Motivation, Context, and Their Relation to Both Designer and Design

For the past few weeks in our Theory of Interaction Design class, we’ve been talking about the cognition of design, sense making, and the way that it interacts both in a visual stage but also in a business environment. Our task this week was to create a 2×2 diagram and place each of the authors on this diagram.

The readings seemed at first, disparate, and organizing ten disparate things proved to be a challenge. However, as I started distilling what all of the readings had in common, I came to a few key conclusions:

1) There are three direct actors in the process of design:

  • The user;
  • The artifact (the design itself);
  • And the designer.

All three of these actors seemed to have an affect on the process of design; in human-centered design, the user is who is considered first and foremost; but once research is complete and sense making begins to occur, there is a dialogue between the memory of the user, the designer, and then, eventually, the artifact.

2) That these three direct actors were indirectly influenced by two things:

  • Personal motivation, both intrinsic and extrinsic and
  • The context of the situation.

In my last theory post, I talked a great deal about context and why it matters; this post, I will take an ancillary view to context and use it as a means of influencing the user, artifact, and designer in the process of design.

Click here to view the full PDF.

The axises are – Context drives the creation of new design vs. design drives the creation of new context, and that design is inherently extrinsically motivated (for users) vs. Design is intrinsically motivated (by your own mind).

I’m going to zoom into two people who are on opposite sides of the spectrum—Edward De Bono and Charles Pierce.

Edward De Bono writes about his colored hat system, and how “the ritual and artificiality of the hat system is its greatest advantage.” He uses an artificial constraint (hats) to help facilitate conversation with others around design because in many business settings, it is difficult for users to understand the meaning behind design thinking, but easier to understand, “I put my red hat on and now I’m talking about emotion.”

Though it is an arbitrary constraint, De Bono’s idea was brought on by the fact that not many people in business could interpret what people meant by “creativity” and “design.” There was a certain intangibility to it that was not understood by people in the business world, and by developing the hat system, De Bono is allowing others to experience design thinking.

This is a great example of design that is created both by context and extrinsic motivation to help out others—he saw a problem in understanding, ideated around the best way to express design thinking, and came up with a hat system.

Pierce, on the other hand, is a logician by trade, and argues that the thought that occurs behind design is abduction, which is closely linked to perception (so much that distinguishing between the two might be difficult) and is an interpretation of the intent of someone/something.

For Pierce, perception and abduction truly are what influences our context (indeed it is the lens through which we see the world), but to tease out abduction from perception is what occurs in the sense making process, formed entirely inside our own minds.

There is a tangibility that we can see in De Bono’s case (we physically have colored hats we can “wear”), and an intangibility in Pierce’s argument, but both are strong ways in approaching sense making in design.

My personal view on the diagram is that we as designers must be able to move around to multiple places on the chart; we must be able to be both intrinsically (for carving out sense making) and extrinsically (to work with our users to make a usable product) as well as allow ourselves to be influenced by the context of the world and “the ‘talk back’ of our design” as Shön calls it. The ability to hold multiple conflicting truths in their head, similar to Pierce, is a mark of a talented designer.