On the last weekend of October, I helped facilitate the global sustainability jam in Melbourne. A few weeks prior to the event, I was approached by the local organisers Marina Paronetto and Talita Trindade to assist with development, along with two other professionals.
My role in the organisation of the event was to share my knowledge on design thinking to help structure the two day workshop, which Talita and Marina wanted to be based on a ‘designerly’ process. Additionally, I was asked to put together a toolkit that could assist participants in developing their ideas over the weekend.
Constructing this toolkit was a valuable little exercise for me to start thinking about the types of methods that would be most appropriate, useful and efficient in this context. What I realised is that this scenario had five main contexts that the methods toolkit needed to address and assist in an efficient and user friendly way:
1. Time limitation
2. Sustainably focused
3. Open to any form of outcome
4. Open to any problem definition, no project boundary
5. No prior knowledge on design methods
It is important to note that the weekend was not about creating a sustainable service outcome, but could include products, applications, technological solutions – anything! Hence the methods i could use did not need to be explicitly service design related, but since it can be argued that all man-made needs are a type of service, i have used this terminology to explain the process in the following.
Why these contexts were important to consider
Most design methodology toolkits are constructed for long term projects. Most of the methods are useful, but time consuming and demand hours if not days to properly analyse and complete. I noticed a lot of the most popular tools couldn’t be adapted to fit a two day workshop and adaptation of such methods would lose its usefulness and intent. So rather than try to adapt successful but time consuming methods to fit the two days, I chose to collect the most rapid and effective methods I could find from various toolkits. It seemed a wiser and more logical decision to use existing methods that are rapid, than attempt to disfigure the more ambitious tools to fit- without any knowledge on whether they would prove useful.
Obviously the most important concept i had to keep in mind was that the aim of the weekend was to create sustainable outcomes. Business-driven methods would be of little benefit in this scenario, when a holistic and human-centred perspective is understood by many researchers and practitioners as the key to creating a ‘sustainable’ solution.
The mindset needed to attack the problem expands beyond just a holistic understanding of the solution in and of itself, but the wider implications that the solution has on the community and environment.
As such, the solution should ideally feed back in and out of itself, creating a holistic [sustainable] lifecycle that leaves as little negative impact as possible.
If the feedback cycle of a solution can be isolated in a specific area it would have a much greater chance of monitoring and managing impact. To take every factor and variable into account is unfeasible in any context, however, this meant to me that the easiest and most successful solutions were ones that focused on a localised environmental issue or community, than attempted to introduce bigger issues and wider (global) demographics. This theory echo’s Ezio Manzini’s writings on localised and creative communities, which discusses creating solutions that use and rely on resources in and around a localised community for production- a small but vital step towards a more sustainable future. I have taken this general ideology and reintroduced it into existing service design theory. This recontextualises the ‘holistic’ focus of a service, to include the external environment as part of its ecosystem. This creates a dependance loop that has to coexist in harmony for both the service and the environment around it to survive. The methods needed to assist and inspire this type of outcome had to take these theories into account.
Call it what you want…
The collation of methodologies for the toolkit was largely an experiment. Since my thesis focuses on design thinking process methods applied in a sustainable context, it was valuable for me to try and understand what methods could work better and might work differently. It is also worth noting that the definition of design thinking has no concrete source (as of yet) so i have refrained from calling this exercise ‘sustainable design thinking’ or ‘sustainable service design thinking’ for the time being. In broad and general terms, design thinking houses all sorts of design methodologies and was the mindset that was used to structure and empower participants for the weekend. However, it is crucial that a (good) design thinker knows what methodologies will work successfully in different scenarios and tailor these to each unique context.
Hurrah! You got this far so you may as well keep an eye out for part 2. The next installment will cover remaining contexts and present the toolkit in all of its glory. Oh joy!
Here is a snappy little video to keep you occupied in the meantime…
There is something almost forbidden when you mention research and experience in the same sentence. It is usually towards the end of our undergraduate that we make a choice on whether we should continue studying or dive into the pool of professional practice. Today, our society (at least in Australia) is largely driven by industry experience. Depending on what field you come from, research is either the instigator of innovation or a back-seat observer. With exception of industries whose practice is based and relied upon on ongoing research (sciences/medicine) no side of the research vs experience argument is-in reality- any more valid than the other. But considering this is a blog about design, i am going to focus solely on the (un)importance of design research in design practice.
You can’t innovate in a vacuum
I am a big believer in not doing any type of work in a vacuum. I dont believe anything insightful or innovative can be created without knowing what exists, how it exists and comparing creations to others insights, work and suggestions. When i was studying to become a graphic designer, my tutors drilled it into our heads that research was imperative towards making better designs. So it makes sense a field that is grounded on an iterative and reflective process, would reflect through research to better its craft. Logically speaking, this field would also adopt and respect research.
This is far from the case.
Towards the end of my degree when students were excitedly planning their future, i suggested continuing with study towards a masters. The room divided. Half of my classmates cried, “More study?! What a waste of time! It does nothing for your career or the industry!” and the other half mumbled, “perhaps it will make me a better designer?” When i graduated from my masters, the same discussions were in motion- this time with most of the students feeling prepared enough to go into the workforce, the large majority ‘burned out’ by uni, and a handful considering the long haul into a PhD.
I already had it set in my mind that i wanted to continue studying. This is because i love to learn and i love to discover and analyse findings i have made. But when i began asking industry professionals their opinion on my chosen career path (the people who i was certain would respect my decision) i received an overwhelmingly negative and unsupportive response, more so than what i had received from my peers.
So why the turf war? To me, it all can be summarized in three simple sentences:
1. Industry professionals don’t like their years of experience being undermined by a few years of study conducted by a researcher.
2. Research is usually too abstract or detached, detailed or impractical for industry professionals to adopt and employ in practice.
3. Research isn’t classified as experience, largely due to number 2 and 1.
Now im not blog bashing industry professionals. I too would take the same attitude as most exhibit. But even those who have clocked years of experience and returned to uni to complete a PhD are met with the same bemused expression from colleagues. The reasons for this i believe comes down to:
Ego works on both ends. Both researchers and professionals like to believe they know better about their practice. More importantly, misunderstanding on the nature and the value of outcomes from research is the greatest issue students face when justifying doctoral study. Too many times have I heard fellow classmates question the ‘point’ of doing a PhD, observing friends climbing corporate ladders (whilst shaking their heads in pity at all of the students below), and receiving criticism that researchers do ‘no real work’ and simply ‘bum around uni’.
The reality of our field today
The reality is that the design field is cutting its nose to spite its face.
There are not many cases where i can say that a practitioner and a researcher have met with mutual respect for one another, with an equal understanding of the value behind their chosen mode of acquiring knowledge they both have of the field.
Right now, the design industry wants to evolve. It wants to be better, a more serious practice. But like individual development, design as an industry cannot evolve in a vacuum. When professionals and researchers decide to acknowledge both modes of knowledge generation as valuable experience, the question of whether to study or practice will no longer be an indication of right or wrong/poor or successful paths- but needs that are chosen in order to advance the industry. We need professional and research experience to better inform and shape the path of our design industry. This will not be achieved alone- either in a studio or in an office.