Exploring Design Thinking

dogedesign

Well there has been quite a break between posts, but I did not forget to write. Like an amateur lover struggling to express oneself, I have been debating what to post that would seem useful and of interest to you internet folk. I know most of you are here to learn about design thinking, but I recently realised that I have not spoken much (in depth) about the nature of my research besides that it focuses on design thinking. So this post is going to act as a summary and explanation of what exactly I am doing every day- and with all of your hard earned tax.

The only account I have from my thesis is the brief history of design thinking which was a summary of my literature review. I am very grateful that these posts have been so well received, but I now would like to push your focus to where we go from the history. Cue the research question:

 

Understanding the impact of design thinking in complex environments

 

Sounds pretty broad, eh? Well it is. Generally in academialand it shouldn’t be, but in the case of design thinking it needs to be. My question is an exploratory one; meaning that I am investigating a “new” area that is under researched (i.e: does not have a large enough body of literature to build upon, hence the exploration). So you could argue that any kind of information I document on design thinking in complex environments is a contribution, but this wasn’t satisfying enough for me.

A few gaps surfaced from my review of the literature. These gaps normally form the basis of your research investigation. What struck me from my literature review in particular was learning about the kind of evolution (or cycle*) design thinking appears to be taking. There is a lot of literature examining how designers work; research on students and professionals in “traditional” design fields such as product (engineering), graphic communication and architecture. But as practice evolved focused towards “higher” levels of design, such as service design, the amount of research literature available was pretty thin. Not a lot has been examined empirically on higher levels of design practice- systems and services- and so it is this very current stage in the evolution of design thinking that I am investigating.

 

Complex Environments are fun!

What exactly is a complex environment**? This is tricky to define so I had to create my own boundary (definition) for my thesis. In a nutshell, a complex environment fits majority of the following criteria:

(N.B: a complex environment should not to be confused with complexity theory)

  • 10 characteristics of wicked problems

  • Buchanan’s third and fourth orders

  • affects or includes a large number of individuals in the design process

  • emphasis on intangible design and/or sustainable problems. Operating in social networks.

  • Open system and/or problem (which relates back to wicked problems)

 

So referring back to my typology of design thinking (which I have now inverted upon the advice of a supervisor) the criteria for complexity is commonly evident in the fourth and third quadrants (system and services). You could argue that objects (products) may fit the above complexity criteria, but the design process of an artefact largely “ends” when the product needing to be made is constructed to the satisfactory requirements dictated by the client and/or materials (e.g: a new logo or chair)- and the brief provided is often more concrete. With systems and services, the requirements are extremely vague and ambiguous, often ill defined, and thus the solution is never complete as there are no hard specifications to design against. Furthermore, the design ‘object’ in complex environments is more conceptual than physical; with brainstorming sessions emphasising high-level ideas around experiences and connections, than textures, colors and size. In other words, the conversation does not begin as product/artefact centric.

 

Typology of DT. inverted

do you think this makes more sense inverted?

 

The most interesting part about this area of complex design activity (3 and 4) is that the design project includes some kind of design activity from all levels of practice. There is often an overarching intention where a design team will create a high level design solution (or sometimes just intent). Once this high level solution is agreed upon, the focus converges towards specific deliverables (as the project is refined, design activity shifts down through the pyramid). The design work that follows supports the high-level design. Yet, in each level, dedicated and specialised design teams will often run through a full design process within the boundary of their project task in order to fulfil the overarching brief. For example: a dedicated design team will focus on service design and run through a design process methodology; drafting, prototyping and perhaps user testing the service idea. Similarly, when the service is complete and products have been built for it, a dedicated design team (level 1) required to communicate the new service offering through graphic communication (posters, websites, booklets)  and will work through a design process of sketching, iterating and prototyping in order to come up with a final solution. BUT! These mini design methodology sessions all make up the broad, overarching design process. Think of a big daddy design (project) methodology cuddling little mini methodologies.

 

daddydesignmethodology

It’s a big daddy design process squiggle, with his mini squiggles

 

So, it is not a matter of a higher level being “more important” or “more design thinkery” than another, but that the focus of designing becomes more specific, concrete and less ambiguous as it moves from higher levels to lower ones. Each level is needed for the success of the entire design process system. Here is an example where I have placed a rather typical high-level design project within this typology:

 

policydproject

 

This kind of structure was evident in the first two case studies I have analysed. In this example, you can see how the focus of design activity becomes more concrete and specific as you move through each level. A complex design project will begin at level 4 or 3 with a broad, holistic and systemic focus around the problem at hand and the intention behind resolution. It is interesting to note that design activity at its highest level is really all about the (design) thinking. Design methods are involved but become more prevalent as the solution shifts through each level, gaining tangibility. Once the high level design is established, the project will (generally) move to some sort of service design, before shifting into a product design phase and finally a communication design phase.

 

Enough of that. What exactly are YOU focusing on?

Depending on the epistemology and methodology, a research student might narrow case study research to one particular industry/context, say, large private organisations or public sector services. Doing so has a range of benefits (rigour, consistency, etc). Of course for me I hate consistency and love a bit of intellectual masochism, and as a result, chose three different contexts to study.

So for my thesis i am focusing on three different contexts that include high level, complex design practice:

1. Private sector (Large scale organisational design)

2. Public sector (Policy design)

3. Open source sector online collaboration (OpenIDEO)

(For confidentiality reasons, and to be on the safe side, im not naming the first two cases. The third case is published, open access material)

Adding another layer to the focus of my research, I have also chosen each case deliberately for the position of design thinking in relation to the problem. That is, the first case explores the application of design thinking external to the organisation (problem), the second is an example of the application of design thinking internal to an organisation, and finally the application of design thinking in an open collaborative environment (without a perceived governing design agency or organisational body). I will have to explain in more detail in another post why this collection of cases is so interesting.

Geez… I’m sorry guys. I lured you into a blog post about my research and kind of ended things just as I was about to tell you what my PhD is all about. Long blog posts are pretty time consuming to read, so I think it’s best to end things here and follow up later with a deep explanation on why I chose the cases that I did and why research into design thinking in complex environments is important. I did warn you all in my about page that I like to ramble, didnt I?

 

Adios for now!

 

 

 

 

(**footnotes**)
*i say cycle here because if you take into account the history of design thinking, particularly papers during the 60s-70s (i.e: the first wave) many actually discussed high level  design. For example: Rittel and Webber’s paper, Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning.
**I deliberately chose the word environment rather than problem as using the word problem would be confused with the term ‘wicked problems’. Furthermore, an environment can contain complex problems and situations. For example: a basic problem in a very complex network of stakeholders is still a complex environment. Using the word ‘environments’ allowed my research to look at both complex problems (in simple contexts) and complex contexts (but simpler problems).
*** if you have read this far i really commend you on your patience and concentration. Hit me up on Twitter and i will send you a virtual high five

Reality Bites

You guys are just going to make me go right ahead and say it, aren’t you?

Yes. Design thinking has hit a bit of a plateau. I’ll be the first to point out the elephant and admit that over the last year not much has happened. At least, not on the surface…

funny-sad-elephant-crying

The same hype slash propaganda promoting the idealistic process and practical methods is continuing its rounds which is why design thinking is starting to seem a little stale. Stale because we kind of know enough about what it is (process) and how to do it (methods). We get it. You have variations of the general process of: fuzzy front end, empathize, problem frame, ideate, prototype, and iterate. You already understand that its about people, its human centered and its collaborative and participatory. You know its about facilitation. You know that sticky notes should be your best friend and lego may be taken seriously by adults in business suits. And yet, we are still circulating this same information, with very minor tweaks and/or novel ideas (use blue sticky notes instead of yellow/ try bodystorming instead of brainstorming/add more emphasis on ethnography and anthropology) in an attempt to differentiate what is, and has been, essentially the same information packaged with slightly different bows.

What have we learned in the last year and a half?

Well, honestly? Not much. That is, nothing new in terms of empirical insights on the process+method behind design thinking. But there have been some papers published around cognition which echo earlier research. In updating the literature for my most recent review, I (and other researchers) struggled to find significant ‘breakthroughs’ and/or developments in pragmatic and non-theoretical design thinking research. When i mentioned in an earlier post that design thinking is still being discussed in academia, it is mainly in conferences and forums such as the PhD design list. Charles Burnette recently published some new (cognitively focused) interpretations that may be of interest to those of you seeking a more psychological stance on design thinking literature. For me, the most interesting development is that design thinking is really powering forward in public service and policy design areas. This may not sound particularly new, but the fact that it is gaining traction within governments as opposed to external agencies specialising in public or policy design consultancy, is a major improvement for design thinking.

So what can i add to this conversation? Well, in an attempt to contribute some new research on the topic i re-structured and revisited the section of literature that i had written on recent developments in design thinking. The history has largely remained the same, but what i rediscovered is that design thinking is now generally accepted as an approach than a description of a set of methods. This may seem obvious, but there was still debate around whether design thinking signified a set of methods or a mindset or both. What is also interesting is the opinion that design thinking shapes multidisciplinary design practice, and is also shaped by practice (See Gumienny et al. 2010, p.246). This adds more weight to the ideology that the characteristics of design thinking may be transitory and that the designerly approach evolves with new and emerging areas of human concern. Again, this situation brings up the same pesky questions: how do we define design thinking practice? what skills does a design thinker need? are there fundamental characteristics of design thinking, or will it forever change and evolve with social needs?

