Same old problem… but a fresh openness?
I was invited to take part in a workshop on Ageing, attended by several leading Japanese companies (Hitachi, NTT, Ajinomoto, Kao, Omron; Ricoh etc). The participants were either designers (working internally), or R&D people who were excited by ‘Design Thinking’ methods as a way to innovate new systems, services and products for the senior citizens thereby addressing a social issue and creating new opportunities in a ‘growing’ market.
The stage where I participated was a follow-up of several previous workshops that begun with an ethnographic study of senior citizens and followed by an introduction to Design Thinking as a method to generate new ideas. They were then asked to report what they had attempted to do subsequently in their respective departments/companies and share any problems and potential avenues they have encountered since.
Familiar problems were heard such as, lack of ownership and buy-in by fellow staff or support/endorsement from the powers at be. Many shared their attempts to involve their colleagues, inspire them with their ideas and methods, though almost all of them reported that they were unsuccessful. It seemed, from my perspective, that the emphasis they placed on the main ‘user’ (ie, the senior citizen, in this case), they forgot to think about other stakeholders, ie, internal staff, that they are also the main ‘user’ too that needed to be involved in the process of change. Other common themes were the cause and effect proof that such new ‘thing’ can create profit. Although many had agreed that the future vision of empowering senior citizen was essentially a good thing, it was hard for their fellow colleagues to translate that more practically into what they do now. It seemed that the scenarios were too future based that lacked tangibility and belief – they were forcing people to run before they could walk. A ‘buffer’ scenario was needed – perhaps, generated through co-creation from colleagues in other departments, even involving the CEO.
These were interesting observations – commonly heard in other countries – and reflected the experimental approach that the Hakuhodo innovation lab were attempting to create through such initiative. I was also struck by how non-competitive everyone was, and rather than holding on to trade secrets or censoring criticisms or internal company problems, they were all very open in sharing, empathising and, in some instances, celebrating the small success of some other team. That, I felt, was the greatest and most rewarding aspect of being part of this workshop. I wondered whether this ‘culture’ could be observed in Australia or the UK (I can say for sure, not in the US!) – and that they were all supportive, collegial and non-competitive, was a really lovely thing to experience.
It’s a beautiful autumn day outside, top of 4 degrees today and slightly overcast . I see college students (super intelligent) criss-crossing the green lawn, kicking the brownish leaves, on their way to class. An American flag gently waves in the background. This is what an American college campus feels like, and I love it!
Since arriving at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, I’ve been warmly embraced into this campus life. I’ve literally jumped into classes, often not knowing exactly what the classes are or what I was required to do, but its often (thankfully) turned out ok. The two classes I’ve been in so far has been ones where there’s a mixture of student levels – from undergrad, postgrad and research candidates. What seems like a pedagogical nightmare to me, fellow colleagues shrug and accept this as how it is here. The breadth and depth that the students are required to perform at is also very interesting. For example, I took part in a class run by Kristin Hughes, Bruce Hanington and Tim (forgot his last name). This class is called “Design and Policy for Humanitarian Impact”. It has 20 students split into 8 project teams, a mix of design grad and undergrads, and some from the Heinz school of public policy, and a few from HCI, Engineering, etc. The inter-disciplinary mix was fascinating to see, and each group had to research an issue of their choice, which was very meaty and rich. I was really impressed by the quality of their work and the insights they’ve gained already, though was concerned how they would manage such a huge task in a short timeframe. Big issues like enabling teenagers to discuss sexuality with family members; creating hands-on extra-curricula activities for high schools; combined sewage overflow; addressing cross-cultural discrimination between black African Americans and Black Africans… that the students weren’t afraid to tackle these ‘real-world’ problems was great to see.
I also got to see Aisling’s class on Critical Design. Students had to create a fictitious campaign on any issue of their choice. Many of these were imbued with a wicked sense of humour (’Design your ideal man’ or ‘Electric shocks from a guitar to make you practice to perfection’, ‘A mirror that records and plays back’), and produced very convincingly. Some of them sparked discussions and questions about gender, race, values, privacy, identity… it was all fascinating. I was really amazed by the way the design students weren’t pushed in providing ’solutions’, and as research, provoke questionings and open further avenues. These are great projects that I could learn from.
