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."

Friday, January 20, 2017

Designerly Thinking and Doing in Chicago on March 31st.

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.

Here is what the workshop is about.

Professionals and leaders in all areas are today challenged with constant demands of producing creative and innovative solutions. Lately the notion of “Design thinking” has emerged as a new and exciting approach able to deliver such solutions. But what does it really mean to think and act in a designerly way? Where do you start? And how do you develop design competence and leadership?
We've brought Erik back to share with us his approach to design judgement based on several decades of research with designers. The purpose of this workshop is to provide a deep understanding of what designerly thinking and doing as a way of navigating a complex world means and how to do it.
Among the topics covered:
- When is a designerly approach appropriate
- Why engage in a designerly approach
- What does designerly thinking mean as a practical ‘method’
- What is a designerly outcome
- What is designerly competence
- How can designerly expertise be developed
- What is designerly leadership
- How to develop a designerly culture
This will be great opportunity for those who have heard about ‘design thinking’ as an approach but have not yet had a chance to engage with it. But, it will also be useful to those who are already involved in design in their professional life but are looking for more. Expect a mix of lecture, discussion, and exercises related to the topics above and the participants’ own experiences
Attendance will be limited to 20 participants. This will allow for an efficient and personal experience for all participants. Registration is $300 per person. Fee includes a physical copy of the books “Thoughtful Interaction Design” (MIT Press) and “The Design Way” (MIT Press). A light breakfast and lunch will be provided. Many thanks to Fuzzy Math for sponsoring and providing a space for the event.
8:30a Doors open
9:00a Workshop begins
Noon - 1:00p Lunch
4:00p Workshop ends
4:01p Drinks

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

'Rich interactions' -- a blind spot in HCI research

I am often struck by the strive for simplicity that seems to guide almost all HCI research and also most of the popular press surrounding interaction design and UX. This strive towards simplicity seems to be so fundamental and unquestionable that it is not even understood as a purposely chosen goal. Instead it seems to be a given. Of course, it is not a problem to try to make things simple. Why shouldn't we? And as long as we are dealing with very simple software and apps that help people do simple tasks this is not an issue. But not all tasks are simple.

A lot of people are today working with (are users of) software of extraordinary complexity. This complexity is not necessarily a consequence of highly advanced algorithms or procedures, or of any intricate intellectual complexity, instead in many cases it is simply a consequence of a large number of variables and data, some kind of combinatorial complexity.  Examples of this kind of software is commonplace at your doctors office, your bank, your insurance company, and many other businesses and institutions. A lot of this software is aimed to support professionals dealing with scheduling, logistics, planning, recording, monitoring of processes and procedures.

The complexity or feature richness that  this type of software manifests is of course not a 'problem', instead it is a strength. The software is valuable exactly because it makes it possible to handle complex and rich information and data in a way that is impossible or extremely cumbersome with manual means. We might call this type of interactions for 'rich interactions'.

When we look at the field of HCI research today it is obvious that the area of 'rich interactions' is not particularly popular as a research topic. It seems as most research is aimed at making quite simple tasks even simpler by the design of interfaces that lead to smooth and enjoyable user experiences or aimed at introducing interactivity into areas where it has not existed before through smart devices, tangible interaction, etc. But where is the research that could actually bring the field forward and provide some insights about how to design 'rich interactions'?

I often hear or read colleagues in the field complaining and in many cases joking or being sarcastic about the state of the field when it comes to 'rich interactions', usually after having some personal experience in their encounter with a business or organization or in conversation around software such as MS Word or Adobe Illustrator. This kind of software is commonly seen as examples of failure when it comes to UX design since it is cumbersome to use, complicated, difficult to learn, etc.

It may be possible, of course, that some of the issues with this kind of rich interactions can be resolved with new forms of interfaces, new modes of interaction, clever interface solutions, etc. but it is not possible to reduce the richness by design. The richness is what makes the software valuable in the first place.

So, my question is, where is the HCI research that in some serious way is studying the nature of rich interactions? Where can we find insights, principles, and knowledge that could support those who are designing rich interactions?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Coding is not fun (and neither is design)

I completely agree with this short article by Walter Vannini titled "Coding is not ‘fun’, it’s technically and ethically complex". Vannini makes some simple and, in my view, very strong arguments why the attempt to make coding 'fun' is misguided and potentially harmful. The attempts in making coding 'fun' are similar to the attempts in making design 'easy'. In both cases we are dealing with powerful processes that can lead to immense transformations of our world. Why we need to see these processes as 'fun' and the ability to do it as 'easy' is highly problematic.