Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Metaphorical Gestures -- Designing for a new tomorrow

"Everyone can – and does – design. We all design when we plan for something new to happen..."
-- Cross, Nigel. Design Thinking: Understanding How Designers Think and Work (p. 3).

Here I am again beating the same old drum... but, I can't help myself. I believe very deeply if we align ourselves with notions of human-centered design or even human-computer interaction design that we must find our way to a deeper understanding of the people that our design is intended for. Crazy right?! There are of course many ways of accomplishing this. It so happens that my preferred route is through methods that have their roots in cultural anthropology. Many approaches from this discipline include some form of participant observation. That means spending time with the people you are trying to understand -- interviewing them, working with them, having conversations with them, etc. Many anthropologists spend years doing this with a single community.

Now imagine how this might be done most effectively, efficiently and enjoyably.

The Don't s
If you are studying a group of people whose beliefs you do not share what are some things you should avoid doing? Here is a short list of a few things you may want to avoid doing...
  • - speak down to them
  • - label them with derogatory words
  • - treat them with disrespect
  • - make them feel unnecessarily uncomfortable
  • - do or say things that will make them feel less human
  • - patronize them 
  • - pound them with facts or comments trying to disprove their beliefs

The Do s
As you might imagine a list of do s would pretty much be the opposite of the list of don't s
  • - speak to people as equals
  • - don't label them at all but if you do try to use positive labels
  • - treat them with respect
  • - try to create a comfortable environment for your relationship
  • - make them feel that they have great potential
  • - be humble
  • - find common ground and build from that

Let me just say that I believe that these are principles of a effective, efficient and enjoyable design process. It just so happens that much of what we do as humans is in fact design.

"...we plan for something new to happen, whether that might be a new version of a recipe, a new arrangement of the living room furniture, or a new layout of a personal web page. The evidence from different cultures around the world, and from designs created by children as well as by adults, suggests that everyone is capable of designing. So design thinking is something inherent within human cognition; it is a key part of what makes us human."
Cross, Nigel. Design Thinking: Understanding How Designers Think and Work (p. 3).

If you want to design something with an eye towards improving the future then you may have to change your approach. I propose that if you want to create something that will improve the future environment of some group of people (or perhaps just make it more tolerable or more interesting) then you may be well advised to carefully consider how you interact with them.

My design work of late has been to study designers -- my intent being to write, create or design papers or visual schemas that will improve understandings of how they work. When I spend time with the designers that I study I try to practice the do s and don't s that I have listed above.

What are you trying to design? How are you trying to change the future? Who are the people you are working for/with on those projects? Are you acting with them in ways that are productive and  unifying or are you acting in ways that may be counter-productive and divisive?

It's good practice to contemplate what you are planning to do and to reflect on what you have been doing. Write down or record in some way these contemplations and reflections. Always be trying to evolve the way that you work.

There may be readers here who are reading things of a political nature into this post. I'm ok with that. But, please understand I believe deeply that much of what we try to do as human beings are really forms of design. This is just who I am. If you read into this post some ulterior motive then ... well ... oh well. One of my primary missions in life is to help designers to better understand what they do and as a hopeful result improve their design thinking, doing and making. If we are all designers and if much of what we do in life is design then yes these ideas may be applicable to many of the things that humans do... including politically oriented efforts.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Board Game Prototype as Cultural Probe — Research Through Design

"Creative Differences" -- a board game design that I am working on, being tested a protospiel.

Bill Gaver and Tony Dunne developed a research method called a "cultural probe." For Gaver and Dunne the purpose of this method is to explore the context for a yet-to-be-defined design. A cultural probe is a designed object or designed kit of objects with a set of instructions that is given to members of a community (or subjects). A cultural probe may be something like a camera or notebook that the subjects use to record certain aspects of their lives. Subjects use the cultural probe and then return it to the designer who then uses it to gain insights that they might be able to use for a new design.

Cultural probes have been on my mind a lot lately. Not too long ago I attended a "protospiel" — i.e. a collaborative design workshop for board game designers. I had the opportunity to run playtests for a friend's game. It was a great experience and gave me a chance to, from a different perspective, see designers work. I took a lot of photographs, audio recordings and some video clips.

It occurred to me that it might be possible to use a board game as a sort of cultural probe. For example I could design a board game, bring it to a protospiel and have other designers collaborate to help me with the design. In fact I've already done this. But what didn't occur to me at the time is that I could do this — taking notes, photos or video and essentially use the board game as a sort of cultural probe. In some aspects it would of course not be a probe in the ways envisioned by Gaver and Dunne. But, it's an idea inspired by their work and I think it might be an interesting twist that could be useful for my research.

Can a board game be used as a type of cultural probe? Would I need to design the game in any particular way or could it be almost any design? Are there things I could learn about designers by observing them as I playtest a game designed as a cultural probe? To some extent I have already been doing this. But, I haven't done it with any intent explicit to this notion of "board game as cultural probe." I'm not sure where I will go with this or if I will use this idea. But, I feel excited about the possibilities. In this instance the probe could be a means of examining many aspects of collaborative design.