The presentations I did briefly in Kirstin’s class, Jodi Forlizzi’s class on Service Design, and in Laurene’s class on research methods was received well (I think). In these presentations, I had aimed to emphasise the ‘imperfection’ of methods, showing instances where things went wrong and having to improvise but what you can learn from making those mistakes. Another bug-bear of mine that I spoke about was that methods aren’t always replicable and generalisable. I feel that some of the critique I made, especially about service design had ruffled some feathers… perhaps in a good way?
The immanent landscape 内在の風景
I know I know – I stole this title from my Japanese friend’s exhibition title – but it was something that resonated with me now, that we pay so little attention to the ‘inner’ workings of our being. Call that thinking, feeling, sensing – all that stuff that goes on inside of ourselves – what happens when we design and how does that change?
I was up in Sydney yesterday, doing a workshop with staff at Ku Ring Gai council who’re undertaking a Climate Change Adaptation program and piloting a series of workshops with their residents to strengthen their resilience through networks, to deal with multiple hazzards (heat, floods, fire etc). Their municipality is right next to a National Park – and the council are keen to support an awareness-raising program initially on bushfires.
So, I talked about my work, what we’re currently doing with social network research etc, and then got them to experience using the Playful Triggers and scenario cards, so they can ‘get a feel’ for how they work. Later, we workshopped how this approach can be customised to their own contexts. I was really pleased with their openness and ability to take this on – we were on the same page anyway, so this wasn’t difficult – and during our discussion, I was glad to see how confident they grew in feeling that they were able to ‘make it their own’.
On reflecting what had happened, I was struck by how obsessed we often are with ‘outcomes’ (achieving intended goals) but pay little attention to the shifts/transitions we make internally, during such processes of design. What happened during my time with council staff was definitely internal – Michelle and I talked in the car on the way to the airport that she understood what I meant by ‘feeling your way through the workshop’, relating it to her experience as a Yoga teacher. She said she was now able to be more confident in ‘designing’ it the way it should be for the context and people she’s wanting to engage. The Playful Triggers and scenario cards – the so called ‘methods’ – is like a ‘Dumbo feather’, an initial scaffolding to help you support what you’re doing, but what really counts is your confidence to do it, to know how to do it in the way that you feel comfortable. That’s when you realise that that feather is just a feather – like a method is just a method, really.
One could say that the ’success’ is in its outcome, for Michelle feeling more confident as a facilitator, or for the participants being more aware and prepared for bushfire, but the interesting thing for me is the internal transformation that had taken place – that’s what stays with them – its embodied, experienced and apprehended directly.
I’m becoming more and more obsessed with this ‘internal stuff’ – linking back to the tao of practicing self-reflection – what are the ’scaffolds’ that can help us do this more effectively? More meaningfully, more noticably, in a more disciplined way..? What are the scaffolds that help us ‘design’ ourselves?
Participatory Design Conference 2012, Roskilde, Denmark
Ann Light PDC 2012
Attending the Participatory Design Conference 2012 (12th – 16th Aug, Roskilde, Denmark) was again a very thought provoking and personally rewarding experience.
Ofcourse the highlight was to get to know Ann more, given our previous encounter at PDC 2010 was thwarted by her illness and foggy recollection. I don’t think I fully appreciated how unusual it was to write roughly four papers (2 good ones published) together without really knowing one another previously. But just as we had thought, during the days in Roskilde, we got on really really well, and I think we’ve counted up to five more papers we need to write together – or was that six? Anyway, it just shows how we’ve got a lot of things we’re keen to explore through our productive writing and discussion. I really like the way we can ‘riff’ off one another with our ideas without being too precious about them.
‘Working with human values in design’ was a really interesting workshop, run by Ole Sejer Ivensen, Tuck Wah Leong, Geoffrey Bowker, Judith Gregory and Peter Wright. The shape and content was rather broad and vague, reflecting how difficult it is to ‘pin down’ what values are, so I didn’t really know what to expect but I still enjoyed the conversations, and each person’s interpretation, understanding, and manifestation of values in their work. The irony that struck me was, given that we were trying really hard to articulate and make explicit other people’s vaules, if we were to turn it around and ask ourselves what our own vaues are, would we be able to know or say it out loud? If values are inscribed in everything we do and ways we want to be, how can we separate it out – a bit like separating out a whole tomato from a bolognese pasta sauce (poor analogy but it’ll do until I find a better one!) The other paper that we discussed was the kinesthetic, embodied way of designing (paper 4?), and the values embedded / expressed in objects (paper 5?) Anyway – Ann and I are hoping to write a paper from the things we’ve observed from the workshop (paper 3) so I’m sure that process will clarify a few murky thoughts that are still floating around in my head…
The great thing about workshops is that you meet people and can get to know them really ‘quickly’. Given I didn’t know many people at PDC, it was definately a useful ice-breaker. It was great meeting Rosanne van Klaveren and being introduced to her participatory art practice on ‘togetherness’ through her workshop. The imagined scenarios of giving the Lada to the Nenets was a really fun (boardering silliness, as the photos will show) execise! Triggered by my hasty talk, Liam Bannon and I begun an interesting discussion regarding human-centred design and being human through a Japanese lens, which I’m looking forward to continuing. He’s given me a loads to read – so candidly and generously – I really want to know more about his work so we could continue the dialogue we’ve started.
