Monday, May 22, 2017

Brief book note: The Science of Managing Our Digital Stuff by Bergman & Whittaker

I guess all of us are every day reflecting on how to organize our 'digital stuff', that is, our digital documents, pictures, videos, presentations, etc. Even though we know this, we are often overwhelmed by the speed of the growth of our digital stuff and even more about how to handle it. If you read blogs and magazines there are millions of pages with advice on how to organize, de-clutter, save, purge, etc. However, most of this advice are based on some individuals personal experience and experimentation and not on any broad (empirically based) understanding of what works for most people. That means that all of us can be inspired by the advice we read and then try it on our own, but sometimes we might want to know more about what 'really' works.


In the new book by Ofer Bergman and Steve Whittaker we are presented with what they argue is "The
science of managing our digital stuff".

The book is based on many years of research in the field. The book covers aspects of managing stuff that most of us are familiar with but do not really know much about if it works or not. The book is however not a handbook. The authors are quite clear about that. They write "We believe that research should be very careful in recommending 'good practice'. First, it is difficult to measure whether a practice is good or not. More importantly, ....., individual preferences are prevalent in PIM [personal information management], so that even if a practice is good for some people, research still needs to provide evidence that it will be good for others who implement the same practice. For this reason, we refrain from giving practical advice in this book." (p 235) (I really appreciate this position and I wish we would see it more often.)

Even if this book will not help you to solve your everyday problems of organizing your digital stuff it will help you better understand what the problem is and why it is so difficult. And for those who study any form of organization of data at the intersection between people and machines, this is a great book.


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Brief book note: The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols

In these days of 'alternative facts' and a growing rejection of science and truth, it is both depressing and refreshing to read a new book by Tom Nichols "The Death of Expertise--the campaign against established knowledge and why it matters".

Nichols has a wonderful way of describing what is going on today with a dismissal of knowledge and expertise. The book is full of extraordinary examples that he examines closely in an intelligent and clear way.

Nichols asks if this is a new problem and his answer is yes. He comments on what is different from earlier times when he writes:

"The death of expertise, however, is a different problem that the historical fact of low levels of information among laypeople. The issue is not indifference to established knowledge; it's the emergence of a positive hostility to such knowledge. This is new in American culture, and it represents the aggressive replacement of expert views or established knowledge with the insistence that every opinion on any matter is as good as every other. ... This change is not only unprecedented but dangerous." (p 20).

This is a depressing picture and as Nichols argues it is not only unfortunate, it is actually "dangerous" and as such something that needs to be dealt with.

Even though Nichols does not provide any simple solutions and ways forward, he is a strong advocate for reason and rationality. And he discusses to some extent what it would take to strengthen the role of reason in our society.

What I particularly like about the book is that Nichols is not looking at the problem from an elevated and superior position, he is not just complaining and blaming others, instead, he approaches the issues with a lot of self-reflection and also criticism of those who are supposed to 'know'--the experts. Overall, a timely and great book.

Monday, May 15, 2017

"..matters which no lips of man could teach"

One of the most frequent questions and comments I hear in relation to the notion of 'Design Thinking' is actually not about design, instead it is about the word 'thinking'. "If design thinking is such an efficient approach to change why is it only about thinking?" This is a very good question and in many cases a question that leads to highly uncomfortable answers.

In our book, The Design Way, we argue that designing is about the hand and the mind, about thought and action. We do this by introducing the old greek notion of sophia as a form of knowledge that combines the hand and the mind. Or as we call it "the knowing hand".

This idea that as an excellent designer of any kind you need both your mind (theory) and your hand (practical skills) is not new. For instance, in one of the first books on design, Vitruvius wrote: "Pytheos made a mistake by not observing that the arts are each composed of two things, the actual work and the theory of it." (Vitruvius, P 11). In the following pages Vitruvius makes a strong case that any architect [or designer] needs to be trained and skilled in both theory and practice.

Christoffer Frayling makes a similar comment in his book "On craftmanship". In one of the chapters, he elaborates on the need for students to have practical hands-on experiences complementing their education. He refers to John Ruskin who wrote: "Let a man once learn to take a straight shaving off a plank, or draw a fine curve without faltering, or lay a brick  level in its mortar, and he has learned a multitude of other matters that no lips of man could teach him." (Frayling, p 84)

Of course, Donald Schön made the same argument over and over in his writings (heavily inspired by the ideas of John Dewey). One of my favorite texts on this topic is to be found in Dewey's book "How we think". In the chapter on Judgment, Dewey makes an extraordinary case for how to develop once judgment ability. One core argument is the need for repeating encounters with situations of different kinds, that is, the particulars of each practical situation teaches us more than any theory without action can.

Unfortunately, we live in a society where the 'split of sophia' is still alive, where the hand (practical knowledge) is separated from the mind (theoretical knowledge). The proponents for each of these tend to look down on the other. It is as common to see statements that denigrate any form of theoretical or philosophical knowledge as to see statements that look down on practical knowledge and skills.

