Wicked Problems

Reading Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning by Horst Rittel & Melvin Webber, the original writing on Wicked Problems, was tremendously comforting. I’m kind of in love with wicked problems. I didn’t expect to be so taken by the premise of a giant unsolvable mess. But, then again, I’m most comfortable in ambiguity, and I’ve never been neat and tidy. Hearing about wicked problems in cautionary and reverent tones all quarter, I’ve been picturing impenetrable, monolithic beasts.

Now I’m understanding them a little more like this:

Everything is connected, even the terrible stuff.

No one is right, no one is wrong, but you may like some ideas better than others.

There is no way to make everything better for everyone.

Everything you try to do matters and can have profound effect. Take responsibility.

 

I made a video about some beasts anyway:

Sketch Book: Dear Future Student

Hello there, Future Student!

As we near the end of the first quarter, here are a few pieces of advice that I wish I had taken to heart sooner:

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You can force yourself to work harder, but you can’t force understanding. So force yourself to take moments of reflections and you might find another way in.

 

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Find someone you trust to give you honest input.

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Be adaptable. Be ready to pivot. Be ready to fall on your strengths.

Sketch Book: lessons

This week, we drew 5 scenes that represent what we’ve learned so far at AC4D. I thought about things that surprised me, and personal lessons I’d like to remember:

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Not sure if meme

This week we were assigned to sketch a meme for studio class and try to propagate the image online. So: what is a meme? It’s something that’s shared online to the point that it becomes familiar shorthand. It usually starts as something topical. It’s usually funny, and can be applied to a variety of situations.

Since a meme is something that becomes shared and familiar, I started my one-week meme with the classic (by internet standards) Squinty-Eyed Fry as a guide. I changed Fry to Trump to make it topical, and played with his frequently used phrase “haters and losers.”

Here’s the result:

Outcomes:

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I shared the image on Twitter and Imgur and got a decidedly tepid response.

Twitter: 3 likes, 1 retweet (from my encouraging brother)

Imgur: 1714 views, 2 favorites, 9 ups, 12 downs, and 4 comments

The image wasn’t shared or manipulated, so I don’t think I can really call it a meme. But, it was interesting to watch reactions and view timing on Imgur. I don’t usually let things move as freely out in the world. Timing is everything in sharing ideas; the right person has to hear you at the right time, and there’s a lot of noise.

Process Sketches

This week for studio class, we looked at process sketches- used for visual exploration, communication and development. We picked work from 5 artists we find inspirational and traced their sketches.:

1. Alphonse Mucha is one of the biggest influences in my own artwork. My style is fairly static, and borrows from his line and detail work. For this project, I wanted to look at all of the artist’s sense of gesture and motion. With this Mucha piece, I was concentrating on the hair and fabric of his model, and how they flow through the piece.

Original:

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Tracings:

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2. Adrian Tomine’s Super-Hero Girls poster served as my introduction to the artist. I love this process sketch, showing how he found his lines.

 

Original:

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Tracings:

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3. I’ve always admired Daniel Clowes’ ability to show such emotive facial expressions from all of his drawings, whether they are large and detailed, like this pencil sketch for the back cover of Ghost World, or lower fidelity sketches within comic panels. I wanted to stretch my own limits of showing emotion in medium fidelity.

Original:

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Tracings:

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4. Hayao Miyazaki’s characters are enchantingly gestural. He has a great, almost hyper-active way of moving his characters. I love the cat from Kiki’s Delivery Service, and how it’s entire form changes to show expression.

Original:

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Tracings:

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5. Ollie Johnston was the lead artist for Disney’s Robin Hood, along with many other Disney films of the mid-20th century. I loved the close up here of Robin Hood taking a bow, I wanted to play with the gestural lines used by the artist to find Robin’s path.

Original:

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Tracings:

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This week we also read from Drawing Ideasand took visual notes. The chapters we read focused on representing thoughts visually and developing clear visuals to make sense of the content. Below are my notational sketches:sketchmeg1sketchmeg2sketchmeg3

What adds value to design?

We had a series of readings last week that each touched on a different aspect of value in design. Each author had vastly different opinions on where in the design process user-engagement adds the most value.

 

What adds value to design?

  

 Don Norman values innovation above all else. He defines innovation as technological advancement. He posits in Technology First, Needs Last: The Research-Product Gulf that radical advancements in technology are the only way for design to move forward. A user may tweak a design once it is on the market to shift its use from something periphery to a human need, but use follows technology.

Jon Kolko values understanding and empathy. He gains these through design research, by “[learning] from people to emphasize people, rather than technology or business.” He stresses that design research is a way to inspire new ideas and find design opportunities, not a sure-fire pathway to innovation.

