Tuesday, February 26, 2013

"The Design Way" --- a review

Yesterday we got a nice review sent to us from MIT Press that has been published in "Computing Reviews". You can find the review here. What I like about the review is that it is by someone who is not a designer, who is not already in the field of designerly thinking, but still a positive review. The reviewer, Joan Horvath, does a good job in introducing the book and explaining how and why it can be read by someone who is not yet familiar with design in this more theoretical and philosophical way. Horvath makes the argument that the book is valuable if you are an engineer and have to work with people that are more designerly or artistic. It creates an understanding of the different approaches, I could not agree more.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Growing Critique of 'Big Data'

It is interesting that we can already see critique against the 'big data' movement (just search for critique of 'big data'). One good example of the more recent voices came in NYT the other day (link).  It is always the case that anything that evolves into a buzz word and get hyped inevitably will face critique, but this critique has come earlier than I expected.

It seems as if the notion of 'big data' and its proponents will face some resistance from the start. Of course, 'big data' has been around for a long time but it has been invisible and not very 'cool'. It has been seen as number crunching and serious computation of large datasets or databases. It has been seen as an activity in the background and as an infrastructure that feeds information into front-end systems. Now 'big data' is its own thing, bringing promises and creating hopes of new possibilities. With the new popularity and the promises of potential wonders that it can deliver, it will be interesting to see how the 'big data movement' will be able to handle the hype and the growing critique at the same time. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Misconceptions about the Science of Design

In a New York Times article, Lance Hosey writes, "A revolution in the science of design is already under way, and most people, including designers, aren’t even aware of it." The articles reports on recent research that has shown how different aspects of color, shapes, patterns, motives, etc lead to particular reactions in humans. For instance, the color green can boost creativity  motives from nature can make people more efficient. Hosey mentions some more examples. The author makes the case that "if every designer understood more about the mathematics of attraction, the mechanics of affection, all design — from houses to cellphones to offices and cars — could both look good and be good for you."

This is an amazingly confused and misguided article. I will soon post a more detailed critique.

[Ok, I wrote this about a month ago and I have not yet posted "a more detailed critique", I think it is quite probable that there will not be any such posting.]

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

New look and Claude Levi-Strauss

As you may recognize, I have slightly changed the design of my blog. We'll see if I like it. It may soon change again. Since this is only a matter of changing structure and not the content, I am appropriately reading "Myth and Meaning" by Claude Levi-Strauss at the same time. I have not read this book before but have always suspected that I would like it--and I do. He writes for instance "it is absolutely impossible to conceive of meaning without order." I agree. And he also writes "science has only two ways of proceeding: it is either reductionist or structuralist". Simple and clear, think about that!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

DRS 2014 – Design’s Big Debates

Since I am involved in the organization of the DRS 2014 conference, I am posting some information about it hear. We are aiming to develop the conference to even more become the premier international general design conference. We are changing many aspects fo the conference to both better reach a broader audience while also enhance the quality of submissions. So, read and plan!!

DRS 2014 – Design’s Big Debates
Preliminary Call for Participation
Umeå, Sweden, June 16-19, 2014

Design Research Society’s 2014 conference invites you to engage in discussions and debates on the future directions of design and design research. We welcome you to join us in Umeå, Sweden, June 16-19.

We believe there is a shared discourse in design, one that includes all areas of design research, and that is of vital importance for our understanding and development of the foundations of design. This discourse is something we share and cultivate over long periods time, as it tells stories of past, present and future trajectories of design and its role in society.

With an ever-increasing demand for academic specialization and increasing numbers of highly specialized conferences, there is now a bigger need than ever for a venue where the design research community can address significant challenges that cut across domains and big issues that will influence the way our field as a whole develops. The main purpose of the DRS 2014 conference is to foster and support a shared design discourse. By focusing on key big issues in design, we want to create a forum where the questions that have the potential to change the way we think and do design – its philosophy, theory, practice, methodology, education, profession and history – will be discussed and debated.

To create this platform for discussions and debates we want to open up a wider set of possibilities for engaging and participating. Thus, the DRS 2014 conference will make use of multiple publication and presentation formats, including both established ones such as ‘papers’ and new ones such as ‘conversations’, each with it's own submission and review process. Now is the time to begin asking yourself 'What do you think are the big debates in design?' What would you like this exciting conversation to be like to really matter to you – and, how will you contribute to make that happen?’

DRS 2014 is hosted by Umeå Institute of Design, Umeå University. The conference week will give you an opportunity to experience the nightless nights and sunny days of the Swedish Midsummer, and the many cultural events of Umeå, Cultural Capital of Europe 2014.