In response to the last question, i tried to distinguish a rough list of fundamental characteristics for design thinking that could classify as ‘staples'; elements that (up to now) have and should remain part of the description of design thinking despite advancements in research and transformations of approach. Im kind of going out on a limb here because these characteristics may change, or over time become obsolete. But i feel that despite the observable evolution of design thinking we can see recurring characteristics that underpin the approach. The benefit of trying to articulate foundational elements of design thinking creates a focus framework. This means that no matter what direction design thinking takes, it will always protect itself from disintegrating and/or deviating from a designerly approach. Because if the design approach evolves dramatically in the future, who can say it is any more design than it is science, business or art?  (Perhaps the real question is: do we want to preserve it as part of the practise of design, or let it adapt, evolve and transform over time?)

So think of this list as base ingredients in cooking- with just a few staple ingredients you can create many different dishes. I settled on these core characteristics because they were consistently discussed in both historical and current research on design thinking:

*Preference for the design of intangibles over tangibles

*Innovation (***this needs a special disclaimer: refer to end of this post)

*Holistic perspective

*Comfort in the uncertainty around “wicked” (i.e complex) problems

*Emphasis on multidisciplinary collaboration

*Human/user-centered focus

*Emphasis on user/human centered methods for data gathering/analysis (fundamentally ethnographic)

*Preference for creative visualisation; particularly manifested in methods for sensemaking/synthesis

*Positive/Optimistic attitude

*Reflective

*Open and iterative in both process and mindset (non linear)

Just to emphasise that these design traits are characteristics fundamental to design practice, i have placed them in my nifty pyramid so you can see that the characteristics we know now as design thinking are in fact fundamental to design practise as a whole:

pyramid-of-dt.redo

strat.dt.characteristics

i acknowledge that each level can potentially carry more/less characteristics, but i am focusing on the general nature of design work in each level

***”So whats up with innovation?” I hear you ask. Well, when i was reflecting on the backlash around design thinking that peaked in 2012, i realised that there was a major degree of difference between the expectations and reality of design thinking. The expectation industry had is that design thinking would radically innovate processes and outcomes. The reality is that top agencies and figureheads have struggled to consistently publish groundbreaking insights. But this is exactly where our attitude towards design thinking was, and is, wrong. Design thinking is innovative, but it is NOT radically innovative. That is, it is not innovative in the sense and way clients/organisations and perhaps even you would like it or believe it to be. Norman and Verganti pointed out this problem in their paper, Incremental and radical innovation: design research versus technology and meaning change:

Radical innovation is the center of attention of design studies, where it is taught in design schools, and
advocated by people discussing innovation and “design thinking.” It is what everyone wants, but in fact, successful radical innovation is surprisingly rare.

design thinking isnt a fast food process

To summarise the paper for you, design thinking is *not* i repeat NOT a process for radical innovation. It never was. Stop expecting it to be radically innovative in your business, outcome, service, relationships, cat, mother in law, and any other thing you might want to fix. Get. it. out. of. your. heads. Now.

Design thinking is rarely about immediate innovation. It is, and always was, incremental. This is the fundamental underlying issue beneath all of those negative articles on design thinking you read about in 2012 and sometimes still today. Our expectations on design thinking need to shift (clients especially), and our attention  needs to move to a space where we understand that this process is not one that can create overnight miracles. It is not radical. Its methods may sometimes be rapid, but thats about as fast as its going to get. Good design thinking takes time and any innovation as a result of it will be incremental due to the nature of human centered iteration and improvement that is embedded in the mindset and process.

so would you like fries with that?

AGIDEAS Research Conference 2013

One of the (rare) perks of doing a PhD is getting free passes to research related events or conferences. Swinburne sponsored and hosted the AGIDEAS research conference this year held at ACMI in Melbourne. Lucky for us students, they had a few passes to give away.

I didn’t intend to blog about the day so i did not take notes/images of the talks and apologise for the somewhat vague recollections. But on reflection of the event, i realised there were a few debates and key ideas that surfaced which i felt interesting to share.

To be perfectly honest, a lot of the research echoed many insights already established in the design field. Now im not implying that the research was in any way unoriginal, but, even though it was an original contribution to the particular discourse outside of design (say, business or psychology that has not published much research focused on design practice), the conclusions were almost identical to what designers have been publishing for decades. It made me wonder how much literature should be read external to ones research field, if a topic is fundamental to a field outside of ones own. This is particularly problematic for new industries recently discovering ‘design thinking’.

The theme for the event was titled Design for Business. Many speakers diverged a little off topic and majority of the talks focused on branding and marketing. However, there were three dominant discussions/debates that ran through the day:

1. Emotion

There were a few speakers that spoke for and against branding and designing for emotion. Prof. Jenni Romaniuk argued that she did not believe branding should involve or evoke emotion in consumers as people have a hard time as it is relating to one another let alone have an emotional connection to a brand. She spoke quite adamantly about her disinterest in design for emotion arguing it adds a level of stress in an already confusing marketplace. Emily Wright presented an interesting paper on packaging design that discussed trying out the new or tried and true. She was sympathetic to emotional design and her research implied that evoking nostalgia through package design can influence buying behaviour. Dr Dan Formosa discussed the use of personas in design and somewhat contradicted himself by first stating he did not like the idea of constructing one persona to depict an entire demographic, yet, he preferred basing personas on ‘real’ friends and individuals he has encountered. I (and i think i speak for most designers) favor designing with or for emotion as design is fundamentally human-centered and empathetic to the user/consumer.

2. Design Thinking

This probably seems like a ‘well duh’ topic to mention but i was actually fairly surprised that academics were still (seriously) referencing design thinking despite all of the marketing bull-kak and backlash it has received over the last year and a half. Usually academics run from anything that sniffs like a fad, so for multiple presenters to acknowledge design thinking as a serious and legitimate phenomenon assures that it is growing out of the fad phase. In fact there was a presentation titled: “Design thinking to grow the market: Developing products that address industry and consumer need,” by Dr Elaine Saunders, David Jenkinson and Jessica Taft.

3. Marketing Vs Design (particularly sustainable design)

Woooweee was this a hot topic. It seems the feud between marketers and designers has not lost its fire. Dr Robert Crocker presented an interesting lecture on ethicalization and greenwashing, focusing on sustainability and indirectly blaming consumerism and marketing for fuelling unsustainable desires. Upon finishing, Prof. Jenni Romaniuk challenged Dr.Crockers blame ideas on marketing, vehemently arguing that marketers just answer to the needs of consumers which they dictate and demand. Things got heated pretty quickly, with Dr. Crocker sharply replying that he completely disagreed with Jenni’s proposal and found marketing to be a fundamentally unsustainable practice. A few more jabs were thrown from both speakers before our MC, Dr.Gjoko Muratovski, quickly stepped in to break the fight with a joke: [that] “sideline tickets will be on sale after the conference,” and suggested both academics continue their debate over wine (because that would make everything more civil!). Suffice to say, the audience were on the edge of their seats  and many labeled it the highlight of the conference.

Overall, the day was an interesting account on current research surrounding branding in design and how branding and marketing can influence and affect business and consumer behaviour. Would love to know if anyone else attended the event and could share their thoughts on the day- or even just on these topics.

Design Wars

Heeeere we go again. We are moving forward, i promise.

Design thinking took a bit of a dive in 2012 after some negative critiques (et tu, Bruce?) but has recovered in recent months with a resurgence of literature and discussions on the topic. Mainly driven by academia, design thinking is *slowly* becoming a household name, particularly thanks to new government initiatives happening globally; APS Innovation Plan, the European Commission, to name a few.

Lucy Kimbell, an intelligent and all-round respected researcher, recently published a blog post on the situation of design thinking in public services. The post comprised of comments made by herself to the  Design Commission Inquiry into Redesigning Public ServicesI was alerted to this post during discussions with @TaylorHaig whom suggested i have a read. There was just too much to say about the subject over Twitter so i took to WordPress. Take this as my comments on Lucy’s comments on the design commission inquiry.  Of course i would also love to hear your comments on my comments on Lucy’s comments, too.

One of the first things to address is that even if you’re in design, it’s incredibly hard to define what design is. [...] And even if you look at the academic literature on design, there are two major distinctions, which then come out – is design about giving shape and form to things? And that thing could be a physical product or it could be a digital interaction. Or is it about making change happen?

This is where i refer to Buchanan’s orders of design practice. I know, i know. I have posted about this many times before but there is significant value in stratifying design practice. This stratification of design allows us to better define what currently constitutes design (thinking) practice and what may be involved in the future. It also allows us to work around the tricky topic of definitions as Lucy has mentioned. In response to the above comment, design is a field that is lucky to be malleable enough to adapt and evolve quite rapidly and in parallel with the current speed of change (this can be for better or worse), but I don’t see design as EITHER ‘giving shape’ OR ‘making change’ – it is most definitely now both. Understanding how it can be both is made easier through understanding the layers of design practice. I am going to apply kind of a critical realist analysis to describe and expand upon existing stratifications of design:

pyramid-of-dt.redo

If you like you may use this pyramid but with reference to moi as it is used as part of my thesis

Now you may think i have completely side stepped the issue of what exactly is design and doing design? Sure, we need (or would like) a snappy sentence that can summarize the actions, thinking and craft for the whole onion of design. Lucy quotes the famous line from Herbert Simon:

everyone who devises courses of action, to change existing situations into preferred ones, is doing design.

There is a reason this quote has kind of become the quintessential snapshot of design practice. It is thus far the best summary of what fundamentally constitutes doing design. The problem with this quote is its very broad. Is a graphic designer changing existing situations into preferred ones? Yes. Is an architect? Yes. Is a woman who devises her morning routine to change her physical appearance into a preferred one using make up and wardrobe mastery, doing design? Well, technically, yes. Lucy continues along this train of thought-

And if you say that to a doctor they think ‘well I diagnose and then I’m trying to change the state of the patient – which has a physical effect – so yes’. But then you have this problem which some designers go into of saying actually ‘design is everything’. If you push it that far you are saying design is everything, and therefore designers can tackle anything. Which is not necessarily the case. So that definition on the one hand seems right, but it also alludes to this question about design and management – are they really different?

