Design Project Scoping Guide

How do we scope design projects to allow for new discoveries and inspiration to emerge?

Thomas Both photo (of Andy Goldsworthy art)
Tried and Tested
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Purpose for Students
Experience It
Date Added: 
May 2019

Relationship to Ambiguity

This is a guide for selecting, framing, and communicating the intentions of a design project. It discusses what challenges are best suited for human-centered design, and how to scope and frame design projects.  

The power of design is to allow for unexpected discovery to occur: we seek to answer questions we didn't know we had, and to see possibilities and paths we didn't see before we started exploring. How we frame projects has huge effects on the work we do within the project. This guide discusses how to direct the work with intention while leaving room for discovery.




We have used this guide with Project Fellows, and with Designing for Social Systems workshop participants. As a reading and a lecture/discussion, it becomes a higher-level conversation/consideration wrapping around the tools and actions of a human-centered design approach.




After scoping a challenge, it is useful to get coaching/feedback and iterate.

Scoping makes more sense after having experienced project work using human-centered design. (In other words, scoping is an advanced design skill.)

There is no single 'right framing' for a project; it all depends on your goals and constraints. However, this resource gives advice to guide how you frame a challenge.

Design Abilities Used

Design your Design Work -- Good framing of the challenge allows for positive ambiguity to persist in the work.If you are working with a team or a class, this framing become incredibly important, influencing the work that is done -- so Communicate Deliberately.


Written by Thomas Both, building on the work of many at the Particular thanks to Perry Klebahn, Nadia Roumani, and Gigi Gormley Kalaher for input on this guide.

Designed by:

Thomas Both
Thomas Both
Director, Designing for Social Systems, Stanford

Design Abilities Used

Communicate Deliberately
Design Your Design Work
Learn More about Design Abilities 


This resource is protected under copyright, but it is free to use and distribute.

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