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Six thinkers on design thinking

The current topic in our theory class is ‘design thinking’ which we’re exploring via the following essays, listed here in chronological order:

Horst Rittel, Melvin Webber – Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning (1973)
This is a foundational text where the authors, who were both professors at UC Berkeley, coin the term ‘wicked problem’, in the context of social policy planning. They define 10 characteristics that distinguish such problems, and contrast them to the ‘tame’ problems dealt with in science.

Edward de Bono – Serious Creativity (1988)
This is an essay on creativity by the author who coined the term ‘lateral thinking’. He argues that creativity doesn’t come naturally, because the brain is conditioned to establish and follow set patterns, whereas the nature of creativity (and humor) lies in breaking out of the set pattern. He goes on to describe various techniques that can be used as aids in fostering creativity, including the ‘six thinking hats’ system, whose chief merits he cites as its artificiality and ritual. Along the way he discusses characteristics of information systems, classifying them as either passive or active, where an active system differs from a passive one in that the data and the medium in which it’s stored act together to absorb subsequent information differently, making it a self-organizing system (reminiscent of Dewey’s concept of experiential education, where every experience provides a basis for subsequent ones).

Richard Buchanan – Wicked Problems in Design Thinking (1992)
Buchanan is a professor at Case Western Reserve University and an important thinker in the design world. Here he takes the concept of ‘wicked problems’ and extends it to the field of design, which he defines as ‘the conception and planning of the artificial’. He argues that design ‘should be recognized as a new liberal art of technological culture’ (using Dewey’s definition of ‘technology’ as a ‘a systematic discipline of experimental thinking’). He also defines four categories of design that may bleed into one another: signs (symbolic and visual communication), things (material objects), actions (activities and organized services), and thoughts (complex systems or environments), and states that ‘What design as a liberal art contributes…is a new awareness of how argument is the central theme that cuts across the many technical methodologies employed in each design profession’. He also notes that Dewey didn’t view science as primary and art as secondary, but rather thought of science as an art, where art is characterized/defined by practice.

Nigel Cross – Discovering Design Ability (1995)
Cross, who is a professor at The Open University, explores the concept of design ability through a review of the extant literature (of the time), averring that it’s a form of intelligence possessed by everyone. He notes that designers share key characteristics in their approach to problem-solving, and that design might even be defined as a type of problem-solving: where ‘the problem solver views the problem or acts as though there is some ill-definedness in the goals, conditions or allowable transformations’ (quoting from J.C. Thomas and J.M. Carroll in their essay ‘The Psychological Study of Design’). He concludes with the hope that design will come to be seen as ‘a discipline in its own right’.

Joceyn Wyatt, Tim Brown – Design Thinking for Social Innovation (2009)
More recently, Wyatt and Brown, both of whom are leaders at IDEO, discuss what design thinking is (contrasting it with the term ‘design’), and how it can be applied to programs designed to address societal ills. They define an approach consisting of 3 overlapping ‘spaces’: inspiration (the problem or opportunity that triggers a search for a solution), ideation (the process of searching for a solution), and implementation (prototyping and fine-tuning a solution for deployment). They invoke multiple case studies to illustrate approaches that work, and ones that don’t. In particular they discuss the benefits of ‘positive deviance’, which involves direct observation of the behavior of outliers in the local environment who may have discovered successful coping strategies for surmounting difficult circumstances, that might be applied in a more general manner. As they put it: “Design thinkers look for work-arounds and improvise solutions and find ways to incorporate those into the offerings they create. They consider what we call the edges, the places where ‘extreme’ people live differently, think differently, and consume differently.”

Chris Pacione – Evolution of the Mind: A Case for Design Literacy (2010)
The final read comes from Chris Pacione, CEO of the LUMA Institute in Pittsburgh, which is a design consultancy advising businesses on how to apply design thinking in their operations. This is an engaging read that opens with the story of Fibonacci, who popularized an alternate numbering system that revolutionalized business-as-usual in western Europe, “enabling people to run businesses more efficiently, advance the practice of scientific measurement, and create whole new industries that extend all the way to our modern age”. He believes that “a new, pervasive mind shift is afoot. It’s called design, and like arithmetic, which was once a peripheral human aptitude until the industrial age forced it to be important for everyone, recent global changes and the heralding of a new age are positioning design as the next human literacy.”