When it comes to designing, this type of division is completely out of place. Designers need to have a deep understanding of the theory, principles and philosophy that guides their own work and how it relates to more universal ideas and philosophies, while at the same time have sophisticated training in the concrete skills, materials, techniques, and procedures needed in their field. And of course, neither of these two is enough in itself, it is only when they are combined into a whole, when 'sophia' is reconstituted that they create the knowledge foundation that can lead to excellent designs.

This means that 'design thinking' is not only about thinking. It is about doing design. And doing includes both the hand and mind. I mentioned above that this is a conclusion that is in many cases highly uncomfortable since it means that those who are drawn to the thinking aspects of design has to accept that no design is a result of pure thinking. At the same time, those who love to do design, has to accept that excellent design is a result of their actions being inspired and informed by thinking. So, go think and do.

-------------------------------

Dewey, John. (1991, originally 1910). How We Think. Prometheus Books.

Frayling, Christoffer. (2012. On Craftmanship--towards a new Bauhaus. Oberon Masters.

Nelson, H. & Stolterman, E. (2012). The Design Way – Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World. 2nd Edition. MIT Press.

Vitruvius. “Ten Books on Architecture" Chapter 1. ( the whole book is here http://www.gutenberg.org/files/20239/20239-h/29239-h.htm)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Knowledge Claims Made in Design Research

I am happy to report that an article by my PhD student Jordan Beck and me has just been published in a new issue of She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation (Volume 2, Issue 3, Pages 179-270, Autumn 2016).  [If you can't download the article, email me]

The title of the article is:

Examining the Types of Knowledge Claims Made in Design Research

The article discusses what distinguish research in design areas when compared to other research areas. We do this by focusing on what type of knowledge claims researchers make in their publications. We found some fairly clear differences between research areas and also some distinct patterns when it comes to research in design.

Here is the abstract of the article:

"Abstract
While much has been written about designerly knowledge and
designerly ways of knowing in the professions, less has been written about
the production and presentation of knowledge in the design discipline.
In the present paper, we examine the possibility that knowledge claims
might be an effective way to distinguish the design discipline from other
disciplines. We compare the kinds of knowledge claims made in journal
publications from the natural sciences, social sciences, and design. And
we find that natural and social science publications tend to make singular
knowledge claims of similar kinds whereas design publications often contain
multiple knowledge claims of different kinds. We raise possible explanations
for this pattern and its implications for design research."

And here is the last section "Conclusion" from the article:

"Conclusion
Multiple knowledge claims of different kinds within individual journal publications
might be the consequence of a young, multidisciplinary field. Another explanation
might be that scholars publishing in Design Studies tend to embrace the values of
design and science, which may account for those publications making claims of
fact and claims of policy. Finally, a third explanation might be that scholars publishing
in Design Studies are writing for multiple audiences with diverse needs. For
example, if a scholar is attempting to write for professional designers, it becomes
relevant and useful to make claims illustrating the utility or applicability of findings
in practice.

Our purpose in writing this article is not to make generalizable claims about
design research or the design field. Nor are we attempting to characterize all publications
in Design Studies, Nature, or the American Sociological Review. We do believe that
our comparison of publications in these three journals can serve as grounds for further
inquiry. It would be possible, for instance, to analyze a more comprehensive
sample of Design Studies publications to determine whether the pattern we describe
in this paper is generalizable. It would also be interesting and worthwhile to compare
our results with an analysis of other design journals to see if and how knowledge
claiming in other design journals manifests different patterns. Moreover, in
this paper we only discuss the kinds of knowledge claims made in design research
as opposed to the legitimacy of the claims in the field or the reasons for publishing
these kinds of claims.

We believe that understanding knowledge-claiming practices is an important
part of intellectual culture building. And it might be a fruitful area for design
research to distinguish itself from other intellectual cultures, since many of the
scholars and researchers working in the discipline apply research methods that
are not unique to design—like anthropology and ethnography—and they work on
topics that could be studied by other fields. Design could be considered a social
activity and, thus, studied by sociologists and psychologists on their terms and
within their culture. The knowledge claims contained in publications, therefore,
could be seen as an interesting and important distinguishing feature of the design
discipline whereas its objects and methods of study might be less distinguishable
from others.

We should continue to engage in the kinds of self-reflective questions that
brought the discipline to where it is now. But we should also begin to think more
intentionally about the kinds of knowledge we are producing and what the consequences
of its production might be."

Friday, May 05, 2017

Book Note: Byung-Chul Han "In The Swarm"

I am reading my second book by Byung-Chul Han. The title is "In The Swarm: digital prospects". Han is a professor of philosophy and cultural studies in Berlin. His books are very short, this one is about 80 short pages. I mention that since it means that you can more see his books as long articles.