Other exciting encounters were with Mika Yasukura and Ryo Sakurai, who are exploring PD methods with Japanese people in ’start-up’ initiatives to assit businesses and communities after the March 11 disaster. There were interesting threads they were beginning to tug, for example, how the Scandinavian PD model might work in a place like Japan, or even looking at a ‘Japaneseness’ in the methods used. There was a bit of a buzz from the audience on this, perhaps due to the success of Japanese cultural export in many areas that one might expect or desire for the same in design methods as well. The three of us are hoping to meet in Tokyo in December and flesh some of these ideas out. Ofcourse, my gut feeling says that there is nothing particularly ‘Japanese’ per se – its dangerous to over-generalise that a culture can be simplifed – but in Ann’s lovely words, it might be nice to ‘feel out the edges’ in some way.
I felt that cultural values and re-orienting ourselves to being sensitised to it were things that emerged quite strongly during the conference, given that Nic Bidwell was the closing keynote speaker. Though, I was struck in most cases how it needed to involve such ‘extremes’, ie, a white person going to Africa, Scandinavian methods into Japan, making that ‘difference’ more pronounced. Layering this with a conversation with graceful Dagny Stuedahl – an ethnologist (studies their own culture, as opposed to an anthropologist who studies cultures outside of their own) made me think how attentive one must be to perceive their own, as if from the outside. The excellent exploratory paper by Samantha Merritt and Erik Stolterman highlighted critical things on culture that we tended to overlook – that we are already ‘hybrid’ of many things (echoing Bourdieu) – which looped back nicely to the values workshop that begun the conference for me.
Despite our mild anxiety about ’stating the obvious’ and having to cram a lot in the presentation, the paper by Ann and myself was received very positively (Pelle congratulated me in person and Finn Kensig wrote me a list of things to read), eliciting some to say that it was one of the best papers in the conference (well, all reviewers gave it 5/5, so we knew it could be well received). During the question time, Lucy Suchman said “I think there is a tension in the way that we think about the maturity of a field, that somehow for participatory design to be a mature field, that it should have systematic methods … I’m sure there are colleagues in the room who would, for quite good reasons, hold that view. But for me, a sign of maturity is that people get up and give papers about what is really hard and messy about their practice, that’s aways for me what’s most exciting…”. And, that’s a darn good complement, I’d say! Ann reckoned that it might be more to do with the ‘right climate’ – we popped something that needed to be popped. I too, think we aired a real concern that had been lingering a while, and we demonstrated an embodied way to share our stories – which most would resonate with.
There was something very lovely about Nic’s presentation on walking together to design – and the power it held was very much in the embodied acts we engage with one another as a way to understand and open up to others. To me, this approach is so beautifully ‘unmediated’ and honest, and put simply, human. It situated the inter-relational actions together with the transformative process of ‘going somewhere’, (neither mine, or yours, but ours) and where one ends up is just as relevant as the path they took together in getting there – resonating with ‘Tao’ concepts that strongly run through my work. Through Ann, I got to talk to Nic quite a lot, even exchanging giggly laughs about ‘blue spongey ear plugs’ (can’t quite remember how that started) and given that the next PDC 2014 is in Namibia at Heike’s Polytechnic of Namibia, I hope there is an opportunity to meet these wonderful people again in the near future…
Design Futures at Media and Communication
The irony of discovering the thing you seek is, in fact, residing in the work itself happened today… Reuben and I presented our work to the School under the Design Futures group and made us realise what it is that makes our collective interesting. Before I forget, here are some realisations from the conversations we had.
