Category Archives: service design

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.

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.

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>

A Brief History of Design Thinking: The theory [P1]

The first thing most researchers do when commencing a doctorate is dive into a pile of books and write a literature review. This hurdle usually takes around six months of intense study on fundamental literature surrounding the topic of research, with a conclusion highlighting gaps and potentials for future investigation. This is not just a training exercise that eases students into hardcore academia, but builds the foundation of knowledge prior to conducting case study research.

Since my topic surrounds design thinking, it was without any doubt that most of my literature should analyse this. But after a month of surface research, I had gathered enough (current) literature to give me an understanding of what design thinking is and is doing, but none provided any indication on where exactly it came from.

Always listen to the angel on your shoulder

It was this realisation that spurred me to research the origins of design thinking, as i believed that in order to know where we are moving in the future we must first understand from where in the past we have evolved. Over half of my review was dedicated to historical analysis, tracking the major waves which rippled through academia and into practice to what we know as design thinking today.

The literature chunk of my review is split into three sections:

1. A brief history of design theory

2. The evolution of design process methods (forming the foundation leading up to..)

3. What design thinking is today.

So. What im thinking is that i split this up into three posts. Otherwise it will just end up as one big phat chunk of text and frighten you lovely readers away. As with most ‘academic’ posts that i publish, it needs to be said that this is just one interpretation of the evolution of design thinking. I have read (but only a few) others that have taken a different approach- from a business perspective to marketing (all great reads). I have analysed this evolution in context of design theory and major movements in ideologies that i believed influenced practice to where we are today.

(ironic use of typeface)

In reality, design methods usually overlapped at any one point. Other scholars and practitioners will no doubt argue that this history cannot be traced in one path. Unsatisfied and (still) confused, I decided to make an attempt towards constructing some sort of chronological order of the history of design thinking and methods to make it easier for us as researchers and practitioners to understand.

That’s enough of my preface dribble. Now lets get stuck into it…

A Brief history of Design Theory

The First Wave (1960s-1980s)

The design methods movement of the 1960s marked the beginning of an ongoing debate over the process and methodology of design. Academic heavyweights in this period included Horst Rittel, Herbert Simon and Victor Papanek. Each man represented different ideologies on design during this period and have been chosen for the impact that their writings have on design theory today.

1. Herbert Simon: The design – as – science guy

Herbert Simon

If you have ever heard of design described as a process which aims to improve existing environments into preferred ones then be sure to remember that it came from Mr. Simon. This man believed that our world is made up of ‘artifice’; objects create by man. His most notable book titled, The Sciences of the Artificial, analyses in great depth (from economics through to psychology) of the artificial world we have created designed.

As a result, Simon concludes that the ultimate artifice known to man is in fact the human brain. A whole chapter is devoted to the psychological justification of this concept; drawing comparisons between a computer and the human brain, but i wont elaborate on the justifications of that here.

i think therefor i compute

The main purpose of this comparison however, was Simons argument that our brain (like computers- that are constructed by our brains) have limits. Thus, the best we humans can do when designing is aim to ‘satisfice’- because neither the computer nor our brains can comprehend the complexities and variables of our external environment.

robots reflect our brains capacity

Now this may come as a shock to those of you who love to coin rapid prototyping as a ‘innovative’ method, but in fact Simon proposed this concept of simulation (prototyping) as the ultimate way to ensure we come up with the most ‘satisfying’ solutions. This comment from Simon was published back in the 1970s:

“To understand them, the systems had to be constructed, and their behavior observed”

In light of todays large-scale, complex environmental and social issues, Simon stressed the most important factor for successful solutions is an understanding amongst all stakeholders- a common problem understood by all. When faced with large scale societal or environmental problems, Simon knew that the result had to be open and evolving, one without final goals.

2. Horst Rittel: The one who coined ‘wicked problems’ in design

Horst Rittel

Everyone loves to refer to complex design hurdles as ‘wicked’ problems. But many dont realise that 1. the man who coined this phrase is Horst Rittel (in conjunction with another scholar named M.Webber but i shall only refer to Rittel for ease of discussion) and 2. that this phrase was in fact referring to policy planning NOT design as form/function. Rittel was in the same frame of mind as Simon when he explained that a wicked problem is: “unique, ambiguous and has no definite solution”. Coincidentally, Rittel also explains that resolving one problem opens up a whole new set of problems which can never achieve a finite ‘true or false’ solution. Sounds just like ‘satisficing’, doesnt it?