Paul Dourish is a technologist himself, working in the field of ubiquitous computing. He believes that value in design derives from context. Context is ever changing, and dependant on multiple factors including social interaction and activity. A design that is valuable in one context may need to shift functions to remain valuable in another.

Bill Gaver values the insights of a designer above all else. He uses a research device called “Probes” to get inspiration from the user. But really, that’s all he hopes to get from the user: inspiration from the designer. He discourages people from using his “Probes” to ask pointed questions or try to find specific data points. He believes researchers should use results from the prompts in the “Probes” as a sort-of filter for their own thoughts, to let inspiration seep through.

Liz Sanders values community co-creators. She emphasizes bringing potential users into the design process to help make the design and see it through to market. She believes that everyone has a desire and ability to create, and that designers should harness that ability to create products with communities.

 

How does user-engagement affect design value?

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Don Norman’s article posits that design research can be used to make some small incremental changes in a revolutionary design, but iteration is generally working within the framework of something that already exists. It may shift the design slightly, change a few features, but redesigning some revolutionary technology is unlikely to do much more than that. I agree with this premise, but I believe there is a way to use design research with new technology that may make the technology more successful at the outset: if you can fill a need with your product rather than waiting for someone else to find it, your product will likely be adopted sooner. Just having a ‘new cool thing’ doesn’t mean much without a need.

Jon Kolko dives into behavioral research when starting a new design project. He encourages designers to step back and use design synthesis as a method of rationalizing and substantiating their thinking. Synthesis allows designers to use what they learned from watching the behavior of potential users to translate an “opportunity into specific design criteria.”

Paul Dourish is really focused on the technology of ubiquitous computing. He seeks to understand content of human interactions and actions and how they work together to form context. In his article, What we talk about when we talk about context he doesn’t discuss what kind of objects he’s building, but instead focuses on how we should be looking at social context in technology, which leads me to believe that he is letting the data guide what he builds.

Bill Gaver utilizes user-engagement earliest, and lets it go soonest. He doesn’t want to really understand the people he connects with through the “Probes,” he wants to let his own mind build their stories. It’s impossible to know if he interprets the results in a way that makes sense to the participants because he doesn’t for clarification. This style of design research has a huge risk of gross misinterpretation.

Liz Sanders engages with users early, but doesn’t let go. She wants designers to fully empathize with community co-creators to make something unique and valuable within that community. Sanders stresses that diversity is a key driver for collaboration, but I worry that having designers work so closely with communities that members of that community are co-designers and co-owners, may eventually stagnate ideas, lead to problems with leadership, especially if members of the community are always co-creators and not just creators.

Sketch Book: 2

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This week, we played with expressing actions and emotions through figures. We used basic human forms and practiced manipulating  each part of our figures to differentiate mood and circumstance. Then we made short, six-panel comics to illustrate a richer story of our figures.

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Sketch Book: 1

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For our studio class, I spent the week drawing objects, patterns, and animals from basic shapes. As someone who draws often, with fairly detailed images, it was kind of a refreshing exercise to find the simplest forms in all these objects. See all my drawings from this assignment here.

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Week 1: Finding Time

Just before I started at Austin Center for Design, I spent a week alone in the mountains of West Texas hiking, drawing, and finding comfort again in uncertainty. It’s empowering and terrifying to know you’re probably the only human for miles. I exchanged quick pleasantries with other lone travelers; there’s a reason one goes out to the edges of the world alone, and it’s not usually to tell your story. For me, it was to focus and reframe the next chapter in my life.

My time so far at AC4D has really been pushing the frame I built myself. I’ve been finding intrigue and comfort in places I wouldn’t have guessed two weeks ago. Contextual Inquiry is really exciting me. I’ve used similar methods of questioning in the past, but never thought about the process further than “listen, be kind.” Working in tech support, I’d often have to figure out what a person without technical vocabulary was seeing and doing without being able to see it myself. I found it easiest to calm the person down quickly by reminding them that I was there to help them, matching their patterns of speech, and asking them questions to lead me through what they were seeing in their own words.

It’s been most challenging for me to find the time and space to process all that I’ve learned. I know that it will continue to be a challenge for me. I need to recognize moments of solitude wherever I find them. Saturday night, after a day of class and three hours of rehashing our research project, I found myself downtown in the middle of the Pride Parade. I made a beeline for P. Terry’s and ordered the most food possible. I carved out a quiet spot among the chaos to enjoy my own celebration, eat terribly delicious food, laugh, and find comfort in a good friend.