- Design/designing is enabling. This seems a fitting key concept for Design Futures. Neal then mentioned how he thinks about design as propositional or provocative, and that was an interesting way of thinking about ‘enabling’ as well. Alongside that, I guess there are many other adjectives too – questioning, reflecting, playing…
- Strong connection between artefact, people, process/method and practice. This is in contrast to areas that tend to separate them out individually as THE thing that represents design eg. especially artefacts, or in HCI-esq discourse where method is the king. Our area makes this connection/relationship between them central, and in doing so, brings a different way of presenting/talking/sharing/researching design. In fact, I think we need to be better at talking about this connection, and that will make what we do even more interesting.
- Related to the point made above, connecting design to different fields of knowledge/discourse/practices. Design, in fact, becomes the bridge or the needle that ’stitches’ fields together. This changes the conversation where design had to be ‘different’, ‘unique’, ‘original’ emphasising separation rather than connection – we celebrate the similarities between design and other fields because we see design’s agency when it ‘lives’ in contexts outside of its field domain.
- Participation is a strong value we bring and promote. We practice it, as well as interrogate it.
Reuben and I then later lamented how little we share / talk about our research with one another these days. I haven’t seen his work since he began. I miss the Design GRCs – I think we took that forum for granted and so I really see the impact of its absence now. Lets bring it back – or at least, have ‘mini GRCs’ within our group!
Slides from my preso:
Oscillation between artefact and process – I used this as a framework
artefacts that trigger / scaffold engagement, and in turn,
engagement that creates artefacts or experiences (ie, open-ended and contextual = human-centred)
It started with a simple venn diagram…
The frustration I felt when I saw the presentations on sustainability at the research stream of AGIdeas is that there’s a limit to what design can do if its still locked in the same old paradigm of producing better products (eg. using less energy, using recyclable / renewable materials). Its what Fumi said at the DESIS talk – the explosion of eco-friendly market in Japan over the last 20 yrs has had a ‘rebound effect’ (offset from the introduction of new technology) making little to no impact on CO2 emissions (see the line graph at the top of the chart – in fact, the CO2 emissions have gone up over the last 20 years)
“Since late 1900s, Japanese industries together with academy and the government aimed to develop environmentally efficient products, applying eco-design methods. The results were so fruitful that the market was filled with ‘eco products’. And as a result, the total amount of material and energy consumption have increased, so as GHG”
Perhaps this is why the DESIS framework, with the inclusion of social innovation AND sustainability interests me. If design is about creating meaning, experiences and relationships, it is centred on people – not products – and so the processes and outcomes of social innovation needs to be sustaining for people and sustainable for the environment.
I then drew this diagram – an addition to the venn. I don’t know if this is ‘cheating’ but instead of the overlaps (which venn is good at showing), I wanted to visualise the agency of design as practice/process-driven. I tried drawing ’stitching’, ‘bridging’, or drawing a ‘cog’ but none of them seemed to capture what I’m thinking.
The ‘bridging’ resonated with me because of the readings I’m doing at the moment on social networks and social capital. There is a well-trodden hypothesis that innovation comes at the edge of a ’structural hole’. ‘People whose networks bridge the structural holes between groups have earlier access to a broader diversity of information and have experience in translating information across groups. People whose networks bridge the structural holes between groups have an advantage in detecting and developing rewarding opportunities. Information arbitrage is their advantage. They are able to see early, see more broadly, and translate information across groups … brokerage across the structural holes between groups provides a vision of options otherwise unseen.’ (Burt 2004, p. 354)
So, then I interrogated that social innovation, it being a field, but it too is also process-driven. That social innovation and design is, in this instance, the two sides of the same coin. The field in which it operates within could then be visualised as many – for social inclusion; disaster preparedness; community cohesion… bringing in stakeholders who represent/advocate/contribute different knowledge or practice perspectives.
Design brokers that process, bringing people together from different backgrounds, thereby creating a fruitful space for social innovation to take place. Because design always operates outside of itself (designers shouldn’t design for designers – that’s called incest), perhaps this gives them the ’structural hole’ edge advantage…?