So, I will only here comment on the notion of the 'digital swarm' that is the core idea of the book.
Contrary to many other theories of what the digital revolution has led to, Han argues that it does not lead to increased broad political and community involvement. The reason for this is that what we see as a consequence of digital media is not a establishing of a 'mass' or 'crowd' or any other social construction that has a 'soul' or a 'spirit'. Instead, the digital swarm consists of 'isolated individuals', there is no 'we'. There is no "internal coherence. It does not speak with a voice" (p 10).

This 'swarm' has, according to Han, characteristics that do not correspond to the popular image of what social media leads to or can do. One is that it leads to a "gathering without assembly--a crowd without interiority". Sometimes these individuals come together in gatherings, for instance in "smart mobs". Han continues, these individuals "collective patterns of movement are like swarms that animals form, fleeting and unstable. Their hallmark is volatility." (p 12). 

To me, this type of language makes sense in relation to phenomena we experience on social media. Large swarms of people 'liking' and supporting a protest during a fleeting moment in time, just to move on, to the next 'issue' or 'cause', without creating or constituting a sustainable structure or foundation that can engage with real issues, in real time.

Of course, we all know examples where social media truly makes a difference and have influence our society. however, Han's reflections are, in my view highly interesting and raise a lot of questions. I am eager to read more in this book, even though it has already been valuable enough to me.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

"Things That Keep Us Busy - The Elements of Interaction" proofs are sent

Ok, yesterday Lars-Erik Janlert and I sent our final edits to the proofs of our forthcoming book "Things That Keep Us Busy - The Elements of Interaction". If everything goes well the book will be out in August/September. The 'book' is already available on Amazon. And you can preorder it!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Concept-driven interaction design research

Today I carefully read an article that I wrote with Mikael Wiberg and published in 2010 in the HCI journal. The article is titled "Concept-driven interaction design research". It is not always fun to read something you have written a while back, but in this case I was pleasantly surprised. I really liked it!

One reason why I liked it is that since we published the article the field of HCI research has developed and it seems as if the article and its contributions are better suited for today than when it was published.

I also really like the basic idea in the article, that is, that it is possible to use a concept-driven design approach with the purpose of theoretical advancements.   (I think you can download the paper here)

Here is the abstract of the paper:

"In this article, we explore a concept-driven approach to interaction design research with a specific focus on theoretical advancements. We introduce this approach as a complementary approach to more traditional, and well-known, user-centered interaction design approaches. A concept-driven approach aims at manifesting theoretical concepts in concrete designs. A good concept design is both conceptually and historically grounded, bearing signs of the intended theoretical considerations. In the area of human–computer interaction and interaction design research, this approach has been quite popular but not necessarily explicitly recognized and developed as a proper research methodology. In this article, we demonstrate how a concept-driven approach can coexist, and be integrated with, common user-centered approaches to interaction design through the development of a model that makes explicit the existing cycle of prototyping, theory development, and user studies. We also present a set of basic principles that could constitute a foundation for concept driven interaction research, and we have considered and described the methodological implications given these principles. For the field of interaction design research we find this as an important point of departure for taking the next step toward the construction and verification of theoretical constructs that can help inform and guide future design research projects on novel interaction technologies."

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A forgotten but crucial aspect of designing

One of the most exciting reactions I get when I talk to professional designers about the design process is when I mention what I call the practicalities of designing. With this notion I try to capture all those seemingly 'trivial' aspects of designing that are so easy to forget when we talk about design thinking. The practicalities of designing can briefly be listed as:

Time (not having enough)
Resources (not having enough)
--------------------------------------
Information (not having enough)
Knowledge (not having enough)
Competence (not having enough)

Every design process and designer lives with these practicalities. The first two are the most concrete and also the ones that are most often forgotten and neglected. Designing is about projects. A project has some kind of a starting point and some kind of an end point. The process is to a large extent defined in time and by resources. In most cases, time and resources are decided without any deep understanding of the particulars and specifics of the design process in question. It is done during the 'contracting' process (another aspect of designing which is not given enough attention unfortunately).

The three practicalities under the line are maybe less concrete but are equally practical.  When it comes to information, for instance, there are situations during every design process when the designer experiences that there is both too much information and not enough information. And even though every step in the process creates more (useful) information it also leads to a need for even more. Designers struggle constantly with overwhelming (too much) but insufficient (not enough) information.

My point here is that these practicalities (and there are of course others) are not glamorous or exciting, especially not time and resources, but they are crucial and they define designing. To understand designing requires a deep understanding of these practicalities.

My experience is that if you want to talk to designers and be taken seriously you have to show that you understand and respect the practicalities of designing. You have to know what it means to engage in a design process without enough time and resources, with too much and but insufficient information, without enough knowledge and competence, etc. You need to be able to talk about these practicalities in a language that make sense to professionals and make them recognize that you respect all aspects of their practice.


Friday, April 07, 2017

Why designing is all about you and not the method or tool

Working with students and professionals over the years have helped me understand what aspects of the design process that makes designers stressed and insecure. One factor is the role of methods and tools in designing. Common questions I get are "what are the best methods and tools to use in designing?" and "can you do human centered design while being 'agile'?" or "can 'personas' be used when working with highly specialized products?", etc.