So the problem we have here with this appropriate and famous quote from Simon, is that it is so general that it could be broadly applicable to pretty much any intentional action. This is where Lucy rejects the idea of ‘design is everything’. Unless we devise a new quote for design practice, design will be seen as the governing force behind pretty much anything. Kind of like gravity. But if we try to ‘design’ a new definition of design, it must be broad enough to allow room for adaptation and evolution and confined enough that it has its own identity. Designing a definition for design IS the ultimate wicked problem (oh the irony!). This is now where i need to point out that Simons quote only describes one half of design practice- the act of designing. It does not define the thing (noun) that is a design or objects that together make up particular designed thing. To answer this issue, as Lucy describes, we need to get into characteristics which make up what designers do- what is it that makes their work classify as design practice? And what characteristics make a designed thing?

is it design? is it art? (excuse the crude mobile phone sketch)

is it design? is it art? (excuse the crude mobile phone sketch)

Traditionally, design did have a very clear practice. Its not so much that traditional design practices were rigid and ‘boxed in’, it was that the designers knew their place. It wasn’t until the emergence of ‘higher’ level design practice that things started messing with peoples heads. If you look at traditional design areas such as industrial/product design, graphic design, architecture and fashion design, each sub-discipline knew what it needed to know in order to intentionally act to design a meaningful outcome. The characteristics of doing fashion design were dealing with textiles, understanding the body, stitching, creating garments, etc. In graphic design you work with typography, white space, publications,  logos and branding- graphic designers generally don’t deal with the contours of the body. With the exception of packaging, graphic design is essentially confined to 2d collateral.  There are technical rules and specifications that need to be adhered to in order to adequately complete each traditional design practice. Traditional design crafts have clearer guidelines; the final output is tangible and largely dependent on the ‘designer’ and/or design team. What technical guidelines are present for complex design practice; that which does not necessarily involve tangible outcomes and involve a larger number of co-creators (stakeholders)? What guidelines must this area work within? What techniques need to be learned in order to create appropriately designed outcomes? Once we sort these details out, we will be better able to define what exactly constitutes doing what Buchanan describes as ‘higher order’ design and design thinking.

Come join the rebel alliance…

36442968

Most recently, Donald Norman did a double-somersault backflip and decided that yes, there is such a thing as design thinking and yes, it is actually quite special. Similar to what I have mused about in previous posts, Norman admits that design thinking is not a cognitive practice unique to designers, but displayed by those who ‘question the norms’ and thus break out and innovate. Having the father of user-centered and human-centered design, and previously the worlds biggest design thinking skeptic, admit to turning a new leaf for design thinking is a pretty momentous occasion. Does this mean that in spite of all of the skepticism and backlash in 2012, professionals are starting to realise that there is in fact merit in the art of design thinking? Will this be the return of the Jedi?

May the (design) force be with you.

Why design needs a critical reality check

I havent had much time to think about blogging lately, especially since i have burrowed into a methodological ditch for the past few months. I wasnt sure if this post would be practical for professionals, but it will be of interest to researchers or maybe even educators in the design field. For my thesis I have to dedicate a large portion of writing towards my epistemological and methodological position- that is, what theoretical justification of knowledge i choose to take which kind of dictates the path towards obtaining data. Its more or less a lense or theory which you believe adequately justifies truth and knowledge. Wikipedia probably does a better job at explaining it than i have, but this handy Euler diagram sums it up:

different epist’s have differing beliefs on what is true which = knowledge

I spent months torturing myself over what episte i was going to take. Despite my supervisor claiming its not really a big deal, i felt that choosing the right theory of knowledge was imperative, especially for the credibility of my data. The importance of choosing the right episte became apparent to me more so when i realised that i was entering unknown territories in research- especially design research- because the kind of topic i am undertaking is not conventional.

A little bit about research in design…

Design research has *generally* borrowed methodologies from the social sciences. Borrowing a methodology from another field comes with epistemological positions that underpin its pathway. A PhD colleague, Luke Feast, published a paper with Gavin Melles on common epistemological positions in doctoral design research. Four main positions were highlighted in this paper and placed in order from most subjective to least. They are: subjectivism, constructivism (i will add here pragmatism) and objectivism/positivism. The prevailing episte that has been most widely supported by the big guns in design (Cross, Schon) is constructivism and currently dominates doctoral design research (Feast & Melles 2010, p. 3)

The kind of epistemology you choose to guide your research largely depends on the question asked. Different fields of research assume common epistemological and methodological procedures due to the nature of the work. For example, in the field of anthropology where majority of research questions surround cultural investigations on semiotics and constructions of meaning, a constructivist or even subjectivist approach is assumed and appropriate. In the field of psychology and behavioural research, questions seek quantitative data and often follow a more scientific (positivist) approach. Thus, scientific research assumes a positivist position and can also be termed ‘reductionist’. You will have to excuse my rather crude explanations- there are indeed more epistemological ‘-isms’ used in each field of research but i am just covering the most common.

But most of these ‘isms’ dont quite fit…

I am not claiming to be an expert on the topic of doctoral research in design, but ive read enough about design research to form an opinion that makes me believe design research hasn’t found its own episte yet- especially for higher orders of design. To me, borrowing epistemologies from other fields is not allowing for the scope of complexity that is required in this field. The slippers dont quite fit. As a relatively new industry, design research has been stuck in an awkward teen phase- trying out different epistemological trends to see what works.

In the process of finding the right shoe, the design industry has evolved (and technically returned to) a new scope of practice- thats is the (re)focus on design thinking in highly complex issues such as systemic design and social innovation. This has thrown up all of our most common methodological approaches previously used in design research.  I need to now highlight why, in context of our new design sphere, the epistemological positions we have been using thus far are falling short.

So what epistemology fits with this new scale of design? On the one hand, this area of design deals with social constructions of meaning and culture, with the artefacts and results that are produced to improve on what society values. On the other, it interacts with complex systems that depend on ‘objective’ (technological and environmental) forces that operate independently from what we construct of it. It’s not enough to research design from a purely subjectivist lens; one that favors intrepretations on human constructions of meaning and intent. Its not enough to research design from a purely objective lens; one that favors a quantifiable view of social process and ignores cultural meaning and values. Design largely is the combination of  both these extremes so it makes sense that to perform adequate research in design- especially complex design practice- that we find a middle ground for our theoretical stance, one that acknowledges the importance of both socially constructed meaning and external forces. This middle ground can be found from using a critical realist perspective.

What is Critical Realism?

This is where i get into the nitty gritties of the most commonly used epist’s in design research and compare these with a critical realist approach. Below is a table taken from Luke & Melles paper but originally found in Michael Crotty’s book, The Foundations of Social Research: Meaning and Perspective in the Research Process. The following table is a nice concise outline of the main epistemologies in design research, along with the related methodology and methods of investigation.

Now I’ve edited this table to insert critical realism:

I should note that debates over whether critical realism is an epistemological or an ontological theory are still performed today. The general consensus is that it is an ontological theory, but ive placed it under epistemology for simplicity. The theoretical perspectives listed here for critical realism are also epistemologies but ive placed the information in this way to show that critical realism is a combination of pragmatic and realist theories.

WARNING!!!

The following contains jargon. If you feel you dont need to brush up on the details behind critical realism (though i highly recommend it, even just for fun. Yes, i said fun) you can safely scroll down to the more practical explanation of the theory.

Ready?

Critical Realism was first proposed by Roy Bhaskar in the 1970’s as an alternative theory aimed to bridge perspectives from the arts and sciences. I dont really recommend you read Bhaskar, as his texts are infamous for being convoluted to the point where you think he himself doesnt quite understand what he is saying. So thankfully a whole group of smart academics such as Sayer, Danermark, Eckstrom and Dickens published a range of books and papers clarifying and expanding on the theory, saving us mortals from Bhaskar’s intense philosophies.

The interpretations from our saviours differ a little. Some prefer to take a more subjective interpretation whereas others prefer a more positivist approach. Some described CR as an epistemology, where as most acknowledge it as an ontological theory (a theory on what can be said to ‘exist’ rather than justification of knowledge). Sayer is perhaps the leading contemporary writer on critical realism, with Dickens a key theorist in context of eco and sustainable practice. Both of these writers have outlined the key elements behind critical realism. Below is a comparison of their accounts:

Dickens on “The 4 Key Elements of Critical Realism”

1. Knowledge is a product of society, but knowledge is not only a product of society. It can refer to real processes and mechanisms in the world.

2. Science is about establishing the causes underlying phenomena of interest. Real, relatively enduring structures and causal mechanisms in the physical, biological and social worlds underlie what we observe and experience. They do so in combination with one another and often in combination with contingent circumstance. ‘Closed systems’ are created artificially to develop understandings of causal mechanisms, but these are rare in society and nature.

3. The world is envisaged as heirarchically stratified. At the most general level are physical mechanisms (e.g. Gravity). At ‘higher’ level are chemical structures and mechanisms. Higher still are biological mechanisms (e.g those generating an organisms growth). Finaly, there are physchological and social mechanisms. Mechanisms at each level of reality are rooted in- but not reducible to- those operating at lower levels.

4. The nature of these structures and mechanisms is subject to constant critique and scientific development. This critique and development can also stem from practical, everyday experience (Dickens 2003, p. 20)

Dickens’s account on critical realism is much easier to digest, but Sayer dives a little deeper into the specifics behind the theory:

Sayer’s 8 key assumptions of CR:

1.The world exists independently of our knowledge of it.

