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.]