All entries for Monday 04 June 2012

June 04, 2012

Interview topic 3: finding and developing design ideas

A successful design project creates a product based upon one or more significant and distinctive "design ideas". For example, the Dyson vacuum cleaner uses an innovative mechanism to ensure constant suction. The Apple iPad combines a large touch screen with light weight to give a new haptic and visual user experience. Events are also defined by their design idea. Speed dating uses an unusual format and rules to create a different interpersonal experience and opportunities.

What distinctive design ideas have you used in your projects? How did they help to achieve the project brief - creating new possibilities for people?

At what point in the project did you find your idea? Was it complete right away, or did it take time to refine? How did you arrive at these design ideas? What strategies, tools and techniques did you employ to find/create them? Did you develop your ideas as a sketch, diagram, narrative, or some other form? Did your idea cause other ideas to emerge and form around it? Did it seem a certain winner right away, or did your confidence in it build over time? Where there other competing ideas that were discarded? How did you reject or choose ideas? Will your idea be of use elsewhere?

Will your experience of developing a design idea be of use in other aspects of what you do?

Interview topic 2: developing a brief

The "brief" defines and directs the project, outlining the difference that the project is expected to make. It might specify, in more or less detail: aims, indicators and measures of success, limitations, risks, deadlines, resources, budgets, users, partners - whatever is necessary to give the project the definition and direction that it needs.

  1. In some cases projects are commissioned with a brief that is clear, complete and uncontested.
  2. Sometimes, during a project, the brief is found to be problematic and in need of revisions. This additional work might be easily undertaken. At other times the brief might be contested by the various project participants. This could lead to conflict and disruption. It might add productively to the development of the project.
  3. In other cases we undertake a project knowing that the brief will need to be developed as we proceed.
  4. And sometimes we are personally responsible for developing a brief from scratch to initiate a new project.

Have you worked on projects where the brief is incomplete, unclear and/or contested? Or have you developed a brief to initiate a new project? How did this proceed? In what ways was it negative and positive? At what point (if at all) did you settle on a well defined brief? What strategies, tools and techniques did you use to get a better defined brief?

Will your experience of developing a brief be of use in other aspects of what you do?

Extensive and intensive production

There are two dimensions to this productivity: extensive and intensive.

When we create a new item following an established pattern, then production is extensive (literally adding a new item to a set of identical items). Extensive production is, historically, of varying degrees of sophistication. When we take a material and work it into a product following a template, we can be said to be doing craftwork. Guilds and their standards are produced when craft products need to be reliably interchanged between locations. Industrial production takes this one step further by introducing controls over the input of raw materials and components, standardising every element of production. And then beyond the industrial, we find the controlled production of standardised consumer desires and qualitative judgements. All of these elements are present in higher education, often uneasily assembled.

Whereas extensive production aims towards repetition, intensive production is the production of difference.

Design is the co-mediation of art, craft, industry and commerce.

Design thinking and the university

The university is the location for (and product of) millions of individual projects of construction - a constant industry creating new artefacts and events: essays, seminars, lectures, modules, programmes, conferences, web sites, portfolios, eportfolios, marking schemes, reading groups, meeting agendas, research networks, communities of practice, collaborations with industry, technical services...things tangible and quantifiable, as well as elusive but ineliminable intangibles: values, personal agendas, hidden agendas, subjectivity, reflexivity, identities, allegiances, journeys, futures...everywhere production and the production of production.

Throughout these productions, an uneasy tension recurs between standardisation and a desire for the unique, for difference. A sophisticated design capability should help us to deal with these opposing forces. How common is such a design capability? This question is of three-fold importance:

  1. design capability enhances innovative production within the university;
  2. graduates with a well developed design capability are better placed for working in a world where most people at some point will be involved in design-led projects - in business, education and social innovation.
  3. where academic activity interfaces with the world beyond the institution, design is essential.

What is design thinking?

The production of objects and events takes three forms (which may be more or less mixed up in reality): manufacturing, art, and design.

Manufacturing: sometimes we produce new instances of a familiar pattern or template - manufacturing, either on a craft-workshop basis or on an industrial scale, subject to incremental optimisation but essentially standardised.

Art: other times we produce something that is unique and that "breaks the mould" - artistic creativity being distinguished by some irreducible difference, by a challenge to conventional sense, non-standard and unique to the artwork.

Design: finally, we might produce a new pattern, breaking the mould and creating a new mould - design seeks the best of both worlds, offering something distinctive and new, but also feasible, scalable, durable, usable, accessible, valuable. Design is a compromise between the prevailing conditions and a new future, arrived at by observation, inspiration, experimentation and negotiation (between affordances, constraints, time, money, attention etc).

Designerly projects will typically involve activities like:

  • forming a "brief" that serves people with a purpose but which opens new grounds for innovation;
  • observing prevailing conditions, getting to know where people are at and what holds them back;
  • framing and reframing problems, switching perspectives, dimensions and timescales;
  • organising problems into hierarchies and networks, identifying strategic priorities;
  • getting inspired by materials, processes, and analogies (from other fields, e.g nature, art, literature);
  • finding initial strategies and features that might act to generate more detailed ideas;
  • forming design ideas and proposals;
  • creating and testing prototypes (physical and imaginary);
  • thinking critically about efficient and sustainable production (now and in the future);
  • iteratively developing solutions, in cooperation with users and producers.

Along side these activities there is a "designerly reflexivity" through which the designer actively monitors the balance between artistic and manufacturing tendencies and requirements. Taken together, these aims, strategies and reflexivity are what has recently become known as "design thinking".