Sunday, December 09, 2012

Design Thinking Readings: Going Deeper

Now and then I post a list of what I consider to be core readings in design theory. This time I decided to call the list Design Thinking Readings: Going Deeper. The reason for this new title is that I want to promote design thinking, but also push those who are engaged in design thinking as a movement or approach to go deeper.

Design thinking is a notion that has received a lot of interest during the last decade, which is a development that I see as extremely encouraging. However, as many others have pointed out, when something gets popular there is a danger that it also looses its core and depth and grounding. I have over the years on this blog commented on many books on design theory and design thinking. Often I try to be positive and supportive to these attempts of developing design thinking as an approach, even though it is not always easy. I truly believe that to move a field ahead, quantity is important, that is, to advance the field we do not necessary need the final book on design thinking but we need many books. My hope is that with a growing body of books the chance that someone can write "the book" becomes greater.

As I mentioned, the purpose of this post is to push the design thinking field towards more depth. If the field want to stay relevant it can not only develop its applicability, it also has to develop its basic foundation. Such a foundation will not be built by an increasing stream of books that popularizes design thinking (even if that is also needed), but by connecting design thinking to existing philosophical and theoretical schools of thinking. Design thinking has to distinguish itself by comparing and contrasting itself to other existing ways of thinking by delving into underlying core ideas and assumptions. This can be done by relating design thinking to existing philosophical traditions, but also by developing design thinking as its own tradition. Both are needed.

Going deeper is not a search for an answer. You will not be able to "find" a ready-made design thinking philosophy in any readings. You have to read it all and compose an overall understanding. And this is where individual effort comes into play--you have to do the work--read and think. We are of course all looking forward to the day when someone is really successful with that composition and able to express it in a book that can help us all.

The list below is in no particular order and is very personal. These are some of the readings that have influenced me in my development of my own design thinking philosophy (as it is presented in our book "The Design Way").  I am really interested in getting feedback on this list. I know that many influential books are not mentioned. I have also limited the list to books   (except for a few exceptions) which is just my personal preference when it comes to this kind of readings. 

As many of my colleagues and collaborators will notice (since I have not mentioned their books :-), this list is focused on readings that connects to deeper ideas and intellectual traditions and less on modern attempts to develop and apply design thinking. I may develop a list with that kind of readings too some day.

So here we go:

Simon's book is a must in the area. Unfortunately, Simon is not read carefully enough by most people who criticize him. [I have found this article by Hatchuel to be a really good help in reading Simon: Hatchuel, A. (2001). Towards Design Theory and Expandable Rationality: The Unfinished Program of Herbert Simon. In Journal of Management and Governance. Vol 5, Numbers 3-4, September, 2001.]

Rittel, Horst. (1988). “The Reasoning of Designers”, 
This short paper is one of the best explanations of what design reasoning is.

I consider Schön to present the most developed design thinking philosophy and theory today. All his readings should be mandatory for anyone who engage in design thinking. But if that is too much, then this book is a good place to start.

Lawson, Bryan. "How Designers Think"
Lawson's book really helped me to form my own understanding of design. Lawson has over the years continued to publish good books on design.

Dunne, Joseph "Back to the Rough Ground"
Probably the best book ever on practical knowledge and judgment. 

One of the best contemporary books on design theory.

This book was first published in 1969 and is a wonderful book on the relation between craft and design, functionality and aesthetics.

Alexander, Christoffer. "The Timeless Way of Building"
Even though Alexander is more famous for his pattern language work (which is usually heavily criticized , this is the book that to me is still relevant and fundamental in its way of posing challenging questions about the purpose of design.

Of all the readings in philosophy of technology, this is the one that has influenced me the most. A wonderful critique of contemporary design and technology.

Still one of the best and maybe only books in psychology that has direct influence on how to think about design.

A book so full of great ideas that it is almost too much. Latour makes the case for reality in a way that makes sense to design theory, it is all about the particular, about here and now.

Another book that strongly influenced me as a PhD student and I am sure that the basic message from Feyerabend still influences me. Why methods are dangerous and why there are other approaches to change is the message.

This book made a huge impact on my thinking as a PhD student. Churchman asks the question  how we can design a system that can produce knowledge. Design, systems and knowledge, all brought together. [A short version of Churchman's systems philosophy can be found in his book "The Systems approach"]

Most people read this extraordinary influential book as being about science. I find the book to be possible to read as a book about design. Notion of paradigm and "normal science" are equally relevant for anyone reflecting on design thinking.

Marcuse, Herbert. "One-Dimensional Man"
All about the consequences of getting stuck in our understanding of the world, and why we have to critically break out of dominating thought figures. 

Another wonderful book that shows what character and calling is all about. Any designer who sees design as based on who you are as much as what you can do should read this book.

Herrigel, Eugen. (1953). Zen in the Art of Archery. 
A wonderful book that examines forms of knowing that rests on character and sensibility to reality in a way that good designers should emulate.

Dewey, J. (1934) Art as Experience. 
Dewey presents maybe the best foundation when it comes to understanding experience in relation to designed artifacts and systems. Also the philosophical "father" of Donald Schon.