Service Design conference, Melbourne 2012
The irony of service design is that its so good at selling itself that it doesn’t see that its not very good at being critical of itself (I’ve blogged this elsewhere – SD conference in Oslo, and the SD talk by Shelley Evenson at AIGA, Raleigh, US for example). I think this is symptomatic of a predominantly business-oriented-and-led field, and perhaps a more naive attitude towards research. Since service design (esp. its methods) is centred on design research, I think the lack of understanding and training in research impacts on the designer’s ability to uncover and illuminate insights, and also worryingly threatens to embed their (or their stakeholders) assumptions and biases into the design process and outcome. This can be problematic. It was interesting that a point was made at the conference about not ’showing post-it note pictures’, and its true, that simply showing these doesn’t reveal much. But I think the point is that we do need to be critical and inquisitive in trying to understand what is going on in those ‘post-it’ moments in design. This kinda tells me that we (as designers) are still very poor in doing design research, research of and with others, as well as research on our own practices.
Service design is a pretty demanding field in terms of the skills, experience and training for designers. They’re required to undertake facilitation with people; demonstrate exquisite visualisation and problem-exploration skills; be an persuasive communicator; possess knowledge in marketing, business and organisational (change) management; undertake intuitive thinking married with real-world applied understanding; unravel complexity through systems thinking; and if that’s not enough, be an advocate of ‘customers’, ‘users’, ’stakeholders’, ‘participants’, ‘community members’ – whatever the label applies – in being human-centred. Is to be a service designer akin to being an expert-jack-of-all-trades designer too, and is this really possible? It seems like the ‘T-shape’ person analogy may not be enough.
The ‘feral-ness’ that I referred to in the SD12 talk wasn’t meant to be taken as a negative – and I hope it wasn’t. In fact, I thought that was what made Australia’s SD community interesting and vibrant. It is a wild, rough, ‘frontier’ that is still being carved out by practitioners who have learnt their skills through the ’school of hard knocks’, rather than being taught ‘formally’ through an education system. It is as diverse as the number of designers practicing in them, and they bring their own unique ‘take’ on it. The sense I get from Europe (esp. Scandinavians, who love purity of methodology) likes to define ‘what is’ and ‘what isn’t’ service design, and though that’s a start to an interesting polemic discussion, it actually ends up with a form of ‘elitism’ that excludes things that don’t ‘fit’ neatly into pre-defined fields. If service design is truly human-centred, it will naturally reflect the ‘messiness’ of it too. Because design can dangerously over-emphasise uniformity, efficiency and productivity, I think ‘feral-ness’ is a great balance in promoting diversity. I’m a big fan of diversity!
I’ve been ‘banging’ on about the uniqueness of this corner of the world, which I think is really obvious to outsiders (though I’d like to think I’m an ‘adopted Australian’). SMEs being a bigger segment of the economy make it an ideal condition for ’start-ups’ to get going, including designers forming their own businesses (and perhaps this is indicative of the rapid growth in SD). There is a strong willingness to embrace multi-culturalism, which brings a different kind of issues related to human-centredness, say, in comparison to places like Scandinavia where its relatively homogeneous. There is stronger awareness on environmental issues, concern for energy use and connection to the land and country than any other developed nations, and we see this surfacing commonly in every-day conversations. Worryingly, there is more ‘anti-intellectualism’ that’s prevalent here than any other places I experienced, which can often paint academics in a negative light (which is a stark contrast to a place like Japan where they’re often ‘worshipped’) – and could this be impacting on a) designers valuing a postgraduate qualification b) critical thinking is not strongly reflected in practice and c) going back to my original concern about the lack of design research skills in service design? It seems to perpetuate a negative cycle if we are unaware of the important things that’s going on in practice if practice is the only (best) way we can learn about service design.
Dialogue and reflective practice is good way to short-circuit this cycle and begin a process of self/collective awareness-rasiing. I found these blogs to be quite refreshing in their candidness in capturing the service design conference.
Penny Hagen’s smallfire blog
Trent Mankelow from Optimal Usability
Mel Edwards and Justin Barrie from DMA
Participatory Design Conference, Sydney 2010
Just came back from a pretty intense but enjoyable PD conference in Sydney. I was really struck by the strong sense of ‘community’ and how people were very supportive of one another. In the closing speech, Toni Robinson (conference chair, UTS) remarked how nervous she was that no one would come to a PDC that is so far away, and that she really apprecaited people from Europe and America in flying this far. Having the opportunity to meet people like Lucy Suchman and Pelle Ehn was fantastic.