The basic assumption underlying all these and similar questions is that a method and tool to some extent can function as a 'guarantor', that is, that the use of the method or tool can promise successful outcomes. It is possible to see this assumption as a hope for increased 'predictability' in the design process. Predictability in this case means a hope that if we use 'method A' then we can with higher certainty predict that the outcome of the process will score higher on some measure of success scale.

This type of reasoning is not strange. Who would not like to see our design attempts to have a higher level of predictability, so we could be more sure of the outcome? The problem with this reasoning is however that it places too much importance on the role of methods and tools and reduces the importance of the designer's judgment. And such reasoning has some drastic consequences. For instance, it means that if we are able to produce better methods with higher level of 'guarantee' the role of the designer goes down, ultimately even disappears.

In a simple schema that we present in our book "The Design way", we show this in simple way. The circles represent the designer(s).

The left side of the figure shows the logic that I described above, that is, that methods and tools (input) is in some logical relationship with the outcome, will influence the outcome. This means that it is possible to control the outcome of the design process by choosing the right 'input' (methods, tools, etc). This implies that using a certain method will with some certainty improve the outcome. This is a way of thinking that I find utterly problematic and quite wrong.

To me, the design process is at its core a process that is governed by the designers judgment, as is shown on the right side of the figure. Whatever the 'input' is (methods, tools, knowledge, etc), it is the designer(s) judgment that form and shape a certain outcome.

So, the answer to the questions I started this post with is that 'of course, methods and tools matter' in designing, they can help designers or be in the way in their preferred way of working, but they can not in any way predict of guarantee any form of quality of the outcome. This means that designing is all about you as a designer and not about methods and tools.

I realize that this is too rich question to discuss in a blog post...maybe I will return to it later.....

--------------------------------------
Addition:
After publishing this post I got this wonderful question from Deepak (thanks!).

"Are there methods, tools and processes to improve the "you", i.e the designer and designer judgement ? Or is the process just called life :) - that is every designer lives in a unique combination of circumstances and such circumstances ultimately shape their judgement(due to various conscious and unconscious biases)."

My answer is 'yes'. There are ways (even methods and tools) that can be used to develop, grow, and deepen a designers ability to make judgments. For instance, Donald Schon provides a whole range of ways of thinking suitable for this purpose, and there are others too. So, yes it is definitely possible to develop a designers judgment ability.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Designerly Thinking Workshop Reflections

I am just back after a full day workshop on "Designerly Thinking and Doing" in Chicago last week. It was a great day with wonderful participants who contributed with a lot of insights, comments and questions.

It is as always fascinating to hear the stories from individual designers about their professional experiences in widely diverse organizational environments. The stress and frustation of not being understood, the importance of everyday practicalities related to design practice, the philosophical differences between professional groups, the misconceptions about what the design process requires, etc. But also experiencing the enormous energy and willingness among these professionals to learn more, to keep developing, to take the next step. There is a passion about design that in many cases goes far beyond professional need and organizational loyalty. These professionals not only want to do good design work, they are to some extent addicted to it and need to know how to get there.

Anyway, here is the agenda for the day, even though we did not follow it in detail :-) If you are interested in knowing more, just write to me.

AGENDA
9.00 Who I am and who you are
The day in overview
Discussion, who has been trained in design thinking, what are your experiences, why are you here
Approach of the day, schemas
The design map
No problem, no process, no solution
Design Thinking is not a process that leads to good design, it is all about you
10.00 A brief history of design thinking, what does it look like, some examples
Schools of thought about design thinking
What is designerly thinking as a practical method
11.00 Why engage in design at all
What is it that makes designing appealing
The uniqueness of designing
Design Challenges, risk, courage, no process, overwhelmingly complex, insufficient information,
unpredictability, first intentions, depth, value, judgment,
12.00 LUNCH
1.0 Who am I as a design thinker
How to assess design thinking character and competence.
2.00 Developing your own designerly expertise,
How do you stay aware of the development of the field
How do you keep your competence relevant and how do you develop it
3.00 Design thinking and leadership: Build culture (wide), Organize process (middle), Develop expertise
(narrow),
Creating a design culture in your group, team, section and organization
Overcome organizational pushback when implementing a design thinking strategy

Next step!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Designerly Thinking and Doing workshops

Just a brief reminder of upcoming workshops.


I will hold a workshop on Designerly Thinking and Doing in Chicago on March 31st. Click on the link if you want to know more.

I am planning to hold the same (similar) workshop in Bloomington, IN, later this Spring, probably in May. Let me know if you are interested. It will be similar purpose and content (but less expensive).