Cross, N. (2010, reprint of 2006 book). Designerly Ways of Knowing
An excellent book about design as a way of knowing. [A short and simple but great version of Cross's theory of design can be found in his book "Design Thinking"]

A great book about how to understand designed things.

and finally some self-promotion...

The 2nd edition is published by  MIT Press (2012).  

Well, I will maybe update and add more later.....

Monday, November 12, 2012

Book note: Design thinking supporting radically different purposes

On my desk I have for a while had two books that both offer toolkits for design and design thinking. One is aimed at supporting "growths" in terms of business and revenue and one is aimed at developing products and services for communities in need in Africa, Asia and Latin America. With such different purposes, it is interesting to note that what they present as design thinking and the design process is so similar (at least on the surface).

The two books are "Designing for growth -- a design thinking tool kit for managers" by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie, and "Human Centered Design Toolkit" by IDEO.

When looking at the table of content for the two books the similarities becomes even more obvious. For instance, it is maybe surprising to learn that the chapter "Develop a sustainable revenue model"is to be found in the IDEO book while "Journey Mapping" is found in the Liedtka & Ogilvie book. Several other topics can be found in both, such as brainstorming, conceptual development, prototyping, etc. Both books also push the idea that thinking designerly is not only about thinking but about doing. They also focus intensely on innovation.

Of course the two books deal with very different settings and challenges and therefore also frame design thinking in different ways. The titles are not only labels, they do tell us about some core values that are reflected all through the chapters. Human centered as a value can be contrasted to the notion of growth. Helping people versus helping companies. But this is also a superficial difference since in both cases (as with all design), at the core is ability to design a sustainable model that makes a design robust when it comes to both finances and use over time.

It would be quite interesting to see a careful analysis and comparison of these two books with the purpose to reveal their fundamental design philosophy and theory, their basic design principles, postulates, and assumptions, and how they are translated into prescriptive guidelines and "toolkits".  If anyone wants to conduct such an analysis, send me the results.

With the growing interest and excitement around design as a human approach to change in so many areas, the possibility for comparative studies of design thinking also increases. Even though it is possible to find some attempts, I think there is a need for many more studies of that sort. I would also like to see studies like that done with much more critical ambitions. For instance, the two books discussed here could, apart from being critically analyzed in the light of the other book, also be analyzed in relation to contemporary design theory and philosophy of design. More work....

Friday, November 09, 2012

Book micro note: Verbeek's "Moralizing technology"

After a long break with it, I just resumed my reading of Peter-Paul Verbeek's "Moralizing technology--understanding and designing the morality of things" and I realized even more than before how excellent the book is!. Today's observation from the readings is that, I think for the first time, I have read a treatment of Foucault's understanding of ethics that make sense to me. And not just that, for the first time I really  think I have to read some of Foucault. Another observation is that the way Verrbeek treats the notion of 'subject' is, to me, really useful and much richer and productive than most of the investigations I have seen before. The relation between a subject and technology is outlined in a way that makes sense and is highly convincing to me. Will review the book later!

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Book note: "Design Thinking" edited by Thomas Lockwood

During these last few years the notion of design thinking has evolved into a concept that is attracting enormous attention both in academia and business. However, some have argued that design thinking is only a hype, some that design thinking is already dead, and some have already moved on to the next big thing, whatever that is. However, while design has gotten some serious attention from design researchers (such as, Schon, Rittel, Cross, Krippendorff, Nelson & Stolterman), it has also received attention from the world of business and practice.

A recent book that brings together reflections with a focus on the business world is  "Design Thinking: Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience, and Brand Value" (2010) edited by Thomas Lockwood. Lockwood is the president of the Design Management Institute (DMI), which is an institute that is aimed at the advancement of design in management and business.

The book contains about 24 short essays by writers that are either researching design in business and management or practicing designers in various organizations. The book is divided into four sections with fairly distinct themes. The first is about design thinking methods, the second about values and brands, the third about service design and the last one about experience design. The book is introduced by an essay by Lockwood himself on the importance of integrated thinking.

If you are looking for a book that clearly shows how people engaged in business strategy and design, this is it. You get a lot of short essays where professionals describe their design thinking and approach, each in 2-4 pages. The essays are filled with cases and examples from companies and organizations where the authors have worked or worked for. It is obvious that many of these authors have deep knowledge and understanding of design as an approach and process (while some do not). They understand the complexity of introducing design thinking in organizations. They have experience of turning design thinking into action. In many cases the chapters consist of hand-on guidelines and principles.

In our book 'The Design Way' Harold Nelson and I develop the notion of schemas. We define schemas as "compositionally ordered or organized cognitive schematics used to support design inquiry or action" (Design Way, page 7). The Lockwood book is full of schemas, even though it can be argued how good many of them are in fulfilling their purpose. It is clear that many designers try to condense their knowledge and experience into schemas of different kinds. In most cases these schemas are visual graphics while sometimes more 'ordered' lists of bullets. In most cases the purpose is to condense very complex phenomena or activities into something graspable and comprehensible. I found several really interesting schemas in the book from professional designers that in my view give a much better and richer description of certain aspects of design than many academic attempts. So, the book can serve as a provider of potential design schemas that can be analyzed and evaluated for particular use.