The (closed) design process we use today

In slight contrast to Simon, Rittel believed that science could NOT resolve open, evolving and ambiguous problems. This calls for a more creative approach.

The process that we should be using for complex problems

Rittel goes on to suggest that each ‘wicked’ problem is entirely unique and so too is the process. Perhaps the best advice we can take from Rittel’s knowledge on wicked problems, is:

“Part of the art of dealing with wicked problems is the art of not knowing too early which type of solution to apply”

Stinks of ambiguity and uncertainty, doesnt it? But today that is what we like to call design thinking.

3. Victor Papanek: The sustainable design guru

victor papanek

Before Al Gore presented his doco, An Inconvenient Truth, an industrial designer named Victor Papanek was quietly advocating the importance of shifting our product driven perspective to using our design knowledge for resolving societal and environmental problems. His book, Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, dates back to 1972 and has remained a landmark in the field of sustainable design.

Papanek’s book primarily concerns itself with arguing over the moral obligations and responsibilities of design. Addressing fundamental societal needs is key, as Papanek states himself:

 “Recent design has satisfied only evanescent wants and desires, while the genuine needs of man have often been neglected”

Could this reflect what we call ‘value’ and ’empathy’ in service design, human centered design and design thinking?

This may also come as a shock to the innovation gurus of today, but Papanek periodically refers to ‘innovation’ throughout his book as a result of simplifying complexity. [Cue Albert Einsteins quote]. In order to achieve this, Papanek draws from experience, knowledge and intuition. Young innovation entrepreneurs take note.

This was fun, wasnt it?

And so concludes the first installment of my very brief history on the theory behind design thinking. In the following post i shall explore the second wave of design theory; looking at individuals such as Richard Buchanan, Nigel Cross and Donald Schon.

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 included. All images are also my own. Thanks and goodnight! 🙂


Global Sustainability Jam [Part 2]

In Part 1 of this post, I began explaining the rationale behind issues that needed to be addressed during the preparation for the Melbourne Sustainability Jam toolkit. For those of you who read part 1- I salute you! For the rest of you: here is the link.

Now, to continue on from where I left off…

Why these contexts were important to consider

Open to any form of outcome

Even though today we can argue that just about everything is a type of service, the jam was not explicitly about designing services. This meant that I was not confined to using service design methods, but could take advantage of human centered and design thinking toolkits. I anticipated that most of the outcomes generated would be in some service shape or form, but did not rule out the possibility of solutions such as products and technological applications to be developed. This made it much more difficult to focus the weekend on one area, and would add an extra step of refinement for groups to work through.

Open to any problem definition, no project boundary

This open ended outcome meant that there was no defined purpose. The only boundary groups had to work within was defined by sustainability and the theme for the weekend: playgrounds. So participants would not come to the jam with the certainty that they needed to focus on creating a ‘service’ or ‘digital application’ or ‘online social network’. This meant that a whole extra step needed to be created as part of the design process.

The phases of the design process for the Sustainability Jam

In normal circumstances a client gives you a problem to resolve, whereas this open structure of the jam meant participants had to find that problem first, brainstorm what they wanted to resolve and define the problem-question that they wished to answer with a tangible outcome. This fuzzy and open step of the process was the most important and needed methods that could help participants efficiently brainstorm under no constraints and refine these ideas so that there was a clear problem or need to answer.

No prior knowledge on design methods

Participants who registered came from extremely diverse backgrounds. Only few had come from a design background, and less  with an understanding of service design or other design methods. This was great for the fact that everyone was keen to learn about the toolkits that are being used by IDEO and Stanford, but meant that the methods i chose to pull together needed to be easy and readily understood by all individuals – especially for absolute beginners. Limiting the number of methods in each phase also answered to this issue, so that participants wouldn’t feel confused or overwhelmed choosing between tools. At a maximum, there were five methods in one phase and at a minimum, three.

