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Category Archives: Classes

Content, Context and Semantics:

The 5 readings I’ve been attempting to digest the last 2 weeks at Ac4d, discuss many things. Grouped into topics of Value, and Participatory Design, a lot of different jargon seems to contrast ideas between the authors , which I can only assume is Jons intent, in having us “plot” authors against (or is it “with”?) each other on a dual axis graph. For me what’s underpinning all these disparate texts is how much though sure each has their own positions, they seem to be talking around each others points. Though approaches differ, the goal seems the same, the most effective way to design, either with or for the user. Norman: Argues that innovation is driven by technology, that products produce needs. Design research’s only role is enhancement, and adaptation of these products. Innovation is a systems issue: it is not about product or process. It is about the entire system, Enhancement is where the research community can add the most value. People innovate simply because they can. Kolko: Design research focusing on human behavior in a broad sense, taking a look both at and around the problem, emphasizes opportunity and potential for innovation. Gaver: Uses human participation as a form of “social computing”, where engagement leads to a mutual influence of user and designer at every stage of the process. Sanders: Monetary, experiential, and social value can be “co-designed” with user and designer working together through acts of doing, adapting, making and creating. Dourish: Working at the intersection of computer and social sciences, Dourish supports the evolution of context in practice as a broad agenda for research in interaction design. The following is a graph I made about these things: IDSE102_Position Diagram 2_William Shouse Each in their own way attempt to explain away the sense making process, even seemingly embracing it. So on that note, I leave you with a quote from William Gavers “Cultural Probes and the Value of Uncertainty” When reason is away smiles will play.

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Five papers assessed by depth and user engagement

The current assignment involves summarizing the positions taken by the authors of five papers, and then ranking them according to:

1) how the authors might casually describe their take on engaging with users, with the measures “designing with” at one end of the scale, versus “designing for” at the other

2) a comparison of our own choosing, which in my case is the density of the material (in the sense of depth), versus conciseness, where one central idea is put forth briefly and clearly.

The diagram consists of an X-Y axis that defines four quadrants, where the position a particular piece appears relates only to the quadrant.  Some pieces fall on the axis to indicate a neutral position.

The papers are presented here in chronological order based on publication year, with a short summary.

Paul Dourish
What We Talk About When We Talk About Context (2003)
Dourish is a professor of informatics at UC Irvine.  This piece is the oldest of the five, and also the densest.  It presents a new framework for approaching the idea of context, where it’s re-interpreted as a dynamic and interrelated collection of features occasioned by an action.  Along the way he delves into positivist versus phenomenological traditions in the social sciences, and ethnomethodology.  Dourish is concerned particularly with the field of ubiquitous computing, and human-computer interaction, yet he makes clear that the redefinition of context that he presents here has wider implications, saying “Indeed, if we take ‘ubiquitous computing’ seriously, then we should be applying its ideas ubiquitously, not just in the relatively narrow areas of interaction with handheld and embedded devices.”

William W. Gaver et al
Cultural probes and the value of uncertainty (2004)
Gaver is a professor of design at the University of London.  Here he and his co-authors present the use of a technique they call a ‘cultural probe’, which is a provocative set of exercises designed to enable researchers to gain unprogrammed insights into the lives of study participants.

Donald A. Norman
Technology First, Needs Last: The Research-Product Gulf (2009)
Norman is a well-known academic in the field of design, and author of The Design of Everyday Things.  In this provocative piece he distinguishes between incremental innovation, and revolutionary or conceptual innovation.  He posits that while design research plays an important role in incremental innovation, it is not involved in revolutionary innovation, which he argues is instead technology-driven, with user needs and adoption occurring after the innovation.

Liz Sanders, George Simons
A Social Vision for Value Co-Creation in Design (2009)
Sanders and Simons describe the concept of co-creation as a form of collaboration where the end result of the process is unknown at the start, as well as its application to the design process, where the end user is an active participant in the process of value creation.  Co0creation

Jon Kolko
The Value of Synthesis in Driving Innovation, from Exposing the Magic of Design (2011)
Kolko describes what design research is, comparing and contrasting it with marketing research, and proceeds to focus on how it can drive innovation through the process of synthesis.  He hints at an opportunity for designers.