Overall the book does not really provide me with any serious intellectual or theoretical insights, but it does provide the reader with some professional and practical reflections on design as an approach in organizational settings. I think the book can be quite valuable to students and inexperienced design thinkers in their attempts to master the 'real world' of design.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Some notes on ACM Interactions and the CHI community

As some of you may know, together with Ron Wakkary, I have been the Editor-in-Chief now for the ACM Interactions magazine for more than two years. It has been a great experience in so many ways. We have tried to give newcomers to the field, from both academia and industry, an opportunity to share their experiences, knowledge and insights, while also bring in the most distinguished names in the field to share their expertise. ACM has also been instrumental in developing a new website for the magazine, that is now slowly becoming a core part of Interactions.

After having worked with Interactions for a while, it is clear to me that there is need for this form intermediary type of publication between research publications and trade journals. First of all, Interactions is not peer reviewed. This means we can publish new perspectives and ideas that would be almost impossible to get published in traditional conferences and journals. If you take a look at ACM Interactions over time, it is clear that many new "trends" were published much earlier in Interactions than anywhere else. It is also important to a field that has a major focus on professional development to get input from professionals and the industry.

Of course, this double purpose means that a magazine such as ACM Interactions suffers in other ways. For instance, researchers do not necessarily see it worth the trouble to publish in the magazine since it does not "count" as a scientific publication. At the same time professionals may still find the magazine too academic and not enough in resonance with and relevant to their professional reality.

My personal belief is that HCI as an academic discipline and as manifested in the major conferences (CHI, DIS, NordiCHI, etc) has taken on the purpose and goal to improve practice and use. This means that HCI has a strong focus on professional development, building knowledge and tools for practitioners for design and for understanding use. (This is of course not the only purpose that a field like HCI can adopt, more about that somewhere else.) The SIGCHI community is a blended community of researchers and professionals. Such a blended community is unique and something that very few other academic disciplines have. This focus on professional development makes it crucial to have venues where knowledge about practice can flow both ways, from academia to practice and from practice to academia.

To me, ACM Interactions is today a venue that subscribe to that purpose and does fairly good. It can be done much better and we are trying to move in that direction. For instance, it is crucial to have the best thinkers in the field write about their ideas in a way that makes it accessible to any researcher and practitioner in the field. It is also crucial to have professionals to write about their experiences in a way that points to under-researched areas and that present insights that can only emerge from being fully engaged in practice over time, which is something that researcher are not able to do.

All these different goals and conditions make it s difficult to make a magazine like ACM Interactions successful. It is all about balancing conflicting desires and needs from many stakeholders (as any design project). The key is to design something that does not become a dull compromise but raises above the conflicting interests and add value to all stakeholders.

[As a foot note I want to mention a few things about Interactions:
-- We are seeing a steady and increasing flow of submissions. Even though Interactions is not peer reviewed, the acceptance rate is going down.
-- We are still not sure that we are covering the whole breadth of HCI and are strongly inviting those who feel that Interactions does not cover their aspect of HCI to submit to us.
-- We are always looking for professionals that want to contribute to the discussion about the field to submit.
-- We also do want Interactions to be a place for discussion and debate, so we welcome comments and feedback on existing articles.]

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A note on a lost and found book: C. West Churchman "The Design of Inquiring Systems"

One of the books that has had the most influence on me is "The Design of Inquiring Systems:  Basic Concepts of Systems and Organizations" by C. West Churchman. The book was published in 1971. I probably got my copy in the early 80s. The reason why I read the book at that time was not primarily because I wanted to, but because my teacher at that time, Kristo Ivanov, who would later become my PhD adviser was a big fan of Churchman.

My copy of the book has long been missing. I do not even remember when I last saw it, but it is many years ago. I have over the years tried to get a new copy, but the book is out of print and used copies are very expensive. But, just a few days ago, I was re-arranging some books in my office and suddenly the book was there! It looks great! It looks like a book that is used a lot. It is full of notes and comments (see image).

Thinking back on the time when I read the book and also met Churchman and heard him talk about his ideas, I am quite sure that I did not really understand what the book was about. Actually, now, even without reading it, just by looking at the List of Content I am quite sure I understand the book much better than ever before.

The basic idea of the book is grand and overwhelming. Churchman  takes on the task of defining the nature of inquiring systems, that is, systems that has as its purpose to create and establish knowledge. He does that by building a typology of inquiring systems based on the ideas of famous philosophers. For instance, he discusses the Leibnizian inquiring system, Lockean inquiring system, Hegel inquiring system etc. What an excellent but extraordinary difficult idea. Then in the second part of the book he discusses or speculates (which is his own term) on systems design. What are the possible issues, questions, limitations and requirements for any design of an inquiring system if we really tried to do it well.

The book was so difficult at the time when I read it. At the same time I loved to read it. I am not sure I really understood it at all. Right now, I am so looking forward to read it again, now that my old copy has magically surfaced.

Friday, October 26, 2012

CHI reviewing: Some reflections

Reviewing for a quality conference such as CHI is an excellent way to find out what is going on in the field. What is even more beneficial is that I have to read things I would never otherwise read.  I promised to review 8 papers this year since I felt bad being on several submitted papers. (We should all pay our dues by reviewing at least as many papers as we submit.)

