Monday, June 27, 2016

Design crash courses and why a deeper understanding of designerly thinking is needed

Aaron Walter writes in a very good text about '7 Problems Growing Design Team Face'. I read this text as a support of what I wrote about in my post 'The problem with 'crash courses' in design thinking'.

The problems that Walter's discuss are all of a complexity and scope that is not possible to prepare for a crash course on design thinking. Anyone involved in real designerly thinking will always face fundamental questions that reach throughout an organization and has to do with organizational structure, people and processes. And to add on that, the diversity and complexity of values, visions and strategies.

This also means that any design challenge of importance will involve a team of people and that is when the issues that Walters describe emerge. Working together in a designerly way requires some common understanding of what a designerly process is. To just have a simple understanding of basic steps or phases, or of the importance of sketching or prototyping, or of iteration, is far from enough to handle these situations or the '7 problems'.

Designerly thinking is more foundational. It requires people to deeply understand the fundamentals of design, for instance what 'being in service' means or that design is about 'ultimate particulars' that require the design judgment more than any prescribed process model.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The problem with 'crash courses' in design thinking

It is obvious that 'design thinking' as an approach to change has never been more popular than now. Everywhere on the web it is possible to find workshops and courses, and even 'crash courses' that will make anyone understand and appreciate the 'methodology' of design thinking. This is an unfortunate development. No one will be able to think and act as a designer after a 'crash course'. But this is not what I see as the problem with this development. The major issue is that it will lead a large number of people to believe that 'design thinking' is some kind of simplistic step-by-step method that is possible to apply to all kinds of situations and problems. The inevitable consequence will be a large number of people frustrated with what they think is 'design thinking' and they will turn to some other approach with the hope for another quick fix.

There are no quick fixes. There is no simple approach that is possible to understand and learn in a 'crash course'. As with any human approach that has evolved over centuries design is not something that you can 'use'. It is obvious to most people that a 90-minute 'crash course' in the scientific methodology is not going to make it possible to conduct any form of advanced or even useful science. "Crash courses' may have their place and a role to play, but it is a way that will make it possible to "take away some of the basic principles of Design Thinking and start to adapt them into your personal and professional routines". 

Design thinking can of course be learned. But it takes time, training and practice. And instead of 'learning' a stepwise methodology, a 'crash course' may be a way to introduce the foundational ideas behind design as an approach in a way that makes it possible to understand what it is, how it differs from other approaches and what it takes to actually perform design thinking. However, this requires maybe a bit more by those who offer these courses than what is the case today.

Workshops on designerly thinking and doing...again

I have added a page, see navigation bar, where I have added a bit more information about my plans for some workshops. Again, if you are interested and want to know more, or have ideas for me, just email me.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Conversational Agents and Personal Assistants--some thoughts

In a recent FastCompany article, Mark Sullivan writes about the "AI personal assistant wars". The main point of the article is how Apple as a company is (or is not) well positioned to compete in the new emerging landscape of conversational agents and personal assistants (or whatever the final term for this type of thing will be).

One of the main messages in the article is that we are leaving the 'app' paradigm and moving towards, what Microsoft CEO Nadella calls, the age of the 'bot'. In the article he is quoted saying that 'Bots are the new apps'.

These bots are supposed to create a new layer on top of existing applications and services and guide and support users by being the 'person' that can find the right information or service. As a user you are supposed to just talk to your bot as you would to a real person assistant or butler (which is another term used).

This development is exiting and it will be transformational in many aspects, but the question is if the present hype is maybe overestimating the potential of this new paradigm. One of the most obvious strengths of conversational agents is that they are 'faceless' (as we define it in our article on Faceless Interaction) that is, we can interact with them without having to focus our attention of a specific surface. However, at the same time facelessness poses serious problems with interaction. In the same article we for instance discuss the notion of interactivity clutter and how faceless interaction leads to new forms of clutter that are so far difficult to see how they can be solved.

The idea that agents or assistants by themselves will change interaction is of course too simplistic. It will in many ways add complexity and confusion. The more we add 'intelligence' to our technology and the more we are able to converse with them, the more we enter our daily life dealing with people with all its misunderstandings and confusions. Interfaces provide us with a simple and direct way of not having to negotiate, not having to explain, to 'discuss' things. With intelligence and conversations comes of course attentional freedom, at least spatially, though it will automatically restrict and limit us in other ways.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Keynote talks

I am very happy and honored to have been invited to be a Keynote speaker at two conferences this Fall.

I will speak at NordiCHI (more about the program here) which is one of my favorite conferences in the field of Human Computer Interaction. I have not decided the topic yet in detail but it will be based on the book that Lars-Erik Janlert and I are finishing up, so maybe something about interactivity clutter and interactivity fields.

I will also give a Keynote presentation at the Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD5) Symposium. This is an exciting symposium that is intended to develop a stronger integration between systems thinking and design. Among the other Keynote presenters are Humberto Maturana and Liz Sanders. Both of which I have already had the pleasure of meeting. For this Keynote I am even less sure what it will be about. We'll see when we get closer.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Workshops on designerly thinking and doing

I am in the early stages of planning some workshops on "Designerly Thinking and Doing" to take place at some time after summer. I will hold them here in wonderful Bloomington, Indiana.

The purpose of the workshops will be to provide a deep understanding of what designerly thinking and acting as a way of navigating a complex world means and how to do it. Professionals and leaders in all areas are today challenged with constant demands of producing creative and innovative solutions but what does it mean to do this in a designerly way? And how to you start? And how do you develop design leadership?

This will be great opportunities for you who have heard about design as an approach but have not had a chance yet to engage with it. But it will also be useful if you are already involved in design but are looking for more.

If you think this sounds interesting and you might want to participate, send me an email (

More information to come!

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

The implosion of design disciplines

I have seen some comments lately by designers on how to make distinctions between design areas and disciplines. There seems to be a concern that design disciplines are not se easy to separate any more and that they are becoming more similar. Even though there is an attempt to separate and define different design areas, for instance by introducing notions such as social or service design or experience design, it seems to become more difficult to define these forms of design as distinct from each other and also distinct from traditional disciplines of design. In almost all design areas today there are some design of physical artifacts, of processes and services, of visual form and expression, of relationships and systems, and not the least of interaction. An architect is involved in all these design aspects, so it an interaction designer or an organizational designer, etc.

Of course, each specific design challenge require some form of particular competences, skills, methods and tools. But at the same time, it seems as if the traditional more clear distinction of different design tasks is evaporating or maybe with a better metaphor 'imploding', in the sense that nothing disappears, it all becomes aspects of a single type of process that incorporates the full range of design 'disciplines' including their need for competences and skills.

To what extent this is reflected in educational programs and in how industry is organizing their design competences and processes today is unclear. My suspicion is that it is still done based on traditional and 'old-school' ideas of design. Of course there are examples of the opposite, for instance programs that do not see a particular design discipline as their core and instead try to educate some form of general designers. I am quite sure however that this is not the way forward. So, what is? Is it a new breed of designers that are more tightly connected to a specific type of application area, to a specific form of problems, or to a specific design process or....? I am sure we will see a lot of exciting developments in this area in the years to come. In many cases, this development will seriously challenge traditional university organizational structures with their set idea of what constitute an academic discipline and educational program.

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