Yummy post-its! Image courtesy of Will Donovan

What I learned from this event

In terms of the toolkit, I realised that the most useful, easily understood and rapid methods came from the IDEO Toolkit for Educators. The most time consuming methods came from the Human Centered Design Toolkit and the remaining from the Stanford D.School Bootcamp -sitting somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Surprisingly, I only needed to refer to four service design methods during the prototyping and presentation phases. The bulk of the methods were largely to do with facilitating ideas, inspiring outcomes and organising thoughts. For those of you who can’t decide what toolkit is right for your project, I have put together an awards list to acknowledge the best (and worst) of what is currently available to use

The Award for the most popular method

This one goes to Stanford D.School for its ‘Composite Character Profile‘.

The Award for the least popular method

Without a doubt, Stanford D.School takes out the least used method with its ‘Critical Reading Checklist‘.

The Award for the most useful method for empowering democratic opinion

A tie between the IDEO Toolkit for Educators, ‘Share what you know‘ and D.School’,s ‘Saturate and Group‘ methods.

The Award for the most popular prototyping method

Service Design Tools, ‘Storyboarding

The Award for the most time consuming toolkit

IDEO’s Human Centered Design Toolkit

The Award for the most confusing toolkit

Service Design Tools (Website)

The Award for the most rapid and efficient toolkit

IDEO’s Toolkit for Educators

The Award for the most readily understood toolkit by any person

IDEO’s Toolkit for Educators

The Award for the overall most outstanding toolkit for beginners and rapid workshopping

And it wouldn’t be a genuine awards ceremony without some kind of rigging. The winner is… The Sustainability Jam Toolkit!

The Award for the overall most outstanding toolkit

IDEO’S Toolkit for Educators

Facilitating

The other important skill i learned from this event is facilitation. The wonderful part about the jam was everyone was very receptive to the toolkit and eager to attempt most methods. In some moments, dominant characters would take centre stage leaving quieter group members as passive observers. This comes to no surprise as a group will naturally figure out its hierarchy. But when things got a little out of hand, some of the facilitators had to ‘step in’ to allow equal consensus on an idea and suggest ways to empower all members to have a say. For me, the best method that answered this is issue was post-it note-ing ideas (for use of a better description), sticking to a wall or piece of butchers paper, then re-arranging these ideas into themes.

Are you sick of post-its yet?

There were a few toolkits that utilised this process (each with their own unique heading) but the concept is the same. In doing this, more passive members could vocalise their thoughts and ideas equally with other individuals, as well as breaking down the role of a ‘scribe’ who tends to display control.

Timing

With such a short deadline, participants fell into the trap of focusing too long and hard on idea generation than properly executing a concept. This was also anticipated, however, reminding groups to make executive decisions and move forward became a tedious task. It is hard not to get caught up in an idea with one person, let alone five others with varying perspectives. I felt that should I be involved in a scenario like this again, there needed to be constant pressure from time. Discussing the event with the organisers afterwards, we agreed that there needed to be some sort of timer or countdown projected on a large screen, in essence ‘looming’ over the groups. Time needed to be made visible. Ironically, I observed that it was only when groups were starting to work under pressure towards the deadline, that they made the most use out of the toolkit.

In the end..

The winning concept was a service called Pimp my Playspace. This group had the opportunity to participate in the Melbourne’s start up weekend and pitch their idea to a panel of investors.

This event was a great experience, not just for myself but for my research as well. In an ideal world, I would have included methods from other sources, but could only use what was available to me under creative commons license (hence why almost all kits were from IDEO). The event taught me that in a rapid problem solving environment, a step by step toolkit is stifling and inefficient- perhaps this applies in general. At the same time, I realised that it was important to have a guide tailored towards a type of scenario so that the right mindset could be established before tackling certain issues. All project problems are unique and deserve a unique approach, but guides that approach unique environments that are empowered by research and experience, will create more efficient results without needing to wast time re creating the wheel.

Melb susjam.toolkit

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This was requested and used by other organisers around the globe over the weekend. Feel free to download it for yourself.

Global Sustainability Jam: The theory behind the toolkit [Part 1]

Image courtesy of Will Donovan

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

Time limitation

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.

Sustainably Focused

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.

current service solutions are 'holistic' within themselves and don't consider their position or impact on the external environment

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.

services need to open up their ecosystems and include the external environment as part of their holistic cycle

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.

The external environment must become a part of the holistic service system. A continuous feedback loop will maintain a more sustainable balance between the service and the environment around it

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…