2. Our knowledge of the world is fallible and theory-laden. Concepts of truth and falsity fail to provide a coherent view of the relationship between knowledge and its object. Nevertheless knowledge is not immune to empirical check and its effectiveness in informing and explaining successful material practice is not mere accident.

3. Knowledge develops neither wholly continuously, as the steady accumulation of facts within a stable conceptual framework, nor discontinuously, through simultaneous and universal changes in concepts.

4. There is necessity in theworld; objects—whether natural or social— necessarily have particular powers or ways of acting and particular susceptibilities.

5. The world is differentiated and stratified, consisting not only of events, but objects, including structures, which have powers and liabilities capable of generating events. These structures may be present even where, as in the social world and much of the natural world, they do not generate regular patterns of events.

6. Social phenomena such as actions, texts and institutions are concept dependent.We not only have to explain their production and material effects but to understand, read or interpret what they mean. Although they have to be interpreted by starting from the researcher’s own frames of meaning, by and large they exist regardless of researchers’ interpretation of them. A qualified version of 1 therefore applies to the social world. In view of 4–6, the methods of social science and natural science have both differences and similarities.

7. Science or the production of any kind of knowledge is a social practice. For better or worse (not just worse) the conditions and social relations of the production of knowledge influence its content. Knowledge is also largely—though not exclusively— linguistic, and the nature of language and the way we communi- cate are not incidental to what is known and communicated. Awareness of these relationships is vital in evaluating knowledge.

8. Social science must be critical of its object. In order to be able to explain and understand social phenomena we have to evaluate them critically (Sayer 1992, p.5)

So as you can see, critical realism acknowledges that there is both an external reality where natural processes operate (nature), but that also this reality can include social processes that operate independently of our observation and interpretation of them. The critical realist perspective still lies in constructivist reasoning (as oppose to scientific experimentation/testing), but unlike most subjective epistemologies that deny an external ‘truth’ , critical realism understands that a mind independent reality exists. I was going to briefly get into descriptions of how critical realism operates but felt that researchers can familiarise themselves with the texts and that practitioners may not need to know the nitty gritty philosophical descriptions for practice.  This brings me to the next point: how critical realism can be used in practice.

 “Most sciences have in the past tended to develop an understanding of physical, chemical, and other mechanisms in isolation. They have done this through creating artifically ‘closed systems’ as a means of understanding the basic mechanisms of the physical and social world.”  (Dickens 2003, p.100)

Enough with the blah blah, get to the point!

What critical realism can teach practitioners is to understand when a system is closed and tame or open and complex (wicked).  Essentially most complex designs deal with ‘open’ social systems that are forever in a state of ‘flux’. Most designers working in this area will already know that this is the case, however, many struggle to formulate flexible and adaptable solutions. In order to do this, research and analysis needs to unify information from both specific social values as well as wider objective forces. Easier said than done, right? But critical realism can offer a guiding methodology on how to investigate and analyse complex data to design better informed solutions. It opens the scope of research and provides a methodology that can guide practitioners through the messy process of sense-making, particularly when it needs to harmoniously unify data on specific social needs and external impacts.

“In practice, then, open system predictive methods are neither completely non explanatory nor fully explanatory but a compromise usually taking the form of a model in which some of the main processes are summarily represented by variables. These empirical models are fitted to existing data and extrapolated forward. They involve curve fitting but the curves are fitted to relationships which might be interpereted as causal; they do not attempt to model actual processes closely.” (Sayer 2010, p. 90)

Critical realism can form generalisations of external cause and effects, usually through triangulation of data. But it does not attempt to scientifically ‘prove’ that data as a direct representation. At best we can create descriptions that satisfy general truths:

“Another appraoch to concrete research but one which cannot easily be represented in our diagram is the method of ‘ideal types’. Given the complexity of the world, it is argued that any research must be selective and that consequently researchers specify objects in terms of ideal types which isolate phenomena according to their interests and values” (Sayer 2010, p. 159)

Sound familiar? That is because it echo’s Simon’s theory of ‘satisficing’ in the face of complex systems that are constantly evolving.

Critical realism is fundamentally about dealing with and making sense of complex, evolving problems. It is especially  useful when applied in sustainable practice. If we are going to march forward in the pursuit of a sustainable future, we CANNOT distinguish ourselves or our ‘being’ in this world as completely separate from the ‘other’ (the environment). I know this sounds a bit heideggarian, and it is, but this general attitude has largely dominated the last century. I know this also sounds like a grand generalisation, but how many of you consciously consider how you are connected to your environment? or even your wider social community? Didnt think so.

…Cue environmental rant

Our earth has for too long been a commodity. We dont consider ourselves as an extension of our natural environment and many of us barely consider the environment in connection with our daily actions.  Many might question what exactly is ‘natural’, but i find in the face of climate change and increasing social and cultural unrest, these philosophical questions deviate from action so i am going to leave the dirty questions on hermeneutics and ontology to the philosophers. The basic fact is, we have become completely disconnected from our ecosystem- both social and environmental. If individuals are not going to consider this fact and designers consider themselves the key to social change, then designers must start approaching problems with a connected mindset that acknowledges our intimate relationship with our social and natural environments.

In context of the above, you can see why a critical realist perspective in design is so important. For research like my own where we begin to look back to natural structures and apply these learnings to design more sustainable social systems, a theory that acknowledges both the social and natural realities is fundamental. This perspective is equally important in practice, as more designers attempt to bridge social and environmental problems. No longer should the social and the scientific be at war and our sense of self be separate from our external reality, as critical realism is paving the way towards unification through transdisciplinary research.

Reference list for nerds:

Crotty, 1998, The Foundations of Social Research: Meaning and Perspective in the Research Process

Feast & Melles, 2010, Epistemological Positions in Design Research: a brief review of the literature

Dickens, P 2003,  Society and Nature

Sayer, A 2010, Method in Social Science

Journal of Critical Realism

Website for critical realism, containing many papers and articles

Biomimicry (design) thinking?

If some of you follow me on Twitter, you would already know that i recently posted a question to my tweeps asking what they would prefer to see more of on my blog. The overall response favored an academic discussion; posting papers and discussing in context of practice. Missing out by a whisker was the second most popular response, which was more lolcats and memes.

Realising i haven’t posted anything related to sustainable practice in a while (yes its not going to go away) i thought i should hunt around for something that was new, interesting and could somehow be taken away by you folk and applied (even if just ideologically) into practice. So after stalking a recent discussion over Twitter amongst a few tweeps poking at the concept of biomimicry, i knew this topic would be perfect material for my next post.

I should note that this paper might seem a bit abstract. Its not about providing a new tool or method you can directly apply; its more about offering an exciting new way of approaching problems which can create more adaptive and flexible solutions.

Bionics vs. Biomimicry: from control of nature to sustainable participation in nature

D. C. Wahl. Centre for the Study of Natural Design, University of Dundee, UK Design and Nature III: Comparing Design in Nature with Science and Engineering, Volume: 87, Publisher: WIT Press, Pages: 289-298

To sum it all up in once sentence/quote: ” the intentionality behind science and design needs to shift from aiming to increase prediction, control and manipulation of  nature as a resource, to a transdisciplinary cooperation in the process of learning how to participate appropriately and sustainably in Nature”

Main points: diversity good, linear bad. Holistic good, collaboration good. Adaptation good, control bad. 

This article places a LOT of emphasis on holistic practice and the responsibility design has in transforming current practice that aims to control our nature, into one that learns from it and works with nature.

Introduction:

” The root cause of the utter unsustainability of modern civilization lies in the dualistic separation of nature and culture. It is in nature, that all peoples and all species unite into a community of life.”

I think most of us (and by us i mean westernised individuals) forget that we are culturally separated from nature. With exception of tribal communities, design is largely to blame for our unsustainable, industrial life. We view nature  as something detached from ourselves; an ongoing process independent and unaffected from our actions.

“The aim of science is shifting towards informing appropriate participation in natural process, rather than the enabling of new technologies of prediction, manipulation and control. The transition towards sustainability will require a new approach to design and technology that is based on a participatory and holistic worldview informed by science, ethics and the transdisciplinary integration of multiple perspectives. It is a biophysical and ecological fact that culture is never  truly separate from nature.”

This is where we start to realise that much of the mindset that is needed for a sustainable future is very similar to that which is inherent in design thinking (this includes service/human centered design). It is now possible that we can take lessons from biomimicry and apply our learnings into the design process.

Section 2: Learning from Nature as model, measure and mentor:

During the methods movement (1960s-1970s) McHarg, Todd and Mclarney, founders of The New Alchemy Institute, were first to introduce research on biomimicry- taking design lessons from natures process. John Todd provides a quote:

“The Earth’s ecologies are embedded with a set of instructions that we urgently need to decode and employ in the design of human systems”

The question here is: we know we can directly translate lessons from nature and apply these into the design process for technological outcomes (devices, artifacts and engineering), but how do we translate natures process for the design of intangible human (and service) systems? This answer requires more research but the information can be invaluable. The following includes guidelines on how to start.

Section 2.1. Bionics: A prediction and control approach to learning from nature:

During the same period when biomimicry was announced, bionics was introduced by US Air Force engineer Major J.E. Steele (who also coined the term). German Zoologist Werner Nachtigall took over the trend and stated in the 70s that bionics is, “the process of “learning from nature as an inspiration for independent technical design”. He developed the principles of bionic design:

Principles of Bionic Design (plus commentary!)