These papers are plotted on the following diagram, according to whether they tend toward the practical or the theoretical (on the Y-axis), and to what degree their argument may be directed toward designing for profit versus designing for societal good (on the X-axis). It also indicates which authors seem to be influenced by John Dewey, denoted by red boxes.

Design Thinking

The full presentation deck is here.

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The Design Particle

This gallery contains 2 photos.

Image Credit: Ardan Özmenoglu http://ardanozmenoglu.net/

Untitled. Ardan Özmenoglu. ardanozmenoglu.net

It’s Thursday, you know what that means, another position diagram. Well, not quite. At least not in the 2×2 format we have all come to know and love. The most compelling quality of the recent batch of reading for the design thinking section of our theory course was not how they compared to each other, but rather how they combined.

The readings from Rittel, De Bono, Cross and Buchanan, in particular, present overlapping descriptions of design. I imagine if I could line them up and look through them, like the layers of glass in this untitled work by Turkish artist Ardan Özmenoglu, I would see a complete definition of design. I have attempted to achieve a similar result by distilling and diagraming key aspects of each author’s argument and assembling them into a whole. Resulting in the following definition:

The irreducible essence of design is the interplay of problem definition and solution generation, which happens in the process of making and reframing, in order to discover the desired future state of a specific situation.

Diagrams attached:

Diagrams

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Wicked Webs & Design Problems

 By: Crystal Watson & William Shouse 

“The easy problems have been solved.  Designing systems today is difficult because there is no consensus on what the problems are, let alone how to resolve them.”

Each author in this segment argues for design thinking or creativity’s importance in the larger world. The authors’ positions seem to build on each other. Rittel talks about where it came from, Buchanan talks about what it looks like in the world. Paccione, DeBono and Cross take things inside, and noodle on how and where it resides in the brain. They also ponder the whys, whethers and hows about sharing it. Finally, Wyatt takes a ‘what have you done for me lately’ approach and gives us the lowdown on how to share design thinking – but with a mercenary hook.

Rittel identified and named wicked problems, that little thing we all came to AC4D to work on this year. He asks us not to consider what is the “right” thing to do, but the good thing to do.

Buchanan takes Rittel’s lead and talks about what “design thinking” looks like. He gives us a framework, the four orders of design, that push us to consider where and how to apply design thinking. He gives a nod to visual and material design, but also reminds us to consider service design and complex system design as suitable targets for creativity. He evangelizes design thinking as an apt approach to any subject matter, also reminding us that design is inherently cross disciplinary, and indicates that it draws on many kinds of intelligence and knowledge.

Pacione makes a case for design literacy – not just design thinking. Telling us that design will have its greatest impact when it is no longer perceived to be in the hands of people who are professional designers and is put back into the hands of everyone. If we both look and make we can understand and advance.

DeBono takes creativity seriously enough that he developed entire systems to alter our thinking patterns, provoke movement, and evaluate their effectiveness. He insinuates that modes of thinking are artificial, learned, and so distinct that they can literally be put on and taken off as easily as a hat. Insisting that these tactics can used by anyone he regals us with tales of success from a large telephone corporation and the organizer of the 1984 Olympics. Also sure to remind us he sold them all many of his books.

Cross tells it’s not just inherent, there are ways to polish it up, improve literacy, develop fluency. For Cross, it’s a mode of thinking, something holistic and vast, not a set of be-hatted party tricks to pull out in front of Japanese businessman (DeBono, p.15).

Design is too important to be left to designers, it should be a discipline in itself, a cultivable skill, possessed to some extent by everyone. 

