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.
Design research co-authoring session – day 2
I just feel like we’ve just busted the puss partly out of the pimple (or maybe it was a big huge festering blister) in the conference’s stream on design research. The topic was so immense, it was hard to begin where to tackle it from – and in the end, it felt like we only skimmed the surface of it without being able to drill down more deeply into the nitty-grity parts, to then translate/pose that into ‘how can it be taught in under/postgraduate education’. As Michael says, perhaps it was too ambitious an undertaking to do this all in 3 hours – though I am looking forward to how Judith/Debra may synthesise this into the co-authored publication at the end.
A few key things that I thought was interesting:
- it became quite frustrating that the discussion on design research began with ‘formats, modalities or methodologies’. Eg. Literature Reviews. Research Methods (that are often borrowing from other fields like social sciences). Even though they are important, I felt that they were the less interesting thing about design research, or the frameworks in which design research can or could be discussed within.
- Anne Bush made a really interesting point earlier in the session about the importance of asking the right questions. Though we all agreed, I was also thinking how the approach that designers might take might also be just to ‘jump in’ the problem space and do whatever to make sense of it. Its that kind of play/exploration/proposition/curiosity that are precursors to formulating the actual words for the questions to materialise. This might then generate or bring the questions up to the surface.
- Sharon articulated the frustration of design research/knowledge not being contributed back into the field of design again – partly that there were little rigorous opportunities to do so, and also that design was being published in other fields (like HCI, Business, Social Sciences etc). There’s a catch 22 here which we didn’t really get to resolve in our session.
- interdisciplinarity was a big topic of discussion. Tim Marshall made a great comment about how design can offer so much to other fields (and therefore valued highly) as design can cut through other fields/areas without being too tied to their own baggage or historical ways of doing things. Design was more agile, footloose and dynamic in that sense. It can offer different perspectives or alternative ways of doing/seeing/thinking things, and that is one of its strengths. This nature of being intuitively interdisciplinary then brought up the conversation of the value of being able to articulate design to other fields of knowledge and practice, sometimes using the frameworks of others. Though, Tim later came back to this issue with a ‘white elephant’ question of ‘what is so unique about design research that no other fields do?’ That seemed to me the million dollar question, and goes back to a post that I wrote a few weeks ago. So, I offered my thoughts here – that perhaps we shouldn’t be seeking this ‘holy grail’ but accept that design has a lot of synergies (and emultions/resonance) with other fields of inquiry.
Design research makes, provokes, proposes and envisions – and so does other research in creative practices.
Design research uses critique as a process of questioning and inquiry – this can be seen as a more design-based practice, but I would also assume that this takes place in other fields as well.
Design research uses the languages, artefacts and processes of design, eg, visualisations, prototyping, craft etc. though this is also seen in the arts, cartography, sciences, health, and many other fields.
Design research is iterative, dialogic and reflective – and so is any research process.
So, the point I raised is, rather than trying to carve out one little piece that is completely unique to design seems to be missing the point. That in itself seems to reduce the richness of design research. In fact, design research is varied, diverse, multi-modal and is ‘comfortable’ or even ‘eager’ to traverse across different fields. This is the strength in my research ‘toolbox’. And perhaps it is us – the community – who are failing to acknowledge it.
New Contexts New Practices – Day one
I’m at this conference and I’m half excited and half disappointed – today provided lots to think about but also ‘de-mythicised’ a few people who I had regarded quite highly.
I was excited about:
Service Design being a large focus of this conference – the conversation seems to be far more broader than graphic design per se. In Meredith Davis presentation, which I really enjoyed as a very thought-provoking, well-framed discussion, she talked about the broader cultural, environmental and technological contexts were design need to be in relation to (though I remain unconvinced by the example projects she presented – there was very little time to drill down deeper into them, which was a shame).
Talking with Ric Grefé, the Director of AIGA, it seemed like they were far more supporting and proactive in working with education, thereby establishing a stronger partnership with academia and industry. This is great to see. Ric was also of the opinion that ‘adjectives’ needs to be dropped in design – ie. graphic, industrial, communication etc – and focus more on design thinking and problem solving for design to have agency in more complex contexts. Though this isn’t a ‘new’ thing, its great to see this being advocated by the Director of AIGA (and, unfortunately, reflects poorly on what AGDA is doing – they’re so behind..!). Ric also told me how the role of AIGA isn’t to be one that gives approval and impart expertise, but their role is to ’start the conversation’ on this new way of promoting and talking about design, which was really refreshing to hear.