You might be wondering with is different with my workshops in relation to many others out there. Most other workshops on 'design thinking' focus on the design process and some simple tools suitable for the process. In my workshops I focus on the individual's thinking and character, that is, what designerly thinking and doing means when it comes to an individuals competence, abilities, and skills. And on why they matter, and how they can be developed. We will focus on how to grow and become a thinking designer, instead of just describing some activities or tools. It is who you are as a whole person that makes you designer, how you can think, how you can make informed judgments, and how you can assess and evaluate when, where, and why a designerly approach is appropriate or not.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Why Design Thinking Needs Systems Thinking

I was a young student in my first year at the university. I had never heard of systems thinking or any other kind of thinking either. I had entered a program with focus on systems analysis and information systems, and I had no idea what it was all about. Pretty soon I had my first encounter with a real university professor. In the very first course the professor had us read “The Systems Approach” by C. West Churchman. The book was so different from anything else I had read. For the first time, I read something that was intellectually stimulating at the same time as it felt real and practical. I loved the book. 

Due to the same professor, throughout my undergraduate and doctoral years I was "forced" to read, think, reflect and discuss the works of Churchman. We had lectures, seminars and discussions around Churchman’s work. Churchman was as a visiting professor at our department. All this, of course, strongly influenced my intellectual development. My mind was devoted to systems thinking.

But it became too much! I actually came to a point were I had to free myself from the intellectual tradition I was trained in. I realized that systems thinking was not enough, at least not for me. I found that it was too much focused on analysis, on revealing the conditions of the already existing, while I became more and more interested in the not-yet-existing, and therefore moved towards ideas and traditions more focused on design inquiry and action. I tried to find out what creativity, innovation and design was all about. 

In recent year my thinking has changed again. All the ideas that were introduced to me by Churchman is slowly making a “comeback”. I believe this is not something that I am the only one to experience. We are entering a world that through new technology, changing cultures and markets rapidly becomes more complex. Design today is almost never about creating something closed and contained. Almost everything is systemic by design and part of other systems. This is especially true when it comes to digital products and systems. The infusion of computational and communication abilities into almost every new artifact radically changes our whole environment. Nothing is separated from anything else. There are no separable components. We find ourselves in a true world of systems.


In such a world of extreme complexity we need intellectual tools suited for that challenge. And it is obvious to me that popular forms of 'design thinking' are not equipped with such tools. It is as if the pendulum has swung too far on the side of 'creative' and 'innovative' aspects of designing while tools that can support serious investigations of the complexity of reality is neglected. 

I have realized that I am, in a way, back to where I started. In my attempts to handle this complexity I find support and guidance in the thoughts and ideas of Churchman and of systems thinking in general. In his books he reflects on the many aspects of systems and of complexity. He tries to makes these reflections go hand in hand with basic aspects of life itself by always pushing the questions of what systems thinking could and should be used for. These are all issues pertinent to design. Design thinking today is in need of systems thinking. The work of Churchman is relevant and useful in a way I think he would have liked, that is, not as an isolated theoretical lens without relevance outside academia, but as a pragmatic approach to reality with the focus on making a difference.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Why 'design thinking' is risky

When design thinking is promoted it can look like this

"Design Thinking is a mindset. Design Thinking is about having an intentional process in order to get new, relevant solutions that create positive impact. It’s human-centered. It’s collaborative. It’s optimistic. It’s experimental." (link to text)

It sounds really good. But what is not mentioned is that designing is also complicated, difficult, hard and risky. So, why is it that 'design thinking' is portrayed as this fun, exciting and highly positive process without mentioning how risky it is. Well, some people who advocate for 'design thinking' are selling it. They have selfish reasons for making design thinking look exciting, fun and useful and they do not want to stress 'negative' aspects of design thinking. They want everyone to believe that they can easily learn and use design as an approach.

There is of course no serious problem with describing 'design thinking' in a positive light. Designing is intrinsically an optimistic and positive approach. It is built on a core belief that  positive change in the world is possible, that we can make a difference. And to be honest, to those who are trained in designing, the process is rewarding and fun, despite (or maybe thanks to) it being complex and difficult.

However, a process aimed at producing the not-yet-existing is by definition risky. A design process is intended to lead to something that we have not seen before, something new, something different. It means that there is no way of knowing if the process is moving in the right direction, if what is designed will work in its intended context, until it is too late. Designers have to trust what they do. They have to trust the process and their own judgment. And since there is no 'guarantor of design' (that is, anything that can guarantee a 'good' result) the final outcome is a consequence of the designer's judgment and therefore also the responsibility of the designer.

It is not difficult to find examples of bad design in the world. I take this as a clear sign that designing is difficult. It means that whoever decides to approach a situation/problem with a design approach also has to accept that the process may seriously fail. And they have to be ready to take the responsibility for that.

Designing is different from many other process that have well defined goals and outcomes, that have well developed steps and procedures that can to some extent guarantee that if you follow the process you will end up with a good or adequate result. Designing is a process that is 'designed' to not lead to expected outcomes, which is why it cannot be prescribed in detail and why there is no way to clearly 'measure' what a good design is.