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Design Theory: An Integral Analysis

I studied philosophy as an undergrad, which gave me a surface understanding of a wide variety of different philosophical subject areas.  While I enjoyed the mental gymnastics of philosophy, and enjoyed discussing and debating ideas, I have to admit that I left my university without a clear picture, or mental framework, of the world.

Soon after I graduated, I found the philosophy of Ken Wilber.  Ken Wilber maps the entire universe and incorporates every philosophy, psychology, technology and spiritual tradition into a map he calls the “Integral Model.”  He separates the world into 5 digestible chunks:  Quadrants, Levels, Lines, States and Types.  While I don’t wish to discuss the specifics of each of these chunks, it suffices to say that I was blown away by his ability to map everything I had learned through my education in philosophy onto one map (actually 5 interconnected maps).

Over the last week or so we’ve read 5 authors focused on topics of innovation and participation and our assignment was to map these 5 authors onto a 2×2 matrix where one axis is on a scale of “Designing With” to “Designing For” and the second axis is our choice.

I went through a number of iterations of varying levels of depth & complexity, feel free to take a look at those iterations here, but I never felt comfortable with any of them.  No matter how I arranged them, there was a feeling of cognitive dissonance.  I was trying to force the authors into containers that were separate but interrelated — creating what I jokingly referred to as a “false quadotomy” (as opposed to a false dichotomy… get it?  hilarious!)

On the verge of a “screw it” moment, I decided to try mapping the authors within Ken Wilber’s framework of “Quadrants” and at that point, it all started falling into place.

Mr. Wilber’s Quadrants have two axes Individual/Collective and Internal/External.  These axes create four divided areas that can be summed up using pronouns:  I, WE, IT and ITS.  The idea of his integral philosophy is that each of these areas contains an important truth, and in order to have a full accounting of any subject, we must touch on all quadrants.

I have mapped each author’s ability take into account each quadrant.  The shaded area shows their overall success given this criteria.

While I don’t expect anyone to fully grasp Ken Wilber’s philosophy from this graph (his primary text is 850 pages), I do think it gives a nice window into the integral philosophy and provides a nice visual for comparing each author’s substantive differences.

Also, and more importantly, it was extremely useful for myself to be able to successfully orient each of these authors within my own (borrowed) mental framework.


Click the image below for a closer look:

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The Value of Design Research to Make Meaning in Society

Over the past couple of weeks, our Design, Society and the Public Sector class has read five articles that discuss different methods of engaging users and the value that such engagement produces. More specifically, the type of meaning created when designing “with” or “for” people and society.
As I considered the different articles, I paid attention to how each author views the importance of engaging the user in the design process and how it directly relates to the importance of either empathy or authority in order to bring value and meaning to society.