What I was also struck by was how open the PD community were in willing to listen to, and to discuss the problematic challenges of PD. This openness was refreshing and totally changed my view from past impression of their exclusive, defensive and rather ‘traditional’ views and approaches. There had been several ‘take home’ thoughts that would be good to mull over and think through more over the next year or so:
Participation is the new black: Technology is facilitating easier, fun and user-led ways for participation. But what is this really enabling? The public are becoming weary of tokenistic ways of participating in projects/decision-making, and that they expect it to be done well. This places more pressure on PD practitioners to ensure that those who are participating are clear in what they are ‘gaining’ or ‘benefiting’ from, and who are they representing/advocating…
Acceptance of complexity: Finally! What we’ve begun seeing is the acknolwedgement of PD (or, just design actually) being messy business. Literal, mechanical framing of design is problematic. Design is inherently complex, serendipitious, uncertain – if attempts were made to rigidly lock it down into a ‘method/ology’ (for it to be sanctioned as PD, for example), you can ‘kill’ what should be adaptive, organic, agile ways of engaging with a complex world. Those in PD are now on the same wavelength – yay! Penny made a really good point on how ‘emergence is hard to sell’ – so when design is based on the unknown and allowing the emergent to take place – how can other stakeholders understand the value of your involvement?
Tensions between user-initiated change and over-facilitation: There was interesting spectrum of papers that talked of projects where they were happy to let things unfold, to projects that had technology that over-facilitated the user-engagement. Interestingly, there were very few papers on the subject of mobilising users (of the Manzini kind) through peer-to-peer facilitation. Majority were ones where participation was actively sought and arranged. In the Service Design panel session, there was a good discussion on ownership, activism and empowerment – how do you catalyse / scaffold synergies for this to happen for true change to take place?
One thing that had really struck me was that we need to take these conversations out into other fields, rather than it remaining only in this PD / design field. Many of the issues driving this is concerns and passion for humanity, active citizenship, respect, social justice and empowerment – all that matters to every sector of our lives. Mariesa (from Inspire) and I had a good chat about this.
Ina Wagners closing key note was particularly interesting in this regard. She questioned what the politics and ‘utopian moments’ that PD is now moving towards. She introduced concepts of creating a ‘civil society’ where ‘residual categories’ (those who are usually marginalised – the very young, the very old, female, poor, disabled, low status groups) and to give voice to them through participation. In that sense, designers are also political and are moral agents, though she pointed out the logistical challenges of being involved in a project long-term – unless your position is institutionalised (eg. in a hospital or a particular organisation). Hence ‘fleeting’ dipping in-and-out of orgs/projects can’t achieve the change that are desired. I was also interested in how she talked about the ‘utopian moment’ – a horizon that is beyond reach, but within view – the creation of a vision/goal can be achieved by imagining an alternative future and distancing oneself from the constraints of the pragmatic and consensual.
Kinda feel ‘gagged’ …
Conference – day 3
This morning was a summative presentation by the moderators and writers of each session (have a look at these videos as a summary). I was looking forward to this part of the conference as equally as yesterday, as it was an opportunity to hear the kinds of issues, themes and areas for further research/action that emerged in the other clusters. Many of these were interesting, though, nothing new. It was frustrating that there were no opportunities for questions or comments afterwards.
I was sat close to the ‘naughty crowd’ – the gaggle of co-authors in the design research cluster – Lisa, Tim, Shaun, Anne and Stuart – and as soon as Judith and Deb presented the outcome from our cluster, there were hurried whisperings that quickly rippled through out little posse. Anne looked puzzled and said ‘were we in that group?’ It seemed that the ‘agenda’ – Sharon, Meredith and maybe Debs/Judith – overshadowed what the co-authors discussed. The presentation was framed by the ‘dilemma’ that Sharon had provoked (as opposed to what the co-authors had put forward – and there were many that were identified in their propositions as well as the discussions). These dilemmas are in the video.
Even the ones identified as ‘hotspots’ or ‘entry-points’ seemed puzzling and resonated more with what Sharon/Merideth was arguing for, rather than what I thought was generated from the co-authored group. For example, one of the points under ‘entry points’ (which is short-hand for places for leverage or initial action in addressing the dilemmas), it says “read other literature to get familiar with their vocab” seems like a very anorexic version of what I thought was discussed. I might be making a wild guesstimate here but this point could be related to the point that I made where, on the topic of working on interdiciplinary research projects, in order to collaborate effectively, be valued and share design as another method of inquiry, I said that I had to read and learn their ‘language and terminologies’ to frame design. Design alone (ie showing visual diagrams of my work/methods) was not enough to do this.