So, remember that the design approach is powerful in what it can achieve, but that that power comes at a cost. It is risky. Unpredictable. And difficult. And requires a good design judgment and not just a superficial understanding of what 'design thinking' is.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Things That Keep Us Busy: The Elements of Interaction

Our new book is now on Amazon, even though it will not be available until September. But it can be pre-ordered.

Things That Keep Us Busy: The Elements of Interaction (MIT Press) 
Hardcover – September 1, 2017
by Lars-Erik Janlert (Author), Erik Stolterman (Author)

There is no cover yet and not much information, but there is a description:

"We are surrounded by interactive devices, artifacts, and systems. The general assumption is that interactivity is good -- that it is a positive feature associated with being modern, efficient, fast, flexible, and in control. Yet there is no very precise idea of what interaction is and what interactivity means. In this book, Lars-Erik Janlert and Erik Stolterman investigate the elements of interaction and how they can be defined and measured. They focus on interaction with digital artifacts and systems but draw inspiration from the broader, everyday sense of the word.

Viewing the topic from a design perspective, Janlert and Stolterman take as their starting point the interface, which is designed to implement the interaction. They explore how the interface has changed over time, from a surface with knobs and dials to clickable symbols to gestures to the absence of anything visible. Janlert and Stolterman examine properties and qualities of designed artifacts and systems, primarily those that are open for manipulation by designers, considering such topics as complexity, clutter, control, and the emergence of an expressive-impressive style of interaction. They argue that only when we understand the basic concepts and terms of interactivity and interaction will we be able to discuss seriously its possible futures."

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

What design judgment is

A designer is constantly involved in making judgments. The reason is that any decision has to be made based on insufficient information. At the same time, a designer is commonly overwhelmed by the richness and the complexity of the situation. So, dealing with an abundance of information that still feels insufficient while being pressured to move forward means that judgments have to be made. However, even though judgment is a core ability for designers and is mentioned frequently, it is not well defined. So, what is it?

In one of his writings the famous philosopher John Dewey discusses at length what judgment is. This is done in his book "How we think" (which is a wonderful text). I am re-reading this book at the moment and will later write more about some of the core ideas in this book and how they are crucial to anyone engaged in designing.

Below are a few quotes from the chapter. I would like to reproduce the whole chapter, since every page is full of sentences that are both insightful and beautiful!



Dewey on why having more information does not reduce the need for judgment:

"For learning is not wisdom; information does not guarantee good judgment. Memory may provide an antiseptic refrigerator in which to store a stock of meanings for future use, but judgment selects
and adopts the one used in a given emergency -- and without an emergency (some crisis, slight or great) there i no call for judgement." (p 107).

Dewey on why judgment can be developed:

"Long brooding over conditions, intimate contact associated with keen interest, thorough absorption in a multiplicity of allied experiences, tend to bring about those judgments which we then call intuitive; but they are true judgments because they are based on intelligent selection and estimation, with the solution of a problem as the controlling standard. Possession of this capacity makes the difference between the artist and the intellectual bungler." (p 105)

Dewey on why judgment cannot be prescribed:

"No hard and fast rules for this operation of selecting and rejecting, or fixing upon the facts, can be given. It all comes back, as we say, to the good judgment, the good sense, of the one judging. To be a good judge is to have a sense of the relative indicative or signifying values of the various features of the perplexing situation; to know what to let go as of no account; what to eliminate as irrelevant; what to retain as conducive to outcome; what to emphasize as a clue to the difficulty....In part if is instinctive and inborn but it also represents the funded outcome of long familiarity with like operations in the past. Possession of this ability to seize what is evidential or significant and to let the rest go is the mark of the expert, the connoisseur, the judge, in any matter." (p 104)

Friday, March 03, 2017

Design versus Designing

Since a few years I have stopped using (or at least tried to) the word 'design' when it seems more relevant to use the notion of 'designing'. The reason is that I try to be more specific with aspects of design I am addressing.

To me, design is a concept that is broad and extraordinary inclusive. It covers almost anything that has to do with design in all its manifestations and forms. Designing, on the other hand, is more narrow. It is concerned with the practice of design, of the process of design, that is, of design(ing) as an activity.

When it comes to some other similar concepts, such as art and science, the terms are commonly seen as denoting large societal phenomena including their history, present and future. The terms cover all cultural, social, educational, and professional aspects of the phenomena. At the same time, when it comes to the practice or activity the broad terms are no usually used. Instead concepts such as the 'artistic process' or the 'scientific process' are common. Or we talk about 'doing' art or science. The terms science and art are usually not reduced to only signify the practice or process of doing it.

In the same way, the concept of 'design' should be used to denote the larger societal phenomenon of design.

So, why does this matter? Well, if we do want to say specific things about the activity of design, then it seems more appropriate to use the term designing. When people talk about 'design thinking' or 'research through design' it is probably more correct to talk about 'designing thinking' and 'research through designing'. Of course language wise some things have to be changed, not just adding an 'ing'.

