA)
Black and white photo showing a cut away of a Catseye, with one set of wipers pulled away to show the flexible housing
Cutaway of a Catseye, showing the flexible housing, the reflective beads, and the rubber wipers.

The development is in the details

Percy Shaw with various prototypes of his Catseye invention
Percy Shaw, with his various prototypes of the Catseye

Ensuring iterative design in your project

Starting the right way

  • Fully explore the brief: instead of just accepting the brief as it is given, take time to explore and understand the problem, how the team expect to approach it, and what they expect from you, and what you expect from them.
  • Present your process: despite the fact that your team might have worked for years in production, they still may have differing understandings of what processes are used, so take them through the process you intend to use on the project, from start to end. This helps to align their expectations with yours, for you to explain why you have chosen this approach, and for them to fill in any gaps in their knowledge and understanding by asking questions.
  • Add your process to the overall plan: inevitably, if your project has been set to a limited time frame, those managing the project will have set out a rough plan to define a guide to measure progress throughout the allotted time. In order to ensure that you get the time that you need to conduct each part of your process, you will need to work with them to map out the process on their plan. By agreeing this with them beforehand, you have a record of the intended plan, which can help you protect the time that you require.

Proving that iterative design works

Graph showing traditional projects as a diagonal slope, and iterative projects as a sawtooth line, rising up and then falling
Traditional vs Iterative production (from a talk by Josh Sieden)

Conclusion

Notes:

  1. Shaw filed a patent for the Catseye in 1934, but it is also worth noting that his invention made use of reflective lens by Richard Hollins Murray, and that a similar patent was taken out by Freddie Lee two years earlier for reflectors mounted in the road, who had to abandon his application due to patent registration and maintenance costs.
  2. Sadly, not everyone has been so fortunate, Kemi Olusanya (a.k.a. DJ Kemistry) was killed by a loose Catseye while travelling back from Southampton to London in 1999. Forensic scientists found afterward that this was down to a lack of bitumen in the surrounding asphalt, and poor installation.

Sources:

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Goth DJ and promoter. General UX superhero. Guitar axemeister in training. General music geek. http://www.sableindustries.org

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Andrew Burgess

Andrew Burgess

Goth DJ and promoter. General UX superhero. Guitar axemeister in training. General music geek. http://www.sableindustries.org

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