Wyatt is less concerned with the ineffable nature of design thinking than the output, and what it will achieve for her and her business. While she encourages all to utilize design thinking, (even publishing a free download!) she seems to believe that the important work is best left to the designers. She’s strategic in choosing how deeply she steeps regular people in design thinking, and is a bit of a tease. She wants to give customers just enough information so they have a category to understand her greatness, but not enough to be able to do what she does without her. 

 

IDSE102_Assignment_04_Watson_Shouse-01

 

For us, the big question is not whether or not designers play a role in disseminating design literacy, but what role should they play? How do we best share it? And who is listening? Both big business and big government certainly are. In fact the US military’s School for Advanced Military Studies, cites several of our authors detailing use of design thinking in modern warfare.  

To see the full presentation click here.

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WICKED WEBS & DESIGN PROBLEMS

Wicked Webs & Design Problems By: Crystal Watson & William Shouse

 “The easy problems have been solved.  Designing systems today is difficult because there is no consensus on what the problems are, let alone how to resolve them.”

Each author in this segment argues for design thinking or creativity’s importance in the larger world. The authors’ positions seem to build on each other. Rittel talks about where it came from, Buchanan talks about what it looks like in the world. Paccione, DeBono and Cross take things inside, and noodle on how and where it resides in the brain. They also ponder the whys, whethers and hows about sharing it. Finally, Wyatt takes a ‘what have you done for me lately’ approach and gives us the lowdown on how to share design thinking – but with a mercenary hook.

Rittel identified and named wicked problems, that little thing we all came to AC4D to work on this year. He asks us not to consider what is the “right” thing to do, but the good thing to do.

Buchanan takes Rittel’s lead and talks about what “design thinking” looks like. He gives us a framework, the four orders of design, that push us to consider where and how to apply design thinking. He gives a nod to visual and material design, but also reminds us to consider service design and complex system design as suitable targets for creativity. He evangelizes design thinking as an apt approach to any subject matter, also reminding us that design is inherently cross disciplinary, and indicates that it draws on many kinds of intelligence and knowledge.
Pacione makes a case for design literacy – not just design thinking, telling us that design will have its greatest impact when it is no longer perceived to be in the hands of people who are professional designers and is put back into the hands of everyone. However he states that there are those that are already familiar with the methods of what he considers to be a higher state of design thinking in which he categorizes design and design thinkers into the “Master” or “Iterator of others ideas” and the “Virtuoso” the true design innovator. His methods are laid out in a series of situational diagrams that he uses to back up this theory.

DeBono takes creativity seriously enough that he developed entire systems to alter our thinking patterns, provoke movement, and evaluate their effectiveness. Interestingly enough, one of the huge examples he uses is that of humor to incite creativity, to use the pattern of lateral thinking as the actual process. He insinuates that traditional modes of thinking are artificial, learned, and so distinct that they can literally be put on and taken off as easily as a hat, with his 6 colored hat system of idea organization. Insisting that these tactics can used by anyone he regals us with tales of success from a large telephone corporation and the organizer of the 1984 Olympics. Also sure to remind us he sold them all many of his books.

Cross tells it’s not just inherent, there are ways to polish it up, improve literacy, develop fluency, to put ideas on paper, sketch and iterate to form re-solutions to any problem. For Cross, it’s a mode of thinking, something holistic and vast, not a set of be-hatted party tricks to pull out in front of Japanese businessman (DeBono, p.15).
Design is too important to be left to designers, it should be a discipline in itself, a cultivable skill, possessed to some extent by everyone.

Wyatt is less concerned with the ineffable nature of design thinking than the output, and what it will achieve for her and her business. While she encourages all to utilize design thinking, (even publishing a free download!) she seems to believe that the important work is best left to the designers. She’s strategic in choosing how deeply she steeps regular people in design thinking, and is a bit of a tease. She wants to give customers just enough information so they have a category to understand her greatness, but not enough to be able to do what she does without her.