The meaning of the 'history of designing' is very different from the history of design. Theory of designing is different from theory of design, etc. I understand that this is minor, minor, thing in the big picture but it matters.

We have many other similar problems in the field of design, for instance with the notion of 'design research' which in some cases means 'the research done by designer during a design process', and in other cases mean ' research about design' and sometimes 'research about designing'. OK, enough...

Friday, February 10, 2017

Why Design Thinking is Not Enough

If you go to Youtube and look for "design thinking" you will find a large number of videos with TED talks and other talks all explaining what design thinking is, how important it is, how to do it, etc. Some are good. They present an understanding of designing that is ok, but in many cases they are quite simplistic, and surprisingly quite often based on the speakers personal experience of realizing the "power" of design as a new creative process to solve problems. The speaker have "seen the light", and the light is design thinking. Again, this is all well, we do need as many as possible to be introduced to a designerly way of thinking. The world needs design thinking.

But, it is not enough. Any approach used by humans to engage with the world in an intentional way, for producing knowledge (as the scientific process) or for producing art (as the artistic process) or for producing change (as the design process) has to be supported. The scientific process has for the last couple of centuries been develop within a larger culture that recognizes, enables, supports and advances it--the academic culture as manifested by universities. This academic culture has developed together, in parallel, with the scientific process. The two have over time influenced each other, and they have more or less had a common goal. The broader academic culture knows what a scientific process is and what it requires to be successful and it sees as its task to make that happen.

If we now look at design thinking instead of the scientific process, a very different picture emerges. Design thinking is in most cases not protected and supported by a broader culture such as the academic culture protects and support the scientific process. When I talk to professional designers in all kinds of industries this is one of the most frequent 'complaints' I hear. these professional designers are happy to be involved in design, but they do not feel understood and definitely not 'safe' or protected. Instead, I often hear them describe their reality having to 'defend', 'explain', and 'fight' for design as a suitable approach. They feel threatened and are always looking for ways to argue for what they do, even to the extent that they start to change the process to look more like processes that might already be recognized and appreciated within the culture where they work.

This is why design thinking (in all its varieties) is not enough. Any design approach needs to be situated within a designerly culture that understands what design is, what is requires, and when it is appropriate (and not). Design thinking needs a surrounding culture that protects its strengths, uniqueness and core so it can perform and deliver what it promises. Companies that bring in design thinking as a quick fix, as a 'tool', as a 'method' will fail unless they engage in creating a broader designerly culture.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Why design judgment matters more than ever..

I was today made aware about an interesting text about complexity (thanks Abiel Tomás Parra Hernández for the pointer). The article has the title "Why this will be the Century of Complexity..." written by Kieran D. Kelly. The article is mostly aimed at the world of physics and how that discipline has and is changing in relation to the growing understanding of complex phenomena. To what extent the article correctly describes physics and its development is not something I can determine, but, the article makes some interesting observations that can be relevant to the philosophy and theory of designing.

In the article Kelly argues that complexity and chaos is something natural and something that we have to live with and that can't be reduced to traditional thinking based on some fundamental ideas of stability. Anyway, if this is interesting from a scientific perspective I don't know and for the purpose of my post, I don't care. Instead, what is interesting to me are some of the definitions that Kelly examines. For instance, he defines chaos as “adaptive instability” and as “unresolved internal adaptation to feedback, surfacing as turbulent diversity on the system level”. And he writes that "Natural Chaos is Incompressible Adaptive Diversity".

When I read these definitions they fit quite well into some advanced ideas about designing as a process of intentional change struggling with unpredictability. To try to intentionally design while dealing with "constantly changing feedback" in a context of emerging complex systems is an overwhelming task. And this is only on the side of designing that tries to understand the context and conditions within which the design is supposed to make a difference. We have a similar complexity on the side of intentionality, or desiderata, that is, on the side of the purpose and goal of a design. What all involved want or desire from a design is equally influenced by complexity, feedback and emergence.

So, is intentional design even possible? Of course it is, we see examples of wonderful intentional designs in the most complex contexts and conditions. But we also see a lot of examples of failed designs. Designing is not easy. It demands a designerly mind that is able to understand how to approach and deal with the complexity and richness of reality through the use of design wisdom and design judgment. It will never be possible to fully examine and understand reality for designerly purposes in a way that reduces the need for a designerly judgment. A designer judgment is needed to cut through the overwhelming but insufficient information about the reality that we can produce with all our approaches and methods. A designer judgment is need to find out what the desiderata is, that is, what is the desire and purpose with a design. Desiderata is not a consequence of reality, of any complex and emergent contexts, or deeper understanding of the underlying mechanisms of reality. Desiderata can only be established by designers in conspiracy with all stakeholders based on their desires, wants and needs. Ok, enough for now...

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Working on a new course preliminary called "The World of Interfaces"

I am at the moment, together with my PhD student Jordan Beck, working on a new course preliminary called "The World of Interfaces".