They’ve also made a big point of the role of AIGA (see the two first hotspots) – and from memory, that was a minor point that was made in the entire discussion. Actually, I remember that it was a comment that Debbie Millman (president of AIGA) made from the audience about asking whether we’d like to ask her to suggest AIGA to advocate for establishing a research journal…
Anyway – we’ve begun talking about co-authoring our own article/journal that may counterbalance / compliment (Anne says ‘as a form of dissent’!) what Deb might publish. I don’t want to come across as being angry here – I’m almost detached from being too emotionally invested in what’s happened, but I think it seems like a complete contradiction to the purpose and ideas of this conference… I am actually more worried whether this is showing the ‘true’ colours of our field – designers are well known for being in fear of removing control; inability to truly collaborate democratically etc… Despite my grumbling + whinging (I’d like to call it, critique!), I had great discussions with many many intelligent people and I think I can go home with a greater understanding of where the discourse is in design research (in the US) – and a renewed passion for the the work that is yet to be done.
Stop doing a Cameron Tonkinwise..!
I should learn to hold my tongue and consider what benefit my critique/comments have to those who I offer it to. I went to a talk by Sarah Schulman and Chris Vanstone today – they used to be a Participle and Red Studios, and now working with The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) – a fab new initiative, which Australia so desperately needs – and working on really interesting projects. They were presenting their work and critique of past projects and what they’ve learnt from them, to an audience largely made up of policy makers, to either educate/introduce them to a non-policy-maker way of doing this ie ‘doing things backwards’ (in their words). This ‘backwards’ thing could’ve been made stronger in the introduction by pointing out the ‘normative’ processes of how policy people attempt to solve problems – but anyway, I missed that point until Sarah clarified it through a question that I asked.
The first exercise we were asked to do was to sort through a deck of cards with questions, methodological terminologies, processes and contexts, and to determine whether we have used them or not, and having determined whether we had, to sort them in the order of beginning, middle and end.
It was an interesting ice-breaker that could’ve been better. There was far too many cards to sort from first of all, and many of them had terminologies that could’ve been interpreted in different ways, depending on your familiarity with them. Dianne and I were familiar with most, but the other lady on our group had little knowledge of ‘paper prototyping’, or ’service blue-printing’ etc… making me wonder what the purpose was, if the audience (largely, policy people) didn’t really understand what they were. Some terms, like ‘ethnography’ has a long history and have many contested perspectives – so what does it represent when its printed in DIN Medium on a card?
What could’ve been far more productive (the single-minded propositions!) was to focus on key few methods/processes and describe the value/benefit of them from the actual case studies. Of which they had – they drew on very strong testimonials, observations and learnings that made us believe the power of their story. Clearly, there were rich stories that these methods were used within. Though, it got too much ‘jumbled’ up in the terminologies – and then, far too much emphasis was placed on the linearity of the process on ‘beginning’, ‘middle’, and the ‘end’ of a project, when much of what made their work ’successful’, was the cyclical, iterative process that took place at each stage.
I also had a ‘go’ at this ‘beginning’, ‘middle’ and ‘end’ to indicate that projects can’t often be defined that way – how long is a piece of string and from whose perspective – though Sarah pushed back at this to say that there is often quite a strong sense of this embedded in a project. That’s true – if projects are defined by when the funding is released, and when the funding ends, that’s a really simple timeline of the start and the end. So, if that was how it was going to be framed, clarifying that at the beginning would’ve helped.
I’m not sure if my critique was put well – now that I’ve stepped back, my comments may have been put too strongly as a ‘negative’ critique of what they do, rather than framing it so it can draw out the real richness and insights they were generously trying to impart to the audience. The way they presented their knowledge just needed clarification. Tweaking. Highlighting. Stronger framing. Not to be shot down by me. Bugger.
Its my fault. Too many familiar buttons were pushed – particularly my pet hate with exportable methods, cards and all the rest…! Am I going to continue standing on the outside barracking at these people? Dianne laughed at me after we left, as I regretted that I did a ‘Cameron Tonkinwise’ just then – often ‘correct’ but sometimes not needed or productive.
I hope we get to talk more about this – our community needs to talk more about how to improve the way we promote, present and frame the value of design|research to others.