Anyway, I have now reviewed all of them (well, working on the last one). One interesting aspect that I saw in many of the papers is a mismatch between the way theory is said to be used and how it is actually used.

The typical mistake looks like this. The authors start with an introduction, usually quite good. Then comes the "theory" part, also in many cases surprisingly good. Several papers have impressed me by taking on quite ambitious theoretical perspectives in relation to their research. In some cases I read excellent reviews of existing theory with quite interesting reflections on how it relates to the topic in question. But then the problems start. In almost all the papers, after the theory has been introduced, it disappears. It is seldom possible to find any trace of the theory in the study or experiment that is usually the core of the paper. The analysis and interpretation of the results and findings are not at all done based on or informed by the theory. Another problem is that the authors do not return to the theory at the end of the paper. The findings does not lead to any revisiting of the theory or to any reflections of the use of the theory, for instance, in relation to how well it worked or what the theory failed to support.

I find it ok if researchers use a theory as a tool, that is how I see theories myself. They are tools that can help us to describe and analyze something. So, it is fine if the research does not necessary lead to any final or revolutionary reflections on the theory used, or to any form theoretical development (even though if that is the case the paper usually becomes quite boring). However, it is definitely not necessary to introduce a theory or a conceptual framework in a paper if it is not used in the actual research process. If it is not used, why do we have to read about it?

This means that many papers start out with grand plans on a fairly advanced theoretical level while it ends on a low practical level that in no way correspond to the claims and issues introduced in the beginning. It would be wonderful to read a paper once that had the opposite structure, that is, that started out with a simple and practical problem but ended in an advanced discussion about theoretical implications and developments. Maybe they are our there. Maybe I just did not get any to review this year.

[In a paper by me and Mikael Wiberg we discuss the idea of teory driven research as an opportunity for improvement in HCI research,]

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Book Note: "Observing the user experience" by Goodman, Kuniavsky, and Moed

There are many books that in one way or another describe how to do interaction design (broadly defined). In most cases I do not find these book very interesting for one simple reason. The reason is that they are neither inspiring when it comes to theory, or practical when it comes to guidance. Books like these, mainly labeled as textbooks, are what I see as "in-between" books, that is, they present ideas and theory in a way that is far from grounded and foundational, and they present guidance that is not based on real insights and knowledge about practice.

I just got a copy of the second edition of "Observing the user experience--a practitioner's guide to user research" by Elizabeth Goodman, Mike Kuniavsky and Andrea Moed (Morgan Kaufmann, 2012). To me, this is a book that is not in-between. It is "a practitioner's guide" written in a language and at a level that is very useful. Each aspect of user research is presented in a simple and clear way with concrete and practical guidelines on how to do it. I find the book excellent for anyone who is new to the field and who not just want to know how important user research is but how to actually do it. The authors stay away from making large claims and from relating the practical guidance to more or less developed theoretical frameworks.

However, I think it is important that anyone who uses a book like this complements it other readings that in a solid intellectual way examines the broader aspects of practice and its relationship to theoretical traditions and paradigms.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pattern Language and HCI

For many years I have been intrigued by the notion of Pattern Language as developed by Christopher Alexander. It is obvious that I am not the only one in the field of HCI and design in general who has found this particular way of structuring knowledge about design and designs interesting. There are numerous attempts by researchers and practitioners to develop pattern languages for one or the other aspect of interaction design. Personally, I have not been involved in any serious work with pattern language development or use, so I do not have a lot of hands-on experience, but I have since the first time I read about the idea in the early 1980s constantly reflected upon its fundamental assumptions, philosophical claims, and practical promises.

I am therefore very happy that Yue Pan (a phd student in HCI in my department) approached me and suggested a study on the present status of pattern language in our field. We are at the moment interviewing a number of people who have developed patterns and pattern languages and who have also written and published about their experiences. It seems as if the idea of pattern language in design has never become fully successful but at the same time the idea never goes away. There is a constant stream of new attempts to apply it in some way or another, and a constant stream of people who are again intrigued by the overall philosophy and idea.

Interviewing all these people about their experiences and expectations about pattern language is exciting. These experts are highly knowledgeable about the topic, they have concrete hands-on experiences and they have wonderful insights about the nature of pattern languages and its use. Yue and I are working on a paper where we will present our findings. Maybe we will be able to say something interesting about the status of pattern language and its potential future in our field. We'll see.

Friday, August 10, 2012

How to stay competent in the field of interaction design

I am at the moment in Seattle for a few days doing interviews for our NSF project. The project is mainly focused on how professionals understand and use methods and tools. The study I am doing at the moment is aimed at the examination of professional competence and especially on what professionals do to stay competent over time. So far I have done four interviews with highly skilled and experienced UX professionals. They all have impressive experience and competence. It is fascinating with professionals at this level, they are confident, they know that they are competent, and they can explain why.  They also know how the industry works and what it takes to stay ahead and to survive in this competitive environment.