Position Diagram 02-02

The Value of Co-Creation
Liz Sanders’ article “A Social Vision for Value-Co-creation in Design” emphasizes the importance of Co-creation as a tool for driving significant social change. She defines Co-creation as collective creativity to create an unknown.
While there are three types of value co-creation, monetary, use/experience and social, and while all produce different ranges of value, social co-creation is where the opportunity for significant change and social transformation resides.
“Co-creation puts tools for communication and creativity in the hands of the people who will benefit directly from the results.”
For this to work, empathy for those directly affected by any change is imperative. This is key as the designer becomes the facilitator. She recognizes that everyone is creative and has the ability to creatively solve issues, especially those pertaining to their immediate circumstances.
The Value of Synthesis 
In Chapter 4 of the “Exposing the Magic of Design”, Jon Kolko discusses the importance of ethnographic research as an avenue to innovation. Through the uncovering of a potential for a future state, design research that focuses on human behavior is the most effective at discovering innovation – but it only provides an opportunity for innovation. These two are linked through the process of synthesis where meaning is made from the observations during the research phase.
This process of problem finding through design research and sense making through synthesis paves the way for the design phase to produce something that solves the problem and adds value to the human condition.
The Value of Uncertainty
Bill Gaver discusses the use of probes as a tool for inspiration in his article, “Cultural Probes and the Value of Uncertainty”. He emphasizes that what we “know” has limits and meaning can be found through such inspiration provided by the empathetic reframing of situations.
“Probes are collections of evocative tasks meant to elicit inspirational responses from people–not comprehensive information about them, but fragmentary clues about their lives and thoughts.”
Through such evocative activities, the participant is inspired to reframe their lives. Which in turn, provokes the designer to understand through empathy and feeling rather than lean on rationalization. By reframing your viewpoint, you can create open your mind to new ideas.
“Probology is an approach that uses Probes to encourage subjective engagement, empathetic interpretation, and a pervasive sense of uncertainty as positive values for design.”
It’s more of a tool for inspiration. That reinforces the idea that we must constantly reframe our perspective in order to truly empathize and provoke new ideas and possibilities.
The Value of Context
In “What we talk about when we talk about context”, Paul Dourish recognizes that with the advancement of technology and how it has moved evermore into our everyday lives, our understanding for and consideration of context must evolve.
He states that context arises from the activity. Thus it is dynamic and interactional. We design products that have their own context, and as people interact with the product, they create new context. They create new meaning.
“Finding the social world orderly and meaningful is a practical problem that people solve, endlessly and unproblematically, as they go about their business.”
He does not discuss how people are involved in the design process, but rather how the design process should consider the context of people and practice and how it is a living, breathing thing. He considers the need to design for users to be active participants in making meaning through the use of technology. In this, there is some empathy for the constant evolution and adaptation that is inherent in people (and their need to create)and communities and it is important that technology take this into consideration.
“Practice, is first and foremost a process by which we can experience the world and our engagement with it is meaningful.”
The Value of Technology
Donald Norman’s provocative article, “Technology First, Needs Last: The Research-Product Gulf,” he takes a stance that opposes the ability of such tactics as co-creation and ethnographic research, where human needs come first, to drive significant change for innovation. He champions the lone ranger engineer/tinkerer for all true innovations and downplays the role/ability of design research to drive any sort of innovation.
“The technology will come first, the products second, and then the needs will slowly appear, as new applications become luxuries, then “needs”, and finally essentials.”
Norman believes that now, human needs are a result of the integration of technology into people’s lives. This blends with Dourish’s concept that context is interactional and people adopt and adapt – creating new context and new need.
Meaning is then made once technology is adapted. Technology drives innovation which creates human need, so ethnographic research and co-creation are only useful for incremental product innovation rather than the creation of something new.
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Useful Solutions vs. Interesting Observations – or, Research.. hmm, what is it good for, absolutely nothing? Wait say that again??

Let us begin out story with a man named Bill Norman. Bill is an academic who believes that inventors invent because they are inventors, creators create because they are creators. Not out of need, desire for social standing, or to make the next big technological gadget breakthrough that might one day define a persons identity through its shiny silvery exterior. Research is for those who are not these people; that no true groundbreaking innovation has ever come from the tedious expenditure of one man, or a team of individuals who have to seek out the reason for innovation in the first place. This statement is not just provocative and to some people, well, just plain offensive, but also just, well… shallow.

To think that the innovator, the creator, the silent socially awkward genius living in his mothers basement is not in a constant mode of design research, thinking, tinkering, trying and failing… and failing some more until EUREKA, alternating current is born, to me is absurd. Sure this may be true for more product-based iterations, the iphone4, the iphone6? The iwhatever fill in the blank. But what about the first telephone, the first telegraph. The first innovation that allowed a person in one place to audibly communicate with someone on the other side of the world.

This audacious claim inflamed the one Bruce Nessbaum (of Businessweek) who says no way, no how, is Norman correct. That ethnographic research, especially in todays society of crowdsourcing this, and input and opinions from everyone whether deemed to be educated enough to even be an opinion worth taking, sill exists. And certainly not only drives innovation but demands it. How else is one supposed to know what the next world breakthrough will be? AND in that case what constitutes a world altering breakthrough to begin with??