Warm welcome!

Johan Redström, Erik Stolterman and Anna Valtonen (General Chairs)
Carl DiSalvo and Jamer Hunt (Conversations and Debates Chairs)
Youn-kyung Lim and Kristina Niedderer (Papers Chairs)

Preliminary deadlines:
Papers: October 1st, 2013
Conversations: November 1st, 2013

More information:
DRS 2014, http://www.drs2014.org/
Design Research Society, http://www.designresearchsociety.org/
Umeå Institute of Design, http://www.uid.umu.se/
Umeå 2014: http://www.umea2014.se/

Friday, February 08, 2013

The End of Ted Talks and MOOCs

During the last year or two, I have seen more and more signs of a growing dislike for the TED talks. There are articles, blogposts, and comics that in different ways display one or another aspect of TED talks that people seem to see as problematic. Here is a typical example.

It is interesting how something that just a short time ago was by many considered to be the highest form of achievement, to give a TED talk, now by many is viewed as a form of knowledge diffusion that is almost detrimental to its very purpose, that is, to spreading real and serious knowledge in an efficient and entertaining way.

As in the example, the critique of TED talks seem to raise issues about the selection of speakers, quality of format, the slick presentation style, etc. But the most serious critique seems to be that TED actually do a disservice to the research and intellectual communities in that is makes every problem and solution, every grand idea or philosophy into a entertaining "wow" experience where the level of "wow" have no correspondance to the significance level of the content and message.

Anyway, the reason for this post is not to critique TED Talks per se. Instead my point is that the example of TED Talks is something to consider in this era of MOOC hype (massive open online courses). MOOCs are seen as the new form of delivery of knowledge, in particular academic knowledge. There is an intense search for the format of MOOCs that will be the silver bullet when it comes to higher education.

The lesson from TED Talks is that even if a format is found that works wonderfully as a delivery system for knowledge and millions of students are drawn to the new format and may also succeed, this does not mean that the format will survive the test of time. Traditional education, face to face, in "boring" classrooms with a boring "format" seems however to pass that test. The format has worked (of course far from perfect) for a long time.

So, if the wonder format of TED Talks is starting to fade and experiencing a growing critique and fatigue among its supporters, that is a pretty strong warning to anyone claiming that they have found the next format for knowledge delivery.

Book note: About design, methods, and Paul Feyerabend

As a PhD student that spent a lot of time reading and studying philosophy I came across the work of Paul Feyerabend, in particular his book "Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge" (1975).

As someone who at that time was already fascinated with the notion of rationality and its relation to method, I found Feyerabend to be exciting and inspring. He made a strong case against the belief that there is a "correct" method that we can trust when it comes to the production of scientific knowledge. He took a strong position against methods in any form  or shape and advocated for an anarchistic stance when it came to methods for knowledge production.

Feyerabend developed a strong critique against all the typical claims and arguments supporting the primacy of a scientific method. He argues against correspondence, coherency, falsification, etc. Instead he argued for "anything goes". His main idea was that as soon as we define a method and define what constitute the correct way to go about doing things, we constrain both ourself and what we can achieve. A given method can only, with accompanying measures of success, lead to certain outcomes. In Feyerabends world that means that methods becomes both oppressive and limiting. When we are only allowed to examine the world in a given way, we reduce our possibilities to find new understandings and explanations that may be richer.

Feyerabend's work is relevant to me today not for his contribution to science studies and philosophy (even though I truly believe he is still more than relevant) but for the possibility to read his book as a wonderful examination and comment on design. Almost everything that Feyerabend discusses in his book is applicable to any discussion of design and particularly the design process and its relation to rationality and methods.

There has been a lot of (valid) critique of Feyerabend's philosophy. Feyerabend does not deal with a number of critical issues that emerges if his ideas are taken seriously. He is famous for almost ignoring the question of what makes a scientific result better than something else while his argument against methods is that they do not necessarily lead to "better" results. The core of this critique is the question how he can argue that something can lead to "better" results when there is no criteria for what constitutes better. To me this is a serious critique of his philosophy, even though I do think there are good answers to the criticism. Anyway, if we instead read Feyerabend as if he is writing about design, it may be easier to address the question of "progress" and "better" since design does not, as science, deal with the universal but with the particular. At the particular level we can always construct measure of success that are relevant and useful while not applicable when it comes to the universal. (This is a fairly long argument that I will not engage in now.)

My only problem with Feyerabend at the moment is that I have not read the book in any detail for a long time. After having gone back to it recently for other purposes, I do realize that it may be one of the most inspring philosophical books when it come to the question of the rationality of design practice and methods.