I would like to teach a course that captures the breadth and diversity in the way interfaces are manifested today. It would include a lot of capturing, collecting and curating. It would lead to categorizations, clusterings, and types. I imagine it as a quite exciting course for undergraduate students primarily with the purpose to challenge their perceived ideas about what interfaces are, can be and should be. I also imagine a graduate course on the same topic but with more theoretical ambitions (related to my new book "Things that keep us busy -- elements of interaction".

If you have ideas about a course like this, maybe already teach one or took one, or know good readings, I would love to hear from you. My email is estolter@indiana.edu


Wednesday, February 01, 2017

How (not) to improve design practice

One of my intellectual hero's is Donald Schön. I have sine the mid 1980s been impressed and inspired by his writings on design. His theoretical framework is broad in scope, deep in detail and ambitious and by most today overlooked. Of course, Schön is one of the most cited design thinkers but his ideas has been reduced and are usually referred to only be about "reflection". Schön's work is much more than that.

Anyway, to those to engage in trying to produce new methods and tools that can support design practice, there is a wonderful quote from Schön that is worth 'reflecting' upon.

(You have to exchange 'policy academics' with 'design academics' in this quote.)

"If policy academics want to build a better understanding of policy practice in a way useful to practitioners as well as appropriately rigorous, then they must not bypass the research in which practitioners are already engaged. If they disregard what practitioners already know or are already trying to discover, they are unlikely either to grasp what is really going on or to succeed in getting practitioners to listen to them." (Schön & Rein, "Frame Reflection", 1994, p.193.)

Way too often we can observe attempt from academia to improve design practice that is not grounded in any serious understanding of practice. What Schön is arguing for is what I have in other places called "rationality resonance", which is a concept that captures the ideal situation when the rationality underlying an 'improver's' suggested change resonates with the 'improved' practitioners own rationality. When this is not in place, the noble attempt to improve design practice ends up either being neglected or destroying the very nature of design practice.

So, go back, read Schön's books. They constitute an extraordinary source of design wisdom.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Revisiting some thoughts from 2008 "Design Thinking in 10 to 20 years"


In 2008 I wrote a blog post about the future of design thinking (see below). It was a short post and it was primarily predicting design thinking to have a serious and fundamental influence on the structure of higher education and research. I anticipated design to have become an integral part of all areas of academia, not just the traditional design disciplines. Well, I think it is obvious that my prediction were a bit too ambitious (even though we have barely made 10 of the "10 to 20 years" I was discussing).

We are still not where I thought we would be. Design as a distinct activity of inquiry and action is not yet recognized in academia. Design has not become the obvious third culture, next to science and art. However, we are definitely living in a time when design thinking has been recognized as an suitable approach when it comes to creative and innovative change, primarily by business and industry (I have in some other posts warned for the design thinking backlash).

This is all good and well, but I am still worried that my prediction will fail. The main cause for such a failure is, in my view, that design thinking has become more of a slogan, a management fad. It is often presented as a quick fix approach that offers some simple tools that anyone can use with wonderful results. If this is what design will be understood as, it will definitely fail.

If design is to become a true human tradition of inquiry and change, worthy a place next to science and art, it has to become more thorough in its conceptual foundation, more aware of its role, strength and weaknesses. There is a need for deep scholarship and insightful reflection on design practice. And it has to be translated into fundamental ideas and principles that provide conceptual and practical stability. It may be tempting to see this only as a requirement for more theoretical development in academia but that is a misunderstanding. If design is to become a true tradition of change, these requirements are equally need for its professional practice to develop and become sustainably useful.

I still predicting that the future of research and academia will be radically changed when design is accepted as the third tradition next to science and art. We just have to add a few years to my previous prediction....


----------------------------------
Here is my post from 2008:

"Design Thinking in 10 to 20 years

In my class yesterday we discussed the future of design, interaction design and HCI. I asked the students about their view about the future for the discipline, profession and for research in the field of interaction design. Then they asked me about my predictions. Of course, I had predictions but here I will only mention one.

For quite some years I have predicted that the growing interest in design, design thinking, and design research and education will have a profound influence on the fundamental structure and organization of disciplines, schools, and universities. I think it is already possible to see this. When we bring in design thinking as a major component in a field, suddenly it is possible to see simlarities with disciplines that was not there before. We have already seen some new d-schools, for instance at Stanford. Even though these initiatives have not been successful yet, my prediction is that they will.

We might in some years see new academic constellations where we have design oriented "disciplines" from all parts of the traditional university structure coming together. We might as a first step see "old" units change their profile and become more designerly, like Ryerson Business School in Toronto who, as a school, has decided to transform the whole school into a design oriented school. Traditional art and design schools are also changing and opening up and inviting new disciplines, there are traditional technical disciplines that join forces with other design oriented disciplines in new unseen designerly "technical" schools.

Within 10 to 20 years we will see some universities changing their structure based on the notions of natural sciences, social sciences and humanities as the major components. As a part of that structure there will also be a design component (maybe design sciences even though I do not like that name). I am looking forward to this radical change of university organization."