Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Book note: "Convivial Toolbox--generative research for the front end of design"

I just received a copy of a quite new book "Convivial Toolbox--generative research for the front end of design" by Elizabeth Sanders and Pieter Jan Stappers. It is exciting to see that more books on design are being published, and especially books that are not only simple "how-to" but also present a philosophical and theoretical position.

Sanders and Stappers is doing this well in many ways. The book is first of all nicely designed with great paper! The book is full of interesting design schemas, many of which are quite insightful and interesting. I have yet to read the book carefully and I am not sure I will, not because I do not find it useful but because I am quite aware of most of what the book covers. To me the most interesting elements of the book are the elaborate schemas that in some cases are rich and dense and provide the reader with a lot of insights about the topic in a designerly relevant way. I will definitely use some of those schemas in my own teaching.

So, the book covers in a good way how early design can be supported by generative research. It gives examples and cases on how to do it. I think the book can be useful for anyone who is searching for such support.

At the same time, I find the layout of the book confusing. Numerous different sections, colors, and sidebars. The layout is structured as if it is a basic textbook with readers who need to be guided in detail in their reading, with "hints" and other typical features. It becomes confusing and difficult to read, at least for me.

I was quite intrigued by the title "Convivial Toolbox" since I am well aware of Illich writings and of his ideas. I was hoping that the authors would in a stronger sense build and relate their ideas to the notion on conviviality, but that did not really happen. For instance, to what extent and in what way are the tools described in the book better suited for convivial design than others, and in what way is conviviality supported by the process presented? I was looking for a final reflection or discussion of that but could not find it.

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