Friday, November 21, 2014

Design, Evolution and Living in the Middle

It strikes me this morning that one of the great lessons to be learned by examining design as analogous to evolutionary biology is that we see ourselves and our designs not as end points but as a platforms that sit somewhere in the middle of a much longer process. As designers we often are focused on that glorious end note of the artifact. We see it as an triumphant ending to our hard work. This is a weakness that we need to leave in our past. If we see our design instead as a mid-point that perhaps will lead later to something else we might design something quite different. We still must try to achieve our objectives but leave the door open for future exploration. Dubberly discussed this somewhat in his article "Design in the Age of Biology..."
I often think of my work, my design and my research in this light. When I write or create some thing, what is in it that I leave behind for others (or perhaps even myself) that might spark new ideas at a later time. I don't worry about what those other new ideas might be but I ask myself — am I leaving the door open for something else later. It requires letting go of my ego a bit. My design will not be the end of something but if it is good enough perhaps it will continue to live through creative work that might happen in the future. I believe this is a powerful notion that can drive me to do interesting things. I stand on the shoulders of past works and if I do it well then perhaps I will create a platform that others can use to do things that I didn't foresee.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Design of Design Methods

Part of my research during the last year and a half has been looking at how new design methods are developed. In addition to reading many academic papers about various methods and observing designers as they have struggled with the use of methods, these efforts have included many interviews with methods developers. It has been extremely surprising to me as I have come to discover that many who are engaged in developing new methods do not use the same process or think the same way when they are creating a method as when they are creating a design for some form of users.

Why would someone who designs artifacts, interactions and experiences not use the wisdom that they have gain from doing that work to create a new method? Why is the development of a design method not recognized as the same exact thing as designing something for someone else? Sure, methods developers use some of those same skills but many of them do not think about developing a method in the same way that they think about developing a new design. Most of these people, in their design work, are huge proponents of "user-centered" or "goal directed design." And yet when they do other types of work they seem to miss the possibility that the same exact processes and ideas can and should be applied to that other work.

I have seen this echoed in other things that designers do. A couple of years ago I attended a symposium in which designers were developing (hello designing!) a system to support graduate and post-graduate designers in sharing ideas and doing work. Many key concepts that they would have insisted upon using and considering in their work for other (i.e. non-designer) users went by the wayside and were completely forgotten. I think this is a universal problem. Human beings (not just designers), when working on things for themselves forget the principles that they hold so highly when working on things for other people.

Erik Stolterman and I are currently working on a short paper that discusses some of this. I'm pretty excited about it but also a bit apprehensive.