1. Integrated instead of additive construction

(ideal. not always easy to do, but easy to forget. Service design, meta design and co-design can offer strategies and tools to utilise what we have to create integrated solutions than creating a result that requires new needs or materials. This approach is crucial for any designer. Examples of integrated solutions can be found here )

2. Optimisation of the whole, rather than maximisation of individual elements

(Again, in service design/design thinking much emphasis is placed on the whole than tuning into details. This is about creating a harmonious and sustainable ecosystem. Small detailed changes often yield the most successful (and feasible) outcome, but great decisions on details that have negative effect on the whole service/company/environment need to be optimised if possible.)

3. Multifunctionality instead of monofunctionality

4. Fine-tuning adapted to particular environments

(may seem a bit of a contradiction of point 3, however using statement from point 2, if you have to diverge and ‘tune in’ to a particular aspect of a project, adapt this to the environment it is situated in. This ensures that despite focusing on one area and not ‘the whole’ -as it sometimes may not be feasible- try to ensure the detail is adaptive to the surrounding environment)

5. Energy saving instead of energy squandering

(more of a product design thing. obvious nonetheless)

6. Direct and indirect use of solar energy

(as above)

7. Temporal limitation instead of unnecessary durability

(this again relates to product design but can also relate to service/intangible products. Create solutions that are not fixed (unnecessary durability) or hard to ‘recycle’, but are able to be re-used or re-shaped for new solutions that evolve with environment- both nature and culture)

8. Total recycling instead of waste accumulation

(obvious)

9. Networks instead of linearity

(socially, this can be translated as ‘collaborative networks’.)

10. Development through the process of trial and error

(iteration is much of the ethos behind design thinking)

Section 2.2 Biomimicry: ecologically informed design for sustainability

“During the 1970s, research at the ‘New Alchemy Institute’ began to explore how ecology, biology, and a bio-cybernetic systems approach, could inform more sustainable solutions to meeting fundamental human needs.” And as a result, they came up with this: (with, you guessed it- commentary!!)

The Precepts of Biological Design:

1. The living world is a matrix for all design

(The environment is much more evolved than we are. It surprises me to this day that most design outcomes and designers do not consult the fabric which gives us life)

2. Design should follow, not oppose the law of life

(Similar sentiment to point 2 of bionic principles)

3. Biological equity must determine design

4. Design must reflect bioregionality

(design outcomes need to be adaptive to the unique environment it lives within. This can be tangible (nature) or intangible (culture). Design outcomes whether service, policy or product, must reflect+integrate local environments and communities for sustainable development and evolution)

5. Projects must be based on renewable energy sources

(same as point 5 under bionic principles)

6. Design should be sustainable through the integration of living systems

(again, reflects same sentiment as point 4. Designing outcomes that do not incorporate a living system, whether animal, plant or people will persist with the dependancy on unnatural and unsustainable (artificial) artefacts)

7. Design should be co-evolutionary with the natural world

(same as above)

8. Building and design should help heal the planet

(makes me think of this)

9. Design should follow a sacred ecology

10. Everyone is a designer!

(this was probably a sneaky way to imply that everyone is responsible for their actions)

At this point in the whole biology and nature inspired history comes Janine Benyus, founder of the Biomimicry Institute and author of Biomimicry –Innovation Inspired by Nature. She, like her predecessors in this field, came up with her own set of principles:

The Biomimcry Approach:

1. Nature as model. Biomimicry is a new science that studies nature’s models and then imitates or takes inspiration from these designs and processes to solve human problems.

2. Nature as a measure. Biomimicry uses an ecological standard to judge the “rightness” of our innovations. After 3.8 billon years of evolution, nature has learned: What works. What is appropriate. What lasts.

3. Nature as a mentor. Biomimicry is a new way of viewing and valuing nature. It introduces an era based not on what we can extract from the natural world, but on what we can learn from it.

It is evident that this paper is highlighting the theory and need for biomimicry but with vague directions on how to perform it. Interestingly enough, the author goes to state that THE wicked problem of the 21st century IS sustainability and that all aspects of design: from policy to ecosystems, require transdisciplinary teams with the designer as instigator and facilitator in this process.

The author shifts into the theory of complex systems, quoting german systems psychologist Dietrich Dörner. Dörner investigated ways trans+multi disciplinary teams interact in the process of complex, unpredictable and interrelated problems. This theory should be fundamental for design thinking. So for all of you designers out there wanting to work in the wicked 4.0 sphere (services, policy, systems, sustainability, urban planning, etc) you need to take note and staple the following to your forehead:

Common Mistakes in Dealing with Complex Systems:

1. Inadequate definition of goals (vision)

(problem framing is key)

2. Lack of a joined-up systems analysis

(not understanding the parts which make up and affect the whole)

3. The creation of irreversible emphasis

(dead end solutions must be avoided)

4. Lack of attention to side effects

(what effect will your decision/solution have on the whole ecosystem?)

5. The tendency to over-steer or over-react

(go in with an ‘equal’ not ‘ego’ mentality towards participants during co-creation)

6. The tendency to act in an authoritarian (controlling) way

(as above)

“Adaptive complex dynamic networks are nature’s way of responding effectively to change. Sustainable design that reintegrates culture and nature has to emulate nature’s way of dealing with unpredictability, fundamental interconnectedness and dynamic transformation”

This is exactly what everyone’s talking about at the moment in sustainable design. But i get the feeling that amongst this discussion we are not quite sure how to create solutions that live up to this philosophy. How can we go wrong if we design solutions that are a natural extension from nature? Im sure this all sounds incredibly hippy but I dont mean designing outcomes covered in flowers and leaves-this is about unlocking new processes and growth.

Conclusion:

“Effectively, or from within a more holistic and eco-literate perspective that regards culture as a co-dependent participant in natural process. Such changes in intention are changes in metadesign that affect all human activity. Changing the intentions behind design –changing mindset – is design at the paradigm level and life style level

The case im trying to make here is that observation and analysis of natures process which can be synthesised into design practice might be the most efficient way to create sustainable solutions that are as painless as possible. Biomimicry offers an avenue of research and design that tackles sustainability in the most pragmatic way possible. It holds clues that might make our sustainable journey much easier- we just have to find them.

A Brief History of Design Thinking: How Design Thinking Came to ‘Be’

This is where things get a bit hazy. Design Thinking and all that it stands for today did not directly come out of the history I outlined earlier- it simply proves that design thinking has a history. Design thinking was a realisation through the evolution of different (collaborative) design process methods that were developed to improve and extend design to other areas of practice.

From where we left off…

What happened from the mid 1980’s to date was a race to discover new methods for improving business, service and design. Each methodology can be traced through history and analysed independently should you wish to interpret historical readings in context of the method under investigation. I will highlight an example of what I mean as we move along.

The purpose of analysing this period was to understand the evolution of major design process methods and to discover from this evolution the moment when design thinking was realised as a new approach and a way of thinking that underlined all other methods before it. It must be noted that through this development there was no clear linear progression of methodologies that arose, as many were developed at the same time in different faculties and industries. I have taken through much reading a very generalised approach at attempting to create a chronological understanding of the evolution of major design process trends. The purpose of doing this is to objectively clarify the history and evolution of design thinking which has been muddy and conflicting to date.

And it all started with….Participatory Design

In the early days, participatory methodology was seen most commonly in urban planning until recent developments in design gave this method its name. As i stated earlier, one could very easily trace the history and development of participatory design in and of itself- independent from design thinking. For example; If you want to get nit picky about history, participatory design can be traced all the way back to Plato’s Republic.

Plato was known to seek advice from his people

Grass roots democracy was once the heart of participatory methodology and is an established method used for centuries for the development of a harmonious society. But i am here to discuss how this and other methods (each with their own unique history) have come together to form the evolution of design thinking.

Back to the Future

Fast forward from Plato to the 1960s. During the design methods movement, participatory design was gaining momentum through research. Dubbed the Scandinavian approach, participatory design was about integrating end-users into the development (prototyping) phase of projects. Technological developments during the end of this decade saw participatory design shift from a social method to a technological one. Prior to the adoption of PD in technology, systems design was the go-to for engineers prototyping within an iterative framework.

The timeline of Participatory Design

As PD progressed into the 1980s, it became synonymous with the emerging field of interaction design. Many of the techniques used in PD were borrowed from science, such as usability testing. Others included mock-ups, prototyping and even role playing.

The Pitfalls of Participatory Design

One of the main disadvantages of participatory design is its negligence towards user experience and stakeholder input. Usability was king, but emotional response to gadgetry was largely ignored. In many instances user testing was abandoned, when users decisions conflicted with those of the stakeholders and the designers.

The pitfalls of participatory design

In response to this end-user dilemma, discussions surrounding co-design (co-operative design) or collaborative design began to take place. This alternative method aimed to transform passive users into co-operative designers.

User-Centered Design

The most significant contribution to the transformation of user development in design was introduced by design theorist Donald Norman. Donald re-defined participatory design into what he coined as user-centered design. User testing became less about usability and more about a users interests and needs. Norman favoured user-control and humanised participatory and system design by “making things visible”. This was to ensure users could discover errors and have control over resolving them.

Donald Norman aka The Godfather of User-Centered Design

Another significant shift in ideology from participatory to user-centered design was the placement of user at the center of the development process. It highlighted the benefits of understanding user experience over user testing. Owing some of its methodology to behavioural sciences, user-centered design emphasised experience over efficiency and adopted a more humanistic approach with the involvement of the user throughout the development of a product or system.

The differences between PD and UCD

User-centered design grew out of speculations towards elevating users from guinea-pigs to co-developers of systems during the participatory trend. This new methodology incidentally spread into broader areas of industry and practice.

Service Design

On the design methodology timeline, service design broke out into the design discipline as a new practice a few years after the turn of the millennium. We can see now that developments through participatory design to user-centered design and the evolution of customer experiences has shaped much of the methodology behind service design. Lucy Kimbell best sums up the development of service design as:

‘[it] Draws on several traditions including product, environment, experience and interaction design” (Kimbell 2009, p. 250).