So let’s talk research for a second then. I know this man; some of you may be familiar. Last name Kolko… lots of opinions, and lots of experience to back them up. Research is an interesting and important topic to Jon Kolko from what I gather from reading and speaking with him, but there are really definitive lines to be drawn from this “research” umbrella. There is marketing research, design research, scientific research, and on and on. Lets focus on the design research for now. Jon states that design research is necessary for finding inspiration. That there IS a method to the madness, that from information gathering, fact gathering really, to inference derivation from those facts, to then making an educated yet purely opinionated provocative solution to the problem, or opportunity discovered through the design synthesis process, that the inspiration for innovation is conceived. You find the problem, and you then attempt to provoke an idea to solve it, right?

Well then comes in a man name Bill Gaver. Bill uses a method called cultural probes to gather information and insight to drive the innovation process for design solutions. This is an interesting process because it involves actually giving a user an artifact to interact with, without the implied influence of the researcher, and then receiving back that artifact to then study and either do something with the information, or in Bill’s case, because he is an academic… do nothing but revel in the knowledge that the world has now gained a bit more insight into human behavior.

Artifacts that he notes include things like a disposable camera. What happens when you give someone a disposable camera, say go to town and shoot away at whatever you want, then I am going to study these results and interpret from your active creative process what you are thinking at that time as a human being. Now Bill calls these subjects “non-designers” and the interpreters are the “designers”. What validity do we even get from methods like this if there is no even ideal for creating something to come out of the product of the research? Can you even then call yourself a designer if you make nothing but ideas and inferences? Is this what this what the designer Liz Sanders then calls the process of co-creation?

I don’t think so.

Liz has a different take I think. Rather that completely separating who she considers the “consumer” from the “designer” she instead suggests that we may all kind of be a little of both. Are we all creative? Are we all then, designers because we pin something to pinterest? Is design then just the process of making something that did not in fact exist before whether it is an original idea or not? Pinterest is in fact just a collage of other peoples artifacts collected by an admirer who then claims ownership over the organization of said artifacts which is laid out is a creatively and unique to the individual account owners page. And is this even valuable? What’s the point?

Going back to Nessbaum’s idea, then sure. It is valuable because the masses say so. The social media says so. The masses dictate the innovations of the future, and the innovators need to be listening.

Probably the most well, confusing and sesquipedalianesque of the readings come from the on Paul Dourish, who plots design research into 2 theories. One of the Positivist, in which everything can be traced back to a mathematical derivation, that patterns can be predicted by statistical analysis taken from past experience. And then one of the Phenomenological; that all is a matter of interpretation, of natural progression and is not predictable but organic. My opinion leans towards a little of both, the phenomenological approach, where we are the agents of our future, and yet are inherently influenced by the actions of the past. And that we may actually be able to in some way predict through studying the statistics of the past make assumptions of the actions in the future. I believe both of these research methods should be touched upon if used in order to create a truly effective design solution.

Of all this, this wealth of opinion and information I must say I have to side with Dourish the most. I appreciate the idea that yes we are agents of our own future, but perhaps the positivist approach in research may even be able to dictate how we might react in that free will of agency. This is in conjunction with Kolko’s emphatic and I believe completely accurate and necessary method of synthesis in which to derive a design solution.

But that’s just me

IDSE102-PositionDiagram - Research-01

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Design Accessibility Through Mass Consumption

In reading about the ethics and responsibility of design through the lens of authors like Maurizo Vitta and Edward Bernays in my first theory class at Austin Center for Design, I began developing a sense for the role I believe design and designers have in society. There are combinations of elements evident in each of these author’s positions that make design more or less accessible including participation, acceptance, distribution and mass consumption. Each of these elements impacts the scalability of design. Accessibility in this context is defined as making a design idea, product, service or system available broadly to as many people as possible.