In my interviews, these professionals reveal their way of thinking about competence and what they do to stay competent in a rapidly developing field. Not staying ahead of the field, not knowing what is going on, not engaging with colleagues and networks to constantly learn, mean that you will not be the one who will be asked to lead the next project or to work on new creative initiatives. It is a competitive world where a large part of the professional competence is about understanding the corporate environment than knowing the correct tool or method.

The thoughtfulness of these professionals, something they reveal have developed over time, and their insights on what it means to be competent is something that every young professional in the field need to know. I hope that over time I will be able to write brief reports on this ongoing research. I am quite sure that the results will be highly valuable for professionals interested in developing their career. But I also think that the findings are extremely valuable for any employer who is interested in creating a culture where each professional can grow to become the best they can in a way that fits their individual personality and competence.

The interviews will continue. If you are interested in this topic, let me know, either as a professional (maybe to let me interview you) or as an employer who wants to learn more about how highly skilled professionals really think about themselves and their professional environment.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

"The Design Way" 2nd Edition, MIT Press is now out!

Today I got a package from MIT Press with copies of the 2nd Edition of mine and Harold Nelson's book "The Design Way". It looks very cook with a bright orange cover.

It is possible to order now from Amazon and other places. This is how it looks.

And below you can find the Table of Content and also the Preface to the Second Edition.

Table of Content & Preface

Preface to the Second Edition ix
Acknowledgments xiii

Prelude 1


1 The Ultimate Particular 27
2 Service 41
3 Systemics 57
4 The Whole 93

5 Desiderata 105
6 Interpretation and Measurement 119
7 Imagination and Communication 127
8 Judgment 139
9 Composing and Connecting 159
10 Craft and Material 173

11 The Evil of Design 183
12 The Splendor of Design 191
13 The Guarantor-of-Design (g.o.d.) 201

14 Becoming a Designer 215
15 Being a Designer 239

The Way Forward 261

References 265
Index 271

Preface to the Second Edition

It was with mixed feelings of excitement and hesitancy that we approached the opportunity and concomitant responsibility for developing a second edition of this book. The excitement came from the opportunity both to refine some of the ideas introduced in the first edition and to add many of the new ideas that we have been working with over the last few years. The hesitation came from the realization that we might easily make changes and additions that would not necessarily be seen as improvements over what was accomplished in the first edition.

The responses we received from readers of the first edition convinced us that there indeed had been a need for the kind of book about design we wrote. Based on feedback from an astonishingly broad spectrum of readers we realized that there are people from all around the globe who are deeply engaged in advancing design scholarship. We found that there are many design practitioners who devote a significant amount of time and effort to the development of both their understanding of design as well as their improved practice of design. We also discovered that there are an immense number of people, new to the game of design, who are interested in becoming designers in newly emerging fields and professions that were just beginning to appear when we published the first edition. In addition, the growing interest in adapting design thinking to established fields, domains, or professions became apparent from the diversity of backgrounds of the readers making contact with us.

It is with amazement and satisfaction that we have followed the devel- opment over the last few years of the increasing general interest among a broad set of stakeholders in design thinking, design theory, and even in the philosophy of design. We started our work on the first edition in the early 1990s, finalizing the writing about ten years later. During that time we had little idea that design learning, design thinking, and design practice would become such a recognized part of not only academia, but the realms of business and government as well.

The ever-growing interest in design as an important and essential approach to intentional change made it compelling to further develop our ideas from the first edition of this book. However, even if awareness and interest in design have grown, there is still a need for further advancing and championing the “big” ideas introduced in the first edition. We are still pushing to make a case for the recognition of design as its own intellectual and practical tradition of human inquiry and action on equal footing with science, art, and the humanities. Today it is even more important to make the case for an intellectually viable and well-grounded scholarly approach to design.

We see the second edition of our book as a continuation of the first edition’s support for the development of a widespread design culture and a philosophy of design that is stable and true to the “nature” of design. Our intention is that this new edition will be even more supportive of the individual designer learning how to think and act with increasing competence in a designerly way.

This second edition has gone through both large and small revisions. Every chapter has been refined and modified. We have revisited our use of core concepts and terms with the purpose of being more consistent. We have added, updated, or removed references where it was important to do so.

We have also changed our approach to graphics in the second edition. We have introduced the notion of schema as the primary means for representing holistic concepts, ideas, and fundamental knowledge in visual form. This means that there is an increased importance vested in the graphics—that is, the schemas—to expand and complement the text in revealing or reflecting deeper understandings of design.

Among the bigger changes that appear in the second edition are two re-written chapters—chapter 3, formerly “Systems,” is now “Systemics” and chapter 10, “Production and Caretaking,” is now “Craft and Material.” We have completely removed the last part of the first edition—Character and Competence—and added a new part V—A Drawing Together—with two new chapters—chapter 14, “Becoming a Designer,” and chapter 15, “Being a Designer.” We have added an epilogue—“The Way Forward”— where we invite the readers to take a look into the future of design and their own design futures.