Kimbell and a few other scholars discuss a new perspective rising in business; from a closed value chain (i.e: we punched out a product we tested on some monkeys and know it works so we can forget about it) to understanding how and what the user **does** with a product (or service); including their journey and experience. This perspective is another  step forward in the evolution of design methodology, for rather than thinking about end user experience of a product or service (user-centered design) attention has shifted to understanding the use, interaction and journey of that product/service after it has left the hands of the provider.

So now we find ourselves labelling all products and systems as one service unit. Kimbell argues that the distinction between a service and product becomes irrelevant, for everything is a type of service that plays a role in ‘value creation’ (Kimbell 2010, p.3). Furthermore, service design extended the definition of the ‘user’ to include all stakeholders and individuals affected or interacting with the service system.

It was with this new approach to product/service systems that the idea of a holistic mindset was made evident. And the holistic mindset behind service design owed much of its development to Ezio Manzini through his research in service marketing and meta-design. Additionally, many of the methods used in service design today have been borrowed and adapted from anthropology and marketing.

Most importantly, it is the holistic perspective of service design that distinguishes itself from all previous design methodologies. Rather than focusing on the ‘end user’ (the customer: marketing/user centered and participatory design), service design seeks to collaborate with all users of a service; building relationships between stakeholders to open up communication for the exchange and development of value and knowledge.

Human-Centered Design

Since the early 1990s, human-centered design and user-centered design were often interchangeable terms regarding the integration of end users within a design process. Like many other design methodologies, human-centered design first began within technological and product system industries and was growing under human centered interaction (a method that is still in use). Human-centered design only started to evolve around the late 1990s, when the development of methods described above shifted from a techno-driven focus to a humanised one.

It was also at this point that we found ourselves with a design methodology that was manifested as more of a mindset than a physical set of tools. William B. Rouse discusses the ideology of the mindest behind HCD in his book, Design for Success: A Human-Centered Approach to Designing Successful Products and Systems. His definition of HCD is philosophical:

“Roles of humans in complex systems, enhancing human abilities, aid to overcome human
limitations and foster user acceptance” (Rouse, 1991 pp.6-123).

Despite contextualising his defintiion within the field of systems and product engineering, Rouse introduces a broader perspective of the ‘user’- one that is closely related to service design but situated in a broader, more socially conscious arena. In its final (and current) phase of evolution, HCD is seen to hold potential for resolving wider societal issues.

HCD is a mix of meta design and service design but closely related to anthropology. It is used more generally in social development than service development.

The broad holistic perspective introduced in service design allowed for human-centered design to redefine its meaning. Coupled with significant social and environmental disasters, it was appropriate after the turn of the millenium that HCD transformed from a method to a mindset, aiming to humanize the design process and empathize with stakeholders. The mindset approach of human centered design re-introduced design thinking, but this time as a mindset used a method for interpreting wicked problems.

Outer circle (blue) signifies the shifts in design theory along the timeline. The inner circle (pink) signifies the methodological shifts in design practice over time

It is interesting to note that the shifts in design theory and practice that have occured since the methods movement in the 1960s have mirrored one another. Design-as-science trend of the 60s and 70s sit opposite and reflect the methodical inquiry into process methods of the 1990s. Similarly, cognitive reflections in design theory during the 1980s reflect (and sit opposite) the mindset movement we are moving through now. Though this may not have been the best way to depict the timeline of design theory and thinking (infodesign nerds get off my back), I chose a circle to deliberately highlight these reflections and the very fact that we have almost come full circle. If this pattern is correct, we should find ourselves moving back into a scientification (did i make that word up?) of design, and it seems to me that we are already beginning to shift into it; as developments in neuroscience turn attention to design thinking for study.

To highlight my prediction on the next phase in design, here is a Stanford video on the neuroscience of design thinking. Enjoy.

A Brief History of Design Thinking: The Theory [P2]

The Second Wave (1980s-1990s)

After its initial breakthrough on the academia scene, design theory shifted into a somewhat soul searching phase that saw many scholars reflecting on the cognitive aspects of design; what it means to be creative, how much relies on intuition and how personal is the process.

Design theorists that emerged during this period remain household names today. This is potentially due to the fact that design theory has not undergone much of a revolution since this reflective phase. In fact, we (academics and practitioners) are currently in the midst of shaping the early stages of a new wave of design as we speak. More will be explained in a separate post at a later date. For now, we continue our academic journey through the theoretical landmarks that were developed during the mid 1980’s to the mid 1990’s.

Nigel Cross: The instinctive one

Nigel Cross

If you replaced ‘design’ with ‘spirit’ you could easily mistake Nigel as one of the few hippies left standing. His work surrounds the investigation of intuition in design- but not just IN design, UNIQUE to design. Nigel believed that the design process was special due to tacit knowledge and instinctive process, arguing that design can stand alone as a craft independent from other disciplines- especially science.

We have come to realize that we do not have to turn design into an
imitation of science, nor do we have to treat design as a mysterious,
ineffable art. We recognize that design has its own distinct intellectual
culture; its own designerly ‘things to know, ways of knowing them, and
ways of finding out about them’ (Cross 1999, p. 7)

Yup. We designers are a unique breed. We have our own way of knowing, sensing and… thinking. Thinking? Thinking! OH SNAP! What Nigel’s describing here is design thinking!

Nigel favoured the designer in the design process so much that he described the designer as the core of the process. The privileged mind of the designer was central to the process and relied heavily on his or her intuition.

Business, engineering and all other non design folk: you can stop rolling your eyes. Whether it be called intuition, instinct or design thinking, this issue of what makes a designer a ***DeSigNeR*** compared to mortals is still a hot topic of debate. But it might cool your blood to know that Nigel also realised that the ‘creative leap'; the spontaneous burst of creativity scholars previously defined as central to the design process, was not so elusive after all.

anyone can build a bridge

It appeared through Nigel’s investigations that creativity (design thinking) was more about building ‘creative bridges’ than it was about being touched by the inspirational light from the design Gods.  Creative bridges was more about analogical thinking and abductive leaps. Where Papanek described bisociation as a process tool to inspire creative ideas, Nigel thought that this was a natural thought process unique to a designer.

Richard Buchanan: He who popularised “wicked problems”

Richard Buchanan

Pretty much anyone who is familiar with design or better yet design theory would’ve heard of the term ‘wicked problems’ being abused thrown around. Buchanan’s widely influential paper published in 1992 titled, Wicked Problems in Design Thinking, busted out ‘wicked’ and ‘design thinking’ into mainstream design culture. Now is time to spare a thought for poor ol Rittel and Webber who not only coined the term ‘wicked’ but also (in their own way) described design thinking. But it so happens Buchanan’s paper was in the right place at the right time to make the right impact. However, Buchanan like most of his peers during this period rejected the notion of design as a science. He describes design thinking as a ‘liberal art’ reflecting contemporary culture and used by professionals as ‘insight’ into resolving (Rittel’s) wicked problems.

Im going to have to remind you readers that this period was a pretty self indulgent time for designers and design theorists. The following quote might make you gag/be filled with pride depending on your stance or experience on the matter:

[design thinking is] Mastered by a few people who practice the discipline with distinctive insight and sometimes advance it to new areas of innovative application (Buchanan 1998, p. 8).

But perhaps one of the main reasons why this paper was so influential is it explicitly connects design thinking to innovation. For Buchanan, this was largely attributed to the fact that he realised design thinking is a multidisciplinary mindset and discovered four primary disciplines where it could be found- regardless of whether design is directly involved or not:

1. Symbolic and visual communication

2. The design of material objects

3. Activities and organized services

4. The design of complex systems or environments for living, working, playing and learning

(Buchanan 1998, p. 9)

Buchanan predicted much about the nature of design thinking today, however one idea has fallen short of hitting the big time and that is the collaboration between research and practice. Buchanan’s idea of innovation was not exclusively multidisciplinary in practice, but multidisciplinary across practice and research. I know I harp on about this a lot, but this is one area where design practice falls short and the collaboration between design industries and research is only vaguely implemented in very specific areas of industrial development. Anyhow, to reflect on Buchanan’s characteristics in context of design today we could interpet the previous points as follows:

1. graphic design

2. product design

3. service design

4. policy/urban planning/ design

Furthermore, if you have heard about the design industry described as stages/phases/levels/etc, this would have to be the source of such interpretations which is helping us define new heights in design practice and research.

Donald Schön: Caught in his own reflection 

Donald Schon

This man is a favorite amongst design researchers. Schön was the ultimate of thinkers. He reflected so much about the process of design its any wonder he didnt get caught in an existentialist thought loop. But alas, he emerged with his thoughts in a book titled, The Reflective Practitioner.

Schön aggressively refuted the idea that design needs to ground itself in science to be taken seriously. Like his peers, he made an attempt to individualise design as a unique practice through cognitive reflections and explanations on its process.

Look at the frame, not the painting

Schön’s main shtick on design practice was not focused on analysing the process but rather framing and contextualizing it. He describes the idea of ‘problem setting’ as a crucial component that holds together the entire process. The point of focusing on this was to allow designers to best understand how to approach the problem before they go about processing how to solve it.

Side note: Much of my theory (and inspiration for the Sustainability Jam Toolkit) comes from Schön’s theory of design process methods. A quote from his book explains this philosophy:

”When ends are fixed and clear, then the decision to act can present itself as an instrumental problem. But when ends are confused and conflicting, there is yet no ‘problem’ to solve”

And what do we call problems that are confusing, conflicting with no clear problem to solve? Altogether now: WICKED PROBLEMS!