What this position diagram strives to achieve is demonstrating how each author’s position makes design more or less accessible to society. For design to make forward progress as a discipline and profession, its intention must be to achieve scale and be mass consumed.


IDSE102_Position-Diagram-1-FINAL-FOR-WEB_Maryanne-Leeclick for full size

The entry point for design accessibility begins with participation. End users of the design solution are involved with the making. Emily Pilloton’s overarching belief is that long-term success is not achievable without activating design through participation by being in the place end users. She classifies this as having “a personal stake in the community” and doing work that is “wide-spread and pervasive.”

While Pilloton’s intention is to be focused on the depth of design impact in one place, participation can be limiting if a design idea does not grow into acceptance by an increasing number of people. Fostering continued belief in that has wide reach requires this notion that John Dewey refers to as “The cause for our preference is not the same thing as the reason why we should prefer it.” Layering preference into design means that people are able to qualify both functionally and socially what they do or do not accept into their lives. Victor Margolin takes this a step further emphasizing that advocating for design to have a greater role in society means addressing the expectation design has “As an art of conception and planning [which] occupies a strategic position between the sphere of dispositional ethics and the sphere of social change. This is its power.”

That power is what begins to shape what I see as the creation of demand that prompts mass production or distribution of design. An effort to make design more widely accessible is accomplished through what Christopher LeDantec cites as having not only a participatory design process, but an understanding for ways to “generate opportunities for participation and action.” Action becomes purposeful in the technique offered by Edward Bernays through “the mass distribution of ideas.” A designer must “know how an idea can be translated into terms that fit any given form of communication, and that his public can understand.”

Mass distribution that results in mass consumption breeds and sustains what Vitta refers to as “the designer’s centrality” in “continually transform[ing]” in which “the task of expressing the cultural, esthetic, or semiological values that interact behind that transformation [as being] the designer’s specific duty.” In making design more accessible, designers expose themselves to greater vulnerabilities that result from losing control over an idea once it exists in the world. The consequence of mass consumption Vitta identifies in which consumers take on the identity projected by the use of an object also inversely is an opportunity for consumers to collectively define a brand through the significance an idea, product, service or system has in their lives. It is across this bridge of self-definition that the meaning and value consumers inject for many that makes design most accessible.


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IMPOSITION TO INFLUENCE: The designers role in affecting a system of beliefs

The dictionary defines a value system as being an open set of morals, ethics, standards, preferences, belief systems and world views that come together through self-organizing principles to define an individual, a group or a culture.

So what if the organization of these principals is not so self defined?

What if these principals are molded, formed and influenced by ideas and objects that surround the self whether intentionally or not, influencing the belief systems and preferences that define a person as the person they are.

In the past couple of weeks we as a class keyed in on 6 author’s writings. Some being recognized designers, some design historians, some design thinkers. Through reading and re-reading and analyzing the scanned pages of 6 very different theories and experiences, notated with dialects from the translated Italian version to very straightforward literary magazine articles; I couldn’t help but notice that each author, whether they were a working designer or not, all had a sense of there being some sort of behavioral shift that came out of the end product of a design experiment or idea. As if the designer was given a power to control the thoughts and actions of their subjects through manipulation, experience, product, or education. Some I found a little off putting I have to admit. To be a designer to me is not to revel in the idea that you can puppet a community into jumping off the commodity cliff, but ideally perhaps educate thorough innovation, or aid in a person or communities hardships through easily accessible tools.

Although it seemed that my final conclusion was just more questions about “how do you know if you are doing it right??” I was at least driven to put down on paper my thoughts on how the 6 authors we studied fit on a simple, and very biased scale of a designers role to either manipulate and impose a value system into a public, work to adopt and understand the value system of their public, or to try to gently influence and broaden a public already established value system.

So here you go, my own personal version of a scale of importance that the role of design has, as I see it, through the ideas of Bernays, Le Dantec, Vitta, Pilloton, Dewey, and Margolin.

Click to Enjoy

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Worldview & Practicality: A Twofold Criteria of Importance

“Important to whom?” After being given the task of mapping readings from six different authors along an axis of importance, this was my immediate thought:  Important to whom? Important to the world? To designers? To academics? To myself?