We are extremely grateful to all the students and colleagues who have commented on and critiqued the book over the years. This includes non-academic colleagues and interested individuals as well who have provided us a tremendous amount of support and encouragement. The critiques, both positive and negative, have been very helpful and are appreciated. They have helped us to understand how we can further develop and com- municate our ideas—to make them more available and relevant to our readers.
We would like to thank our colleagues and students at Carnegie Mellon University; The Naval Postgraduate School; Indiana University Bloomington; and Umeå University, Sweden. We thank the School of Computer Science at the University of Montana for their support. We also thank Anne Nelson for her continued invaluable assistance in crafting the draft document. We are very appreciative of Robert Sandusky’s reviews of earlier drafts and his invaluable suggestions for their improvement.

We are particularly grateful to Doug Sery and the MIT Press for giving us this opportunity to publish the second edition of The Design Way.

Harold G. Nelson Erik Stolterman

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Book note: "Mapping Design Research"

The book "Mapping Design Research" (2012) edited by Simon Grand & Wolfgang Jonas is a great new addition to the field of design philosophy and theory. The book contains 21 essays covering different aspects of design theory. It is a mix of older seminal writings from recognized design thinkers such as Herbert A. Simon, Christopher Frayling, Bruce Archer, and John Chris Jones. There are also some essays by authors who are not primarily seen as design thinkers, such as Bruno Latour, John Law, Michel Callon, and Friedrich Nietzsche. The book also contains some essays from contemporary design thinkers by among others Wolfgang Jones, Ken Friedman, and Anthony Dunne.

I have not yet had time to read all chapters but several of the chapters are texts I have encountered before. I am looking forward to read the ones that I am not familiar with. It seems to be a good collection and I congratulate Grand and Jonas for putting this anthology together!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

We have now officially started!!

Today Intel officially made public a new research center for Social Computing. It is a fantastic project with several universities involved and the overlord is Paul Dourish at UC Irvine. Jeff Bardzell, Shaowen Bardzell and I consitute the Indiana University part of the center. It is a 5 year project and a lot of funding! This will be a major part of my research in the next years. It is very exciting. The people on the project are exceptional and the overall design of the project is quite grand.

Here is how the project is described:

"Social Computing is the study of information technologies and digital media as social and cultural phenomena.

Since its earliest days, computing has always been a social phenomenon, from people gathered around a screen to play Spacewar to the emergence of email as ARPANET’s “killer app.” As technologies have evolved, so too have the social and cultural issues with which they are entwined. The 21st century Internet is one of social media, social networking, community engagement and cultural connection. The technical challenges of advanced IT development are matched by challenges in understanding the social contexts, cultural practices, and policy questions of technology and digital media, but the predominant research frameworks with which we typically address them are those that emphasize individual experience in interaction.

The Intel Science and Technology Center for Social Computing will establish a new paradigm for computing, moving from the personal to the social. Its hub is at UC Irvine, and its partner (“spoke”) institutions are NYU, Cornell University, Georgia Tech, and Indiana University. In collaboration with researchers from Intel, the Center undertakes research that will identify and develop theories, frameworks, and methods that will drive new scholarly research, new technology prototypes, new policy interventions, and new areas of innovation. The Center will facilitate research and collaboration at the vanguard of the emerging era of massively networked, mobile and cloud computing, while providing tools to understand and build on the history of earlier systems of social and technological interaction."

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Why "Just Enough Is More" is not Enough

In an article on FastCompany's site Co.Design, Tom Hobbs writes about the state of UI design. He argues that "the aesthetic of UIs has followed a dominant ideology that attempts to replicate the physical world". Hobbs is quite skeptical towards this form of "skeuomorphism". The basic argument that Hobbs make has been made before and is a reasonable one. At the same time when Hobbs argues against what he sees as a problematic, or even dogmatic, design philosophy he ends up advocating another philosophy, almost in a similarly dogmatic way.

I have no problem with Hobbs general statement "There’s a lot of making and thoughtful critical analysis to be done of the solutions we create before we evolve approaches and philosophies that are truly unique to the discipline of UI design." This is all good and well. But when he continues and writes that "To do this, we need to design UIs that are stripped down as much as they can be. This means avoiding superfluous and gratuitous ornamentation, both visually and through how they move." Avoiding to copy or metaphorically use the analog or physical world does not have to result in "avoiding superfluous and gratuitous ornamentation" or to follow “just enough is more” (which Hobbs also advocates).

To be designerly means to be able to understand what is appropriate for a particular design. It means to be able to make the required judgments about all aspects involved and about how they come together as a whole in an adequate composition. It is not about applying any predetermined set of principles or patterns. To have and constantly develop once own design philosophy is crucial to any designer, but it does not mean that design should be based on a preconceived notion of what constitutes the best design in any particular context. I am sure this is not what Hobbs means. I understand that what he is trying to do is to argue against a simplistic notion of design, which I fully agree with. But at the same time, it is easy to get the impression from the text that there is another notion of design that is the key to good design. The key to good design is not Metro design language or any other language or principle. The key to good design is  to be able to execute good design judgment.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Reading my old PhD dissertation

After six years in Indiana, I just got all my books shipped to me from Sweden. Among the books, I found a few copies of my PhD dissertation from 1991. The title is in Swedish "Designarbetets dolda rationalitet" [in English "The Hidden Rationality of Design Work "]. It was written in Swedish. Only one chapter is translated to English. Anyway, today I read parts of it and realized two things. First, I think the text is still quite good, which is kind of a surprise. I have not read or looked at it in more than ten years, maybe more. Secondly, I realized that almost all my scholarly work I do today can be traced back to my dissertation. This is not so much of a surprise, since I know other who have the same experience. You only do research on a very small set of ideas during your lifetime.