Rick Robinson’s talk was highly entertaining (and thanks to him, I know how to pronounce the author who wrote ‘flow’!). I took away quite a lot from his presentation, especially on being able to be ‘in-between’ disciplines is to know the ’structures’ that make-up your discipline, and then be able to push and play with it. This then ables you to see how it ‘fits’ with another discpline. He brought up a great example of musicians – the idea of improv and jamming – and the idea of being ‘adept’, which were all really good ideas to think about.
I was disappointed by the key-note provocateurs:
Shelley Evenson’s talk on Service Design – I think I heard this before – maybe on TED – I am a ‘tougher’ audience than most to talk to about Service Design, but she had said a few too many things that made me think ‘oh-ooh…’ and that was disappointing. For example, she talked about the dog that tweets, as if that was a good example of power of social media technology. She talked about some skewed idealised version of ‘people co-designing’ their experiences in Starbucks. Oh dear. She talked about designers being responsible to design the various touchpoints for the service delivery, which made me think of the total ‘big-brother’ idea of design control (brrr…!), and the un-design of any serendipitious encounters, which is inherent in any dynamic, living, organic systems. Neither her, or anyone in service design is talking about this obvious contradiction. She was clearly doing a ‘hard sell’ of service design to the audience and there was very little critical perspective that she brought to it. She also talked about the ‘bridge-model’ diagram that she did and published in Interactions journal – and I still have some grave questions about that too, in the way it ’sanitizes’ the design process and opens up misinterpretation that design isn’t iterative or involve a ‘double-looping’ learning process (Schon) in the thinking, making and critiqing.
Sharon Poggenpohl on design research – I know she meant to be provocative, yet, I just felt that I was lectured at – and I’m probably one of those in the minority (98 people with PhDs – wow, what a statistic) who have already ‘converted’. Tim made an interesting point later at dinner about ‘provocation’ might mean to take a conservative stance on research. So much of her talk was that ‘designers should read more, should research and publish more’, the ‘graduate programs in the states are a re-hash of what wasn’t understood in undergrad (harsh!) – so stop doing it’ – and what else, using ‘google isn’t research’. On it went. Clearly, her definition of design research was the way I have described it – the ‘Big R’ research and not about the ‘little r’ – emphasising the research that can be evidenced, made explicit, publishable (in writing) and what I would imagine designers running a million miles away from. Lisa mentioned how she thought it alienates people even further, rather than encouraging and supporting them into design research, and I couldn’t agree more.
Disaster Risk and Resilience
Resilience will be a significant conceptual framework in tackling immense problems facing our society and environment of our time. The statistics of death tolls, injury, damages and loss caused by natural and man-made disasters is unfathomable. Yet, resilience is not a new thing – I would imagine that our ancestors were extraordinarily resilient – but perhaps in the modern society, and in developed countries, we have begun to take things for granted. Just as our immune systems are beginning to break down (greater numbers of those with allergies), we may have begun being less resilient as well..?
In being resilient, terms such as diversity, modality, distributed systems and networks, and indigenous-based practices was highlighted as being key notions and practices for design, as well as the planning for infrastructure (which also include non-physical things like culture, energy, connection among community members etc). Though often, disasters that were ‘man-made’ and ‘natural’ were distinguished. Aren’t humans part of the natural dynamic system too? Humans are also capable of giving and receiving ‘disturbances and disruptions’, being in a constant state of ‘flux’ whilst trying to establish a momentary stability. Is the separation between humans and nature – a very cartesian view of the world – weakening our ability to be resilient?
The notion of ‘Community’ also seems to be a bit of a buzz word these days, used in conjuction with disasters and resilience. On one hand, it is perceived as an ideological, mythical concept – a sense of belonging. On the other, community is often used for pushing political agendas by the government, authorities, businesses and worryingly, the aid agencies as well. I think there is tension between the desire for individuality and being part of the collective at play.