IDSE102_Assignment_04_Watson_Shouse-01
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Design should be shared to arrive at solutions for systemic problems

We’re wrapping up our first quarter with a set of six different articles about design as an approach and process for problem solving. Thinking about design as a discipline allowed me to consider the way design is either shared and deployed to a larger audience or protected as an expertise that is exclusive to the designer. What I took away from these readings as well as the position diagram I developed is that the value from design is generated when knowledge and understanding of this approach is shared. Alternatively, viewing yourself as the expert and holding the knowledge exclusively hinders the collaboration that is needed to create solutions for systemic problems.

The majority of these authors view design as an integrative approach that requires cooperation from disciplines outside of design. For Richard Buchanan, design is about making your way through complexity. Participants of the process “are drawn together because they share a mutual interest in a common theme: the conception and planning of the artificial.” Another layer to the sharing and protecting of design as a discipline is whether the process is proactive and change is initiated or retroactive where solutions are reactionary.

From this perspective, in addition to Richard Buchanan, authors Chris Pacione, Jocelyn Wyatt and Edward DeBono also take the position that sharing the design approach with others is a proactive way to initiate change. Chris Pacione refers to the sharing of design with people across an organization as the thing that allows teams to come together, apply the approach and use the process for the “making of anything, whether that ‘thing’ is a product, program, process, place, policy or perfume.” When referencing a critical part of the ideation part of the process, Wyatt says, “To achieve divergent thinking it is important to have a diverse group of people involved in the process. Multidisciplinary people – architects who have studied psychology, artists with MBAs, or engineers with marketing experience – often demonstrate this quality. They’re the people with the capacity and the disposition for collaboration across disciplines.” For an idea to be perceived as having value DeBono says that we actually have to get people to see something creative as being a logical solution. I interpret this as designers having to help people recognize that the reason a simple, practical idea has value is because of the approach we took to get there.

Different from these authors is Nigel Cross. While his position recognizes the value of sharing design, his process is more retroactive in that  solutions are a result of responding to something that has already been created previously. Authors Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber, who co-wrote their article together, take a proactive process approach but their attempt to plan through an entire complex system end-to-end leaves you feeling like the problem must be solved entirely or not at all. This places an enormous amount of pressure on the design to either succeed or fail. In leveraging design from a mode of protection, the knowledge and expertise is exclusive to the designer. This leaves the designer with much to gain or lose when a solution does or does not work.

In summary, what you will see reflected in my position diagram below is that solutions for systemic problems are achieved through a shared understanding of design as an approach and proactive initiation of change.

IDSE102_Position Diagram 4_Maryanne Lee_no quotes

 

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Visualizing Process

Two weeks ago in our Interaction Design Research and Synthesis class, we learned about five types of work models we can create to visually represent processes and physical artifacts from research. Put another way, our team (Crystal Watson, Laura Galos, and Lindsay Josal) was able to take the qualitative data from our research around teenagers and their food choices and map them out for everybody to see.

The five types of models we created are:

-Flow: A diagram of actions between people and physical areas, without regard to time.
-Cultural: A diagram of “invisible forces,” or cultural influences that act on and between people.
-Artifacts: Drawings of tangible objects our participants interacted with.
-Physical: A bird’s-eye view map of the space in which we conducted our Contextual Inquiry.
-Sequence: A written list of actions in the order in which they occurred.

Additionally, we have a list of Breakdowns and Design Ideas: A written list of problems observed in all of the other models, along with quick, high-level design ideas that could address these issues.

Although the Breakdowns and Design Ideas list brings together all the problems we observed into a single visualization, we marked each of the models with a little lightning-bolt icon at the place each issue occurred. In total, the models give a different perspective on the actions and interactions that happened during our research. Not only did this give us a new focus on the processes by which things happen, but it also manifested a much richer level of detail than can transcripts alone. Though it felt like we were creating models relatively late in the design process, we feel that modeling would be an excellent tool in early stages of research.