If you read Schön’s book, you will notice he rephrases wicked problems as ‘swampy lowlands’. It is exactly the same concept. BUT! Where analytical design theorists love to dissect the process, Schön believes in preserving the mysterious and intuitive aspect of design, another reason why he focuses on just ‘framing’ the problem and not examining how to solve it.

Let us search, instead, for an epistemology of practice implicit in
the artistic, intuitive processes which some practitioners do bring to
situations of uncertainty, instability, uniqueness and value conflict
(Schön 1982, p. 49)

This might sound a bit airy-fairy, but in the thick of countless debates in design, the issue of intuition vs science still has scholars throwing punches. For certain areas within design such as graphic design, the intuitive argument Schön likes to put forth is appropriate. But for areas containing wicked problems with results which could affect people, intuition just isnt going to cut it.

What now?

As for my two cents, I personally believe that design can ground itself within science AND art, it just needs to adapt its approach depending on the context and situation. Thanks to scholars in this period we have successfully created some kind of ground theory on design, independent from theory in art and science. The problem today is we have not fully investigated into the practicality of design, the design that does not lean towards intuition but calls for rigorous evaluation.

Hopefully i have made it blindingly obvious that through this journey of fundamental design theories design thinking isnt anything new. What we perceive as some hot new trend has been a topic of discussion for the past 50 years. Despite this fact, design thinking was not ready for our society until now, as the design industry has matured enough to bring this concept into light. As such, we find ourselves sitting on the shore, overlooking a new wave in design; the development of design thinking and its manifestation into methods, minds and all that has come before it. So how do we evolve ? We finally turn to investigating outputs rather than internal processings of the designer or team. In other words, we now evaluate the result of design thinking rather than the thinking itself. We ask ourselves if design thinking really is all it is cracked up to be, and in order to do that we must attempt to quantify its impact.

And what happens next..?

In the posts to come, I will run through the 1990’s to date describing the race through a field of methodologies, finishing at design thinking!

N.B: I am forced to note that the writings in this post (and those that follow) are summaries of research writing undertaken during my PhD. If you wish to refer to these critical examinations, please do so but with with mindfulness that you must reference my work and/or ideas discussed here. All images are also my own. Thanks and goodnight! :)

Global Service Jam 2012

Ah yes. A little delayed but here nonetheless…

My role at this years global service jam was not dissimilar to my role at the sustainability jam. I was asked to be involved by one of the primary organisers, Gin, who i had met from the sustainability jam.

I figured that participating in the organisation of a jam (again) would strengthen my understanding of workshopping, teamwork and facilitation. I didn’t expect to learn anything more insightful than i did from the sustainability jam (as both events are pretty much identical in nature) but i kept my mind open. I also knew that pulling together a service design toolkit might actually be trickier than the sustainability toolkit i had collated previously (will explain later).

Organisation

We held a meet-n-greet event prior to the jam. Image courtesy of Cat Dos Santos

Our initial meetings included the two initiators of the Melbourne jam as well as a few employees from Melbourne based service design company Huddle. Huddle offered to host the service jam in their office and meetings leading up to the event grew in numbers with more employees offering a helping hand. By the time of the event, we had 8 organisers on board; 6 Huddle employees, the two initiators and myself. This was a tremendous effort compared to the sustainability jam, which had only 5 organisers helping out.

The extra aid was beneficial for keeping multiple tasks running with momentum, such as media and promotion.  Aside from organising the toolkit, structure and facilitating at the event, I was asked to invite a “professional” to speak at the opening night on design thinking and service design. There was no better person in my mind to invite than my secondary supervisor, and Swinburne’s go-to-guy for academics studying design thinking, Gavin Melles.

The network wall. Image courtesy of Cat Dos Santos

Other organisers were also asked to hunt around for speakers and “mentors” for the event. It was decided that all organisers would be ‘facilitators’, i.e., people offering general help over the weekend, and that we would also include mentors – people who are ‘specialists’ or ‘professionals’ in a specific area.

Structure

Prior to collating the toolkit, I needed to create the structure of the jam that would run over the weekend. This is because the toolkit is inherently the structure of the jam as well as a guide of methods that groups can work through over the 48 hours. I still cant stress enough how important this was for the jam in general, because after now having witnessed 2 jams I can say with confidence that the most organised and developed concepts were groups that stuck to the process structure and used the toolkit as a guide.

Image courtesy of Cat Dos Santos

I do not enforce the kit on anyone. It is a choice for participants to make; if some feel confident with the service design process, they need not use it. But most of the participants at the jams are new to these sorts of process methods and want to learn, and as such need a guide to help them stay on track.

Toolkit

Collating the toolkit was not as easy as i first thought. This was because service design is so iterative that it was difficult to clearly define methods as belonging to a specific ‘phase’ of the process. Almost all of the methods could have been used in any stage of the process, and i pointed out to groups that it is OK to feed  back through previous phases as their projects develop. This was one of the the primary differences between the service jam and the sustainability jam. The sustainability jam toolkit required more research from a broader range of methods as it was open to any sort of outcome. As a result, participants didnt have much time to ‘feedback’ through phases and it was easier to clearly define phases and collect methods that suit specific steps in the project (which also ensured participants didnt go back and forth through phases and waste time).

The business model canvas. Image courtesy of Cat Dos Santos

The other issue I encountered was a lack of service design resources. I realised that there really wasnt much out there that i could draw upon to put into the toolkit. As a result, I borrowed a few methods from marketing and business disciplines because there simply wasnt enough service design methods to collect. Fortunately, keeping the kit thin was key and I managed to fill out 5 phases with approximately 3 methods in each phase:

1. Inspiration: 

-This includes the theme given to the jammers to work with
-Brainstorming techniques (taken mainly from design thinking: so similar to the susjam brainstorming section…a lot from d.school, IDEO, etc)
-In this section participants decide on a type of service they want to go with, or even an existing service they might like to fix or add to, etc.

2. Understanding: (empathy)

-Includes understanding the values and needs of the customer/user- value mapping, etc
-Who the customer is/defining the market of the service and why it is a need/of value to this customer/demographic
-A rough but holistic understanding of how each facet in the service operates (using mapping tools) so they dont focus too much on just the customer and forget about the ‘bits’ in and around the service. Ensure is just as much about holistic organisational design /business structuring as it is about understanding the needs of the customer
-This is the initial “insight” they gain from understanding their service and (needs of) customer

3. Shaping

- This is where participants start to think a bit deeper into the structure of the service, the touchpoints customers might encounter and the experiences they want to map out.
- This phase and phase 2 will be interchangeable, aka a feedback loop. After initial insight into defining who the customer is, participants may use shaping techniques and realise they might want to go back and re evaluate what the true need is with more insight and information

4. Mapping

- This is basically using a variety of mapping tools to map out the business structure, value grid, customer experience map, customer journey, touchpoints, etc…this is the final ‘draw up’ of all of these different aspects which prepare them for..

5. Presentation

- The easy part as mapping phase pretty much does all of the presentation work. All participants have to do is explain and present the maps they created for their service

In terms of a logical progression through a service design project, this seemed like the most appropriate and rapid structure for the jam that would result in a sound outcome. I also tried to make sure that each step was as simple as possible and refrained from using too much technical jargon.

The Jam

Jamming. Image courtesy of Cat Dos Santos

The service jam has a pre-defined outcome. This makes it easier for participants to focus on what they need to create (unlike the sustainability jam) but also makes it easier for participants to get lost in the details of each phase of the project.

Unfortunately for me, I became ill leading up to the event and was forced to miss the opening night. I could only devote a few hours over the weekend to observing and helping teams. Despite the short amount of time i spent at the jam, i did learn quite a few things from my time there…

What I observed

1. Groups worked more independently than in the sustainability jam. This could be due to the character of participants, but I think this could partially be attributed to the fact that everyone knew their goal was to create a service. This subsequently created a false confidence in some groups.

2. Some groups got lost in the details. Even though everyone knew what they needed to do, there was a LOT of talking, to-ing and fro-ing amongst some team members. I dont think many even realised they were getting lost until a mentor stepped in to point it out. This largely was initiated due to time.

3. Time was not dominant enough. I said this last time about the sustainability jam and ill say it again. Time was not present during the jam. There needed to be a sort of omnipresent pressure from time ticking away- whether this be done by projecting a large clock on a screen, or having a watch on each table. Something like this needed to be done. Having a clock/timer ticking down over participants psychologically pushes individuals to work to deadlines and make quicker decisions. I also realised that having facilitators occasionally chime, “2 hours to go”,  does not trip the psyche to react in the same way as a countdown might.

4. The most thorough projects were ones that utilised the toolkit. It was great to witness groups using the kit, however some only picked up the kit once they were running out of time. The more successful projects appeared to have worked their way through the kit, ticking off each stage which resulted in work completed to be presented.

5. Some mentors felt their input was more disruptive than productive. This may be true for some groups, and perhaps the presence of facilitators and mentors was not as useful as for the sustainability jam (due to point no 1). But when groups needed help, it was a tremendous asset to have a mentor step in and offer professional advice on how to swiftly move on. I wouldnt argue against using mentors in jams, but knowing when to step back and step in is vital for this role.

One more thing…

we're a team!

we're a team!

Compared to the sustainability jam, most of the ‘insights’ i learned from the service jam were based around communication amongst organisers as opposed to observations made about the jam itself. Having a larger team working on the jam proved difficult at times, as internal conversations and decisions were often made without group consultation. It proved again how important it is to include all volunteers in the decision making process and how important it is to have one person managing the tasks of the group. Some tasks fell through due to this. It is easy for members in a large group to feel that someone else may take on a role/job. These are some  of the drawbacks of having extra help on board- someone needs to constantly ‘check in’ to see if everyone is doing their bit. This would be an important piece of advice i would pass on to future organisers, wherever they may be.

