Motto: “Projects that do not capitalize on new opportunities will generally find their products unable to compete.” Boehm and Bhuta (2008)

Type: A pattern of dynamics between Design Outcomes and Design Resources

Definition: A designer is joining a growing trend in using some technology, often in an opportunist way. New possibilities of design resources are shaping the design outcome.

Alternative names: Design-by-Buzzword, Opportunistic Design.

Topics: exploiting new opportunities, hype, new trends, hackathons

Desirable: In fast-changing domains where capitalization on new opportunities is a crucial competitive advantage.

Undesirable: In real-world situations and in well-known domains where it may lead to unnecessary complex solutions.


The design-by-buzzword pattern is a form of dynamics between design outcomes and design resources where designers use a design situation as an opportunity to try out some novel or upcoming design resource (e.g. Ncube et al. 2008).

The design-by-buzzword pattern is a consequence of technology developments, designer’s creativity in using and applying new resources, as well as changing expectations of users who are continually learning about technology advances. Introduction an iPhone, for instance, radically changed user’s expectations of mobile applications (e.g., see “How iPhone Changed the World”).

New technology opportunities are one of the main reasons for a constant change of designs, especially in software design. Boehm and Bhuta (2008) argued that software projects that do not capitalize on new opportunities will generally find their products unable to compete. Earlier Brooks (1995) noted that new opportunities in technology are one of the primary drivers behind constant changes of software designs: “If not new computers, then at least new disks, new displays, new printers come along; and the software must be conformed to its new vehicles of opportunity” (page 12).

In the design-by-buzzword pattern, the primary driver for the use of some resources is the “hype” and high expectations of some new trend. Such usage usually is not directly driven by the requirements of the situation or experiences in using the resource in similar cases. Nowadays, bitcoin and blockchain technologies are examples of such hype. Financial institutions are investing in these technologies, but the actual value and practical utility of these technologies are still unclear.

Novelty rather than experience drives the design-by-buzzword pattern. The lack of experiences means that there are no clear guidelines and best practices, which may lead to unnecessary complex projects that are more likely to fail. Roy Thomas Fielding (2000) noted that software projects often begin with adoption of the latest “fad” in architectural design. Only later, if at all, it is discovered whether or not the system requirements call for such an architecture. As usage of new resources may lead to more unexpected and undesired effects, projects based on the design-by-buzzword pattern are also more likely to fail.

Design-by-buzzword introduces a number of risks. Designers need to work with resources that are not necessarily proven in practice, and for which there are little experiences that can be reused. On the other hand, avoiding using new resources may impact the long-term competitiveness of an organization. Consequently, organizations are looking for ways to combine benefits of being an early adopter of some technology or technique, while limiting the risk. Hackathons are an increasingly more popular form of making such compromise (Komssi et al. 2015). Here the risk is minimized by time-boxing the activity, normally for several days only, with the idea that this limited time frame gives enough time to get basic insights and some hands-on experience with a new trend.

The design-by-buzzword pattern is related to the solution looking for a problem pattern. New opportunities embedded in an innovative design outcome may lead to usages of this outcome in new situations. The co-evolution of problem-solution pattern may also be related to the design-by-buzzword pattern as a way to develop a better understanding of useful applications for new design resources.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • Do you follow the latest trends in design tools and materials, and are you quick to adopt them?
  • Have you ever regretted being an early adopter of the latest fads?
  • Have you ever regretted not reacting soon enough to the latest trends?
  • How do you make decisions to adopt new technologies and methods?
  • Do you have organized events, such as hackathons, to systematically, but with limited risk, explore new opportunities?

Cover Art

The iPhone family. Introduction an iPhone radically changed user’s expectations of mobile applications. Credit: Apple.