Anyway, even though the text was published in 1991, I am thinking about translating parts of it, or maybe more correct, translate and re-write parts of the text. It might finally become a book in English :-)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Book note: "In Praise of Reason" by Michael P. Lynch

One of the most mundane activities that humans engage in is reasoning. We do it all the time. We try to find reasons for our own actions and for others (strange) behavior. At the same time, reasoning can be seen as the most advanced activity that humans engage in.

Reasons are the intellectual tools we use to convince others about our own perspective or solution. According the Michael P. Lynch, our society is facing a serious problem related to this daily human activity of reasoning. He argues that we have entered an era when many individuals and large groups do not accept the reasons of others as valid. There is a decrease in the trust of what he sees as the "common currency of reason", that is, there is less acceptance of the idea that we all, despite opinions and beliefs, are using the same fundamental set of rules and principles upon which we can constructively reason around a particular topic in a productive way. Instead, he argues that we see more people and groups expressing the idea that reasons are just a matter of belief. This leads to a situation where people do not have to listen to each others reason, not have to reflects upon the strength of their arguments, etc. Instead people take the position that they are just wrong or even stupid. Lynch shows how this have become common even in parts of our society that are supposed to rest on reasoning and the exchange of ideas, such as in politics.

Lynch book gives a thorough and detailed account for the existence of objective reasoning that we all have to relate to and "obey". Even though Lynch is a professional philosopher and the topic is advanced, he manages to make his case understandable and exciting. To me, his argumentation seems both solid and convincing. His evidence for the existence of reason as something that is possible to see as common to all of us is both elaborate and elegant, but at the same time accessible. His description of the problems that will arise if we do not accept a common understanding of reason is straightforward and should give us all reason to fear the future.

Lynch also writes about something that I find extra interesting and that is a clear definition of science. He makes the case that a common understanding of reason can and should be based on an abstracted version of what constitutes the scientific approach. He writes "part of what makes scientific practice distinctive is that it is comparatively intersubjective, transparent, repeatable, natural, and adaptable." (p 93). These features gives science the core quality that Lynch argues for which is an "open character". His detailed discussion about these qualities of science is highly interesting and is also relevant in a discussion about the difference between science and design.

At the end of the book, Lynch discusses the notion of truth especially in relation to Richard Rorty's idea of truth. Very interesting for those who are familiar with Rorty. He ends with a plea. He asks our society to seriously consider reason as a precondition for an open and democratic society. He argues that it is not just possible to develop a common ground and understanding about reason--it is necessary. Otherwise our society will slide further down into a state when reason is not respected and other forms of convincing becomes tools, such as, money, power, violence.

I highly recommend this book. The points I mentioned above are just some from Lynch rich text. Read and think.

CHI 2012

I am home after having spent almost a week at CHI 2012 in Austin, Texas. First two days I was chairing the doctoral consortium. The consortium is a way of looking into the future! The students are some of the best in the field and their work is what will be seen in CHI in a few years. I can not really say that there was a clear trend except that the diversity within HCI will grow even more.

The CHI conference itself was great. The last few years we have seen serious changes in the content of CHI. It is more diverse, more including of perspectives and approaches to HCI research. There were many papers that would never have been presented at CHI just a few years ago. Personally I am of course happy to see some more theoretically oriented papers and more design oriented papers. It was also exciting to see the interactivity exhibition, that is, all the new designs, artifacts and systems that manifest research in a more concrete way.

And then finally, all the people. Since I basically only go to one conference per year nowadays, CHI works greats. Almost everyone is there and your get a chance to reconnect and connect to colleagues during a few intense days. Discussions lead to new ideas and new collaborations. Thanks to everyone who organized the conference.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Book series on Design

The MIT Press book series labeled "Design thinking, design theory"with me and Ken Friedman as Series Editors has now published three books! We are delighted about this and we of course expect to be able to publish more in the years to come. The three already published are:

"Design Things" by A. Telier (aka, Thomas Binder, Pelle Ehn, Giorgio de Mechelis, Guilio Jacucci, Per Linde, and Ina Wagner), 2011.

"Adversarial Design" by Carld DiSalvo, 2012

"China's Design Revolution" by Lorraine Justice, 2012.

I hope you will enjoy these books and coming ones too. And maybe you also will be inspired to write your own book. If so, get in touch with me.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Can designers train their intuition?

We are entering a time of complexity that is recognized everywhere, especially in design circles. Don Norman's latest book "Living with complexity" is a sign of this. But the fact that the world is getting more complex is not a new insight. Christopher Alexander wrote in 1964 in his book "Notes on the synthesis of form" that "more and more design problems are reaching insoluble levels of complexity" (p 3). He argues in his book that due to the increasing complexity, design can no longer be an activity that is done by people who has an innate ability to make good judgments. He argues that good intuition is not enough. Design is in need of more systematic approaches. Out of this idea grew his proposal for the use of pattern language in design.