Remembering back to when we conducted our Contextual Inquiries, each member of our group would sit together and recap what happened after every interview and inquiry. Mostly the sessions were casual but helpful for information retention and hearing what the group members picked up on as interesting or found confusing. Going into our next design project, which will last the remaining 32 weeks of our program, we plan to incorporate modeling into our recap sessions to delve into those rich details earlier in the project to better inform synthesis and ideation phases.

 

 

 

artifiacts-01

Included here are our Flow and Artifact models from one interview session with two teenage participants.

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Another Set of Lenses for Synthesis

Still in the mode of synthesis, we learned another technique that could be used to understand how something works in the context of our research participants and their environment. We used a transcript from one of the interviews we previously conducted with a nonprofit that helps teens and families dealing with addiction. This transcript was then translated into a visual representation of the conversation. These visual representations, called work models, helped us to look at the conversation through a different set of lenses than we already had. Our team created a cultural, flow, artifact, physical and sequence models. By turning the the transcript into something visual, these models revealed breakdowns and helped us conceive a design idea. Physical Model  Sequence Model   Cultural Model 

CultMod

Flow Model

FlowModel

Breakdowns

  • Curfew argument
  • Reason behind setting curfew
  • Drug testing teen that starts using again
  • Teens don’t hear what their parents say

Design Idea

  • Ways to earn curfew extensions
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Viewing the poor as consumers. Who cares?

We’ve been talking about poverty in our theory class for the past couple of weeks, with the discussion focused on five readings that have in common some take on the poor as consumers.

I’m plotting the papers on the basis of two criteria, where the X-axis denotes the intended audience for the piece, with Business at the left, and Academic at the right, and the Y-axis denotes the authors’ level of empathy with the poor, judging by their level of engagement.  Here’s the diagram:

Poverty2x2

Starting with the earliest, we have Selling to the Poor, from 2004, by CK Prahalad, an influential business thinker and academic (who died in 2010), and Allen Hammond, formerly of the World Resources Institute, who is now a “serial social entrepreneur”.  They argue that the world’s poor represent a huge untapped market, and offer advice to corporations on how to adjust their thinking and approach in order to exploit it.  They position it as a win-win situation, where both the profit for the business entity and the benefit to the poor have the potential to be tremendous.  It’s a great read but seems a bit dated when viewed from a 2014 perspective.  It seems to view the world’s poor primarily from a western perspective, thus it doesn’t rank high on the empathy scale, and it’s clearly intended for a business audience.

Next we have Social Entrepreneurship: The Case for Definition from 2007, written by Roger Martin, another prominent business thinker and academic, and Sally Osberg, a social entrepreneur who currently heads up the Skoll Foundation. They argue that social entrepreneurship needs a rigorous definition to distinguish it from social activism and social service, which they proceed to provide.  It falls in the middle on the target audience scale (which might be considered a business school audience), and in the middle on the empathy scale, since it doesn’t take any direct position on the poor.

Moving on to 2008, we have a report from Chris Le Dantec and Keith Edwards of the George Institute of Technology called Designs on Dignity: Perceptions of Technology among the Homeless.  It documents the methods and results of field research they conducted with homeless people in a major U.S. city.  They provide insight into how homeless people rely on technology such as cell phones and public transportation systems, and also highlight some of the challenges posed by the implementation of those systems.  They conclude that there’s an opportunity to make technology more inclusive for marginalized populations.  The intended audience here is academic, and the level of user empathy is high, since their primary focus is the needs of the homeless.

The next paper is from Dean Spears, who teaches at Princeton and does primary research through an institute called r.i.c.e. (a research institute for compassionate economics).   His paper was published in 2010 and is called Economic decision-making in poverty depletes cognitive control.  He presents evidence from field experiments in an effort to refute what what he calls the folk theory of the ‘undeserving poor’.  He suggests that it may be that poverty results in depleted cognitive control, rather than vice versa.  Even though this is a report on scientific data, it seems intended for both business and academic audiences, since it suggests a need to rethink ingrained and traditional views of the causes of poverty, which may be held by the business community in particular.  This paper scores high on the empathy scale.

Also from 2010 we have Building Social Business Models: Lessons from the Grameen Experience, by Muhammad Yunus, Bertrand Moingeon and Laurence Lehmann-Ortega.  Yunus is well-known as the founder of Grameen Bank and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in pioneering extending small loans to the indigent in Bangladesh.

Attached is the presentation deck.

PovertyReadings.pdf

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Pirates, Dreamers, Doers.

 

 

 

 
“People would rather live in a world without poverty, disease and needless suffering”. – Muhammad Yunus

The authors in this section offer a broad range of views into how, exactly, they could envision a word without (or, at least, with less) poverty. Some are controversial, others seem completely logical. In total, they stretch our brains to start thinking about how we, as designers, can start to lay claim to our own views into designing for social good.

R. Martin & S. Osberg        

According to these authors, the social entrepreneur has unique characteristics that allow him to create a new stable equilibrium that alleviates suffering on a large scale, having identified an unjust equilibrium ripe with opportunity for change. While having enormous potential benefit, these authors fail to go far beyond simply defining social entrepreneurship. In doing so, they continue to divide, and exclude the poor from the rest of society.

D. Spears

Spears reframes explorations of poverty through conducting (somewhat questionable) experiments in the lab and the field. He finds that poverty depletes decision-making performance, challenging a long-held belief that the inverse is true. While this paper offers evidence to rethink perception of the poor (by using them as lab rats) Spears draws a line in the sand between the haves and the have-nots. It offers no tangible solutions and thus hangs in the realm of the theoretical.

 

C. LeDantec & K. Edwards

Use value sensitive design to explore the complexities of navigating the practicalities of homelessness. He takes systemic, ecosystem-level view into the factors that that keeps the homeless, well homeless. One particularly fascinating theme he pursues is that of identity, which gives food for thought as it seems to echo Vitta and how designers create identity through simulacra. In ‘considering more broadly how technology in the hands of everyone else impacts the lives of the homeless’ LeDantec pushes us to consider invisible realms, themes and factors.

 

 

 

C.K. Prahalad
 

This author gives us an anthem for the underserved, bottom-of-the-market pyramid as told through the unlikely market penetration of cell phones, table salt, and cosmetics in the poorest parts of the world. He argues that poverty can be alleviated by changing corporate perception. He wants to integrate the poor into the global economy benefiting society, using business strategies to elevate the poor from victims to consumers.

 

 

 

M. Yunnus, et. al.

 
Yunnus tells us that a social business’ primary purpose is to serve society, a social business hasproducts, services, customers, markets, expenses and revenues like a ‘regular’ enterprise. By truly humanizing and treating the poor just as ‘regular’ folk, Yunnus goes one better than Prahalad, and seeks to take on the poor as partners, not just view them as consumers.
He seeks to empower the poor using capitalism to address overwhelming concerns of global poverty, and does so in strategic, focused ways that, in aggregate, effect tangible, large scale change.

 

 

pirateSlide

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Empathy & Action: Reflections on Social Entrepreneurship and the Poor

A few months ago I left a wonderful job, good friends and a lot family in Cambridge, MA to move to Texas. The readings on social entrepreneurship and poverty, which we have been discussing in our theory class for the past two weeks, are at the heart of the reason for my move – I want to learn how to use my skills as an interaction designer to do socially relevant work.

The themes of empathy and action are the most compelling to emerge from this group of readings. As I considered the theme of empathy I was reminded of the saying, “there but for grace of God go I”. For me this sums up an empathetic worldview — I recognize our shared humanity, and look at differences in context and experience to understand the discrepancy our in circumstances. In the diagram, the x-axis represents this theme of empathy. Each article is positioned based on the authors’ view of the role of innate qualities versus context to explain people’s varying circumstance. The y-axis, representing action, describes each author’s relative focus on explaining a situation versus empowering action.

2x2 Diagram

 

Discussion of each author’s position and pdf with diagram and discussion after the break.

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