And oh yeah! Here is the toolkit! Feel free to download and use at your leisure, or even let me know if you found it useful on a project :)

<div style=”width:477px” id=”__ss_12026976″> <strong style=”display:block;margin:12px 0 4px”><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/stefanie85/melbourne-service-jam-toolkit&#8221; title=”Melbourne Service Jam Toolkit” target=”_blank”>Melbourne Service Jam Toolkit</a></strong> <div style=”padding:5px 0 12px”> View more <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/&#8221; target=”_blank”>documents</a> from <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/stefanie85&#8243; target=”_blank”>stefanie85</a> </div> </div>

Workshop with Hiroshi Tamura for PINC12 Conference

My time was limited during the Participatory Innovation Conference held at Swinburne University, but I managed to register a spot to participate in a workshop with Hiroshi Tamura, the Director of i.school at The University of Tokyo.

A description attached to the event was as follows:

Title: Idea Brokering, a workshop technique for innovation

The Earthquake and tsunami that took place on March 11th has taken away thousands of lives on that day in Tohoku Region of Japan. Media since then has covered the disaster and the consequent Fukushima nuclear accident, however, has done so little apart from confusing people with rich yet cryptic data of little relevance. Yet one thing was certain, which is that we could no longer expect changes to take place in this society unless we actively come up with innovations ourselves. Now, the question is: how can we bring that change?

As practitioners, we find ethnography a perfect source of information to breed ideas for people to act upon. In this workshop, we will introduce a workshop method called “idea-brokering”, which we utilize ethnographic, human-centered view to raise awareness on the social issues. An example case would concern the behavioral and motivational changes of people in Japan that are taking place today. We will then describe key points how the workshop can be designed and be prepared. Towards the end we will open up the discussion for how we could practice ethnography for social innovation.

We invite participants of the conference with experience and/or interest in:
* Research in sustainability, communications, energy and water, products and services
* Research in corporations or institutions with mild/little practice on human-centered design or innovations
* Design for behavioral and motivation change
* Creative workshop methods

Having a keen interest in sustainability (and Japan in general) i was really intruiged to learn more about how the Japanese have been using design methods to tackle unfamiliar issues that had been born in the tsunami aftermath. Specifically, how the use of human centered design methods have been employed and to what effect they have been successful in developing sustainable solutions.

Work, work, workshopping!

The workshop began at 9am. Mr.Tamura (i should really be calling him sensei Tamura out of upmost respect) asked participants to sit at tables with others from the same country/region. I was at a table that included three other participants, a large A3 piece of paper, a packet of fat markers, some post it notes and a little orange envelope.

Mr (*sensei*) Tamura gave us a brief intro on himself, the structure and outcome expected from the workshop. He then, with a warning, played a video of the tsunami wave engulfing a village center in Kesennuma.

I had been following the tsunami and the ongoing disaster it has caused for the residents in and around the prefecture of Fukushima since March 11. I watch NHK world (both in English and Japanese) to keep myself informed, along with independent news sources on the web. I thought I had seen almost all of the footage available from the disaster- until i saw Mr. Tamura’s video.

It was truly heart wrenching. It was sickening to the stomach. It was not the fast, explosive and dramatic scene we all knew and saw published in our mainstream media. The video was approximately 10 minutes long and was shot in POV from a man standing on his roof, narrating what had just happened (the earthquake that hit 15 min prior to him recording). Five minutes go by, and you see people move from a brisk pace to running hysterically. Cars begin to drive out of the streets and then the water starts to slowly pour in. Only once the water hit, the tsunami sirens went off- but by this point it was too late. Over the course of the next five minutes, you see the water enter rather slowly in the streets, rise higher, wash cars with people trapped inside and eventually fall beneath its wrath. You witness people dying and can hear the desperation and cries of the people stranded on the roof, helpless to those below. This footage was literally a slow and painful death. By the end, the water had reached the rooftops of second story buildings.

Mr. Tamura explaining Idea Brokering

I suspect that this movie was a strategic move to shock the participants, ignite empathy and raw human emotion. After all, to be a good human-centered designer, surely you must be good (empathetic) with and towards humans. Im not sure how others felt, but it distressed me enough to really want to think hard about the issues we were about to tackle and find some kind of plausible solution. If this was the intention behind Mr.Tamura’s video then he certainly succeeded.

Mr. Tamura proceeded to describe his experience during the earthquake and the chain of reaction that followed around Tokyo:

  • Lost mobile connection
  • Realised how 1 to 1 communication was important during and directly after the event
  • caused traffic jams
  • all bicycles had sold out due to the above for transportation
  • long queues to withdraw cash from ATMs as many machines stopped working
  • Supermarkets were cleared of produce- emptied due to panic

He then described ongoing problems that still affect residents in the surrounding prefectures of Fukushima. It was later revealed that the little orange envelope sitting on each of our tables contained images of these ongoing problems with related headings (see image above). They are outlined below:

1. Tsunami Tendenko

Tendenko roughly translates to ‘everyone for his or herself’. It is the teaching that when a tsunami strikes, you look out for no one: not your parents, children, friends but your self. This sounds counter intuitive to the Japanese culture of community and as such many adults sacrificed their lives for their children. Only five children died when the tsunami struck. To read more about the ideology and founder of Tendenko, click here.

2. Identification

Passports, wallets, etc were lost. Hard to identify misplaced or missing persons.

3. Secondary Hazard

Debris and biohazard from nuclear spillage is still present as a secondary hazard

4. Privacy

Due to moving into temporary shelters, there is a lack of privacy amongst displaced persons.

5.Lacking Local Information

No source of info for locals to track missing persons. Information provided from government itself was scarce

6. Lifeline, old+new

Daily necessities cut off for over 2 months

7. Delivering to Consumers

Processed food was hard to get to survivors because of issues with packaging (particularly plastic wrap, etc)

8. Credibility over Authority

9. Neon Nation

Lights in Tokyo were turned off for half a year, most of the city was in darkness except for street lights.

10. Adjusting technology lense

Since the disaster, taxi drivers are now relying more on GPS navigation

11. After forced changes

The disaster has changed family networks. Survivors are more likely to spend time with family and company

12. Migration trigger

Trains from the affected prefectures stopped running because of the tsunami, which were vital connections when travelling to Sendai or Hiroshima

13. Community, old+new

Local people who lost their traditional homes were given temporary housing. This housing lasts for only 3 years. It also created a new community within this temporary village.

Feel exhausted? Yup. It was definitely overwhelming to see so many important and serious issues that still have not been fixed.

So what are we to do with all of this information? Answer: An inspiration session!

All of these topics are main issues that are in need of resolution today. Our goal was to decide what topic/problem was of interest or importance and work together to provide a solution. After picking an issue, we were guided into the ‘inspiration session’ of the workshop, which involved a new orange envelope dropped on to each table containing images of various common japanese (cultural) inventions or daily products:

random inspiration material to use for developing our solution

And here is a close up just so you fully understand the sort of random pieces of inspiration we were given to use

really random eh??

Now this brings me to the most important part (and point) of this post….

IF YOU REALLY CAN’T BE BOTHERED READING ALL OF THE ABOVE AND/OR ARE SHORT ON TIME, AT THE VERY LEAST READ THE FOLLOWING…

The method used in this workshop reflects precisely one of the main methods Victor Papanek (check previous post) was famous for promoting in sustainable design. Originally developed by Arthur Koestler, bisociation is a method that aims to inspire innovative creations by bridging completely unrelated material together.

I did not touch on the method of bisociation in my post on the history of design thinking (as it would’ve been far too long), so I am going to dive into Papanek’s approach briefly here as it directly reflects what Mr. Tamura asked us to do in this workshop.

Papanek’s theory of bisociation for sustainable design

Papanek took the concept of bisociation and applied it in his practice of sustainable design. Papanek used this method to create innovative and sustainable products prototypes, utilising existing (unrelated) materials and objects as sources of inspiration. This allows designers to take what is already available to them to construct an outcome that is sustainable and renewable through these (often local and existing) resources.

Papanek made this method of creation practical by including an additional measure for the outcome developed. Solutions formed from the exercise are filed under feasible time frames or areas of development, such as: “2-5 years: a concept not quite ready for production” or labelled as “gimmicks”. This categorisation of feasibility from the idea brokering sessions Papanek employed allowed him to analyse his ideas and proceed with the best and most feasible outcome.

We need to be doing more of this, especially for sustainable design

This is a really powerful method of idea generation and one that is not used often enough in design let alone sustainable design. I was really excited when i realised that what we were doing in Mr Tamura’s workshop was Papanek’s method of bisociation for sustainable design. I believe this to be the future for innovation and if anyone has been keeping an eye on innovation in Japan, this method appears to be at the heart of many mind blowing Japanese inventions.

And If in case you were wondering what our group came up with, here is our outcome:

A self generated information kiosk to be placed in temporary villages

Our chosen topic to address was community old + new and lacking local information. The ‘inspiration’ triggers we used was an image of a bike storage rack, a self generated radio and portable waterproof tv. The concept was to mount the portable waterproof TV onto the bike storage contraption which was to be powered using energy generated by community members cycling together. Kind of like those sustainable smoothie kiosks where individuals ride a bicycle to power the blender.

All we need now is to analyse this idea using some of Papanek’s feasibility methods and principles. But it is just amazing that we could have conceived a (somewhat) sustainable solution to a current, real world problem using (culturally specific) inspiration material completely unrelated to the problem at hand. All in just two hours. Imagine what could be done using this method in two months, or two years??

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