Even though Alexander argued that intuition is not enough, the notion of intuition has always and will probably continue to be a core concept when it comes to describing what is needed from a designer. Intuition is often understood as the ability to sub-consciously make considerations, decisions and judgments based on non-complete and overwhelming information. There is a fairly common conception of intuition that it is an ability that can not be trained or developed, actually in many cases it is even seen ask dangerous to examine or inspect intuition. The idea is that if you interfere with intuition you will destroy it.

Alexander also comments, however slightly differently, on this aspect of intuition. He writes "Enormous resistance to the idea of systematic processes of design is coming from people who recognize correctly the importance of intuition, but then make a fetish of it which excludes the possibility of asking reasonable questions." (p 9). To Alexander there is a respect for intuition that sometimes hinders the possibility to developing more structured and intentional approaches to design. He argues that there are so many designers who have an established position due to their ability to apply their intuition to complex problems and if other approaches are developed that is based on externalized knowledge, and therefore also possible to teach and practice, then their competence and status will be challenged.

Donald Schön makes two arguments in relation to the question of intuition. First of all, he acknowledges that every designer are engaged in deep internal processes of reflection and decision making that can be seen as intuitive since they are not fully possible to externalize. He also constantly advocates reflection as a tool to engage critically in what constitutes the elements and processes of design thinking. Building your expertise is a matter of training your intuition. "Training" your intuition can be done by expanding your design repertoire through constant critical examination of your own thinking and acting as a designer.

So, it is possible to both respect the position of Alexander and Schön. Intuition should be challenged by rational approaches to design but without requiring all aspects of the process to become externalized. Intuition can be respected as a core part of design thinking without making it a black box that is not possible to develop and is only a matter of talent. Any designer can develop their competence by doing both, that is, engaging in constant effort to develop their design intuition a la Schön and to engage in efforts to find more developed and systematic ways to improve the design process a la Alexander.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Some ongoing readings

On my desk at the moment I have some book that I slowly are trying to get through. The problem is as usual that they are good which makes the reading slower at the same time as rewarding.

These are the books I am reading right now:

Christoffer Alexander "Notes on the Synthesis of Form", (1964). 
This is a re-read. I read this book in 1983 and I was really inspired and excited. Now, after only have read a few pages, I am equally excited and realize that many of the ideas I think are my own are probably from this book.

Bruno Latour, "Reassembling the Social", (2005)
Together with some PhD students and some colleagues we are reading one chapter every other week. Then we meet for an hour to discuss that chapter. It takes time but it is really worth it. This is a challenging book in which Latour redefines sociology in a way that is consistent with his earlier work while highly critical of traditional sociology. Is is fascinating to read someone who takes on such a huge task and does it extremely well.

Peter-Paul Verbeek "Moralizing technology" (2011)
I am halfway through this interesting account of the relationship between technology and morality. Verbeek does a wonderful job in laying out the problem and also in providing some great insights. The book is surprisingly easy to read for such a complicated topic. I will hopefully write a review when I am done.

Ludwik Fleck "Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact" (1935).
I realized a while back that I had never read this influential book. It comes with an interesting Foreword by Thomas S. Kuhn who was inspired by Fleck when he wrote his seminal "The structure of scientific revolutions". Fleck develops the notions of "thought style" and "thought collective" in a way that is still more than relevant. I am reading this book in a less structured way, jumping back and forth, not good.

Andrew Feenberg & Norm Friesen (Eds) "(Re)Inventing the Internet" (2012)
I just got this book sent to me from Feenberg and have only started to read it. It is of course based on some of his earlier philosophical writings. The book presents a "critical theory of the internet". Of what I have read so far, it is a welcome analysis of internet which is more analytical than most writings on the topic.

OK, that is enough for now. I guess I have to finish these readings so I can move on to other books.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Book cover "The Design Way" Second Edition

This is the book cover for the second edition of "The Design Way". Hopefully it will be published this coming summer. The publisher is MIT Press.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Understanding Interaction Design Practice

The research project on design methods that we started in September (funded by NSF) is coming along. We are now in the middle of a first interview study where we focus on a range of aspects related to design practice and particularly the use of design methods ("methods" in its broadest possible meaning).

As always when you interview professionals they impress you with the competence they express and their understanding of design and the design process. These practitioners stress aspects of the design process that in many ways are opposite to what non-designers or students believe, for instance that process is more important than outcome,  and that judgment is more important than method. They are constantly unwilling to make clear statements about "what works best", "what method is best", "what are crucial skills", etc. Instead they always bring the discussion back to the particular, the particular situation, particular user, particular client, particular technology, and particular design challenge.

It is also fascinating to find that, even though they are highly skilled and competent in what they do, they are also somewhat worried that other professionals in the field are doing things differently and maybe in a better way. This is the case even though they are engaged in professional communities, workshops, conferences, and reads a lot.

It is also clear that the level of knowledge when it comes to design methods, their names, their history, their usefulness, etc. differ drastically.

Anyway, every interview leads to new insights about the everyday conditions of professional practice for interaction design. I am now more than ever looking forward to this research and can see many exciting results in the coming years.

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