Author: andrew

Daily Reflection 22: DESMA Kick-Off

With another hectic couple of weeks I have fallen behind on the daily reflections, but I hope to regain some consistency in my daily reflections starting today. Before I make it to new thoughts on my work I have to summarize some of my activity from the past two weeks, starting with the DESMA kick-off.

The first meeting for all of the DESMA partners took place November 20-22 in Milan, Italy. It was a chance for introductions among the researchers and partner organizations, and also a chance to start developing the forum for the DESMA network. My anticipation for this kick-off had been building since I arrived in Sweden and it was great to finally begin the process of forming our network. From the beginning there was an air of excitement throughout the whole event. On the first night, the researchers and their university advisors met over dinner. In speaking with the other researchers, it was clear that we all saw DESMA as an incredible opportunity, but many of our conversations were left open-ended until the following day when we would actually start sharing initiatives for the network. Therefore the first evening served primarily as a chance to get to know our fellow researchers, as we are positioned throughout Europe and come from all over the world. Currently, the DESMA network consists of researchers from Argentina, Belgium, Colombia, Germany, Mexico, Portugal, Spain, and the United States, who are connected to academic and professional organizations in England, Finland, Italy, and Sweden. Needless to say, there were plenty of perspectives and stories to share over the course of the entire trip.

In the morning, the official program began with presentations from the four university partners. From the presentations, it was clear that each university brings a unique perspective and area of expertise to design management. Hearing the varying of approaches to studying design management highlighted both the challenge and strength of the DESMA initiative. Clearly, we will have the opportunity to grapple with many viewpoints and vocabularies related to design management. After the university presentations, it was time for the researchers to introduce ourselves. Overall, the presentations were short and focused primarily on our personal history, our research topics in the DESMA program, and what we hope for from participating in DESMA. Although we are all early in the research process, it was interesting to see the diverse collection of backgrounds and interests ranging from lighting design to social innovation. Unfortunately, in this early state and with so many of us, it was hard to get feedback on our research direction. Many of my conversations were inspiring rather than critical, which seemed appropriate at this stage in our work. After finishing our introductory presentations, it was time to start imagining what a European Design Management forum might look like. Prior to the meeting, each researcher was asked to prepare three proposals for initiatives that could be implemented as part of the DESMA forum. As we presented our initiatives were sorted into four categories: education, internal communication, external communication, and research. Afterward we split up into groups and had an hour to develop a single initiative based on the early proposals that we would then present to the industrial partners the next and final day. It was a fun exercise and it felt good to “get our hands dirty” in an activity. My group focused on an education initiative titled “education bootcamps” that seeks to create provocative conversations among researchers and industrial partners based around real problems in professional practice. In our proposal, the DESMA researchers would have a chance to take a stab at solving a problem related to a project from one of the industrial partners in the network. However, after presenting our concept, the main feedback provided by the industrial partners suggested that we focus less on developing solutions and more on reframing problems. It does seem that the best use of our knowledge and experience as researchers, is to investigate problems from multiple perspectives that professionals might not have the time, resources, or expertise to pursue. Overall, each of the proposals generated a good amount of discussion and it was a great start to establishing a base for our network.

On the last morning, the industrial partners took some time to present their companies and their hopes for the DESMA network. Listening to the professionals describe their work was a good contrast to the more academic tone of the previous two days. In general, the professionals reinforced the perspective that our network is about much more than academic research. One discussion in particular stayed with me after the event. Towards the end of the day, the question arose: what will make the DESMA network survive? I took away two lessons from the discussion. First, what is the business value in what we are doing? Second, how do we create a culture of commitment to our network? I see these as two pivotal questions moving forward. Right now, it is easy to see that everyone is excited and committed to the idea of DESMA. However, there will need to be some serious effort to maintain active, meaningful, and valuable engagement for all of our stakeholders. Our next steps for the DESMA network are to establish a prototype communication platform. Along with a few others, I’ll be spearheading the effort to get something up and running where we can test ways to share our work. We have some ambitious goals that I look forward to tackling over the next couple weeks!

Daily Reflection 21: Research Question Draft 1

Almost two weeks ago I presented my first attempt at a research question to my supervisors. Since that time I have made little progress on delving further into the question, as some other items of business have taken up a good chunk of my time. So this post will attempt to summarize some of my recent activities, starting with the question I proposed not too long ago. To start, here is the question as it currently stands:

How can externalization and representation support sensemaking in collaborative problem framing methods of design?

My question relates directly to a statement by design author John Kolko in his book Exposing the Magic of Design (2011): “Sensemaking and framing can be enhanced and supported through externalization and through representations” (pg 15). Although Kolko describes examples of professional practice to support this claim, he doesn’t reference specific studies regarding the phenomena. Inspired by the growing trend of design practice with a social agenda, I have started questioning the role the of the designer as a gatekeeper to methods for managing complexity, identifying opportunities, and driving innovation. My hope is that gaining insight into the practice of design methods will lead to better approaches for managing their “magical” qualities to engage wicked problems.

The feedback I have received is that this is a decent starting point, but it lacks specificity and definition, which will be influenced by the epistemological stance I take in my research. For instance, the language I currently use — “externalization”,”sensemaking”, etc. — will have very different meanings based on how I view knowledge of the world. Additionally, I was encouraged to be more concrete when I discuss “collaborative problem framing methods”. Describing a specific activity or aspect of collaboration or problem framing should help both my reading and my research.

In addition to the feedback I received on my question, I had another chance to reflect on my stance during a Design Faculty seminar on “Theories of Practical Knowing” at Gothenburg University last Friday. Two lectures in particular pushed me to think critically about my research. The first lecture came from my advisor Anna Rylander, and focused on the classical pragmatists: Peirce, James, Dewey, and Mead. Although the lecture covered a range of topics within pragmatism, for me the biggest question that emerged was in regards to imagination. It seems that imagination plays an important role in pragmatist inquiry, a process that takes place in both what we consider “art” and “science” practices. As Anna finished her presentation, I was left wondering exactly what imagination is, how it might be studied, and how it relates to design methods. In our discussion after the lectures, I posed my question to the group and was met with some promising leads to theories of imagination. Yet, in the spirit of the course, the answer seemed to come from a very philosophical perspective. The tone was striking enough that I began wondering what other perspectives, research, and theories exist regarding imagination.

Therefore, over the past couple of days, I have looked into some research in neuroscience about imagination and creativity. While I am only briefly acquainted with the research done into the processes of the brain that relate to creativity, it is something that I feel obligated to address. If design methods have a strong connection to creativity and imagination, it seems important to consider different approaches to understanding what they are and how they work. So far I am quite intrigued by the relationship between brain functions and our experience with the world. In particular, I came across the work of V.S. Ramachandran, a neuroscientist who has studied brain function by conducting experiments with people who have suffered brain injuries. According to work conducted by Ramachandran, brain injuries highlight how physical structures of the brain impact our perception of the world. Understanding how different brain structures influence interactions (e.g. people engaging in design methods), could have important implications for my work but also design research. I’m still getting a grip on the epistemological