As I dove into these questions, I realized whomever I chose as the arbiter of importance, the end result – the thing that I’d ultimately be posting here — would boil down to my subjective opinion of these readings.  So the question quickly became “Which of these authors is most important to me?” or to place the question in a little more context, “Which of these authors is most important to me as a human & design student?”

After looking back over the readings and my notes, and after a bit of meditative introspection, I realized there were two marginally related criteria that I was using to shape my opinions of these authors.  The two criteria that emerged were, “How much do these authors seem to understand the complexities of the world we live in?”  and “How practical are their design solutions?”

The first criteria is important because it represents the authors’ worldviews from which they present their design philosophies.  I focus specifically on the their views of consumption and sustainability (or expansion & equilibrium as Victor Margolin puts it) because these ideas are of particular significance to designers whose job it is to create products & put them into the world.  Each author is judged below on a statistically precise scale of 1 to 5 stars — under the heading “Worldview” — based on how developed & balanced I think their worldview is.

The second criteria is important because, even though an author may have a wildly flawed worldview, it does not follow that they have no practical expertise or wisdom to share.  Even the most pro-consumption uber-corporatist author may have valuable knowledge and practical tools that could be incorporated into a socially responsible design.  As such, I have also rated each author below on a scale of 1 to 5 stars — under the heading “Practicality” — based on how useful, practical & actionable their design philosophies are.

Using the well known scientific approach of adding up stars, each author is then plotted along a scale ranging from most important to least important.  Following the diagram are quotes from each author demonstrating examples of why they received the number of stars they received.





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Family Matters: Addiction

For this first assignment, our team (William Shouse, Jeff Patton and Maryanne Lee) developed a research plan that was focused around the impact of addiction to drugs and alcohol on families and how it alters the family dynamic at various stages of addiction. We started by coming up with a list of all the people and contexts we could talk to and explore. Thinking about people in different contexts revealed the different topics that our team thought we could learn the most about. These topics included relationships, recovery, the cycle of addiction, consequences, support structures, environment and safety.


One of the biggest challenges we faced in doing this for the first time was crafting a plan that could stand entirely on its own without any supplemental clarity from our team. In trying to balance the complexity of access to participants in the contexts we wanted, the team also struggled to determine what the right level of detail and specificity should be.

Like the rest of our peers, we were a new team that had never worked together before. Building trust in each other quickly was a direct result of the respect we had for one another’s time and personal boundaries. Should we be the team executing this research plan, we strongly believe that the trust we have established in each other would be translated into the quality of the quick relationship building needed in order to be invited into the lives of the research plan’s participants.

Click here to view our full research plan.


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Coupling between thinking and actuation

As part of the creative problem solving process – designers research to understand a problem space, apply their own subjective point of view or intuition and create provocations to make sense of incomplete information.

In Organizing and the Process of Sensemaking, Karl Weick states, Sensemaking is not about truth and getting it right.  Instead, it is about continued refracting of an emerging story so that it becomes more comprehensive, incorporates more of the observed data, and is more resilient in the face of criticism. 

In Discovering Design Ability, Nigel Cross states, some of the relevant information [in a design problem] can be found only by generating and testing solutions; some information, or ‘missing ingredient’ has to be provided by the designers himself ... this extra ingredient is often an ‘ordering principle’. These ‘ordering principles’ give people access to new information on the whole and can take on various activities, such as the diagram below for example: 

In Theory of Interaction Design, we read 10 articles and discussed the relationship between creativity, knowledge, perception and strategy. The diagram above is an overview of each author’s summary along with my own position.

Thoughts? Make sense?  Your perception of it?  Can we design for an individual’s perception? Stavros Mahlke, in Visual Aesthetics and the User Experience, thinks we can and should by integrating ‘non-instrumental qualites’ like aesthetic, symbolic aspects and emotional user reactions with traditional user experience interaction design.   

In summary, it is in our thinking and activity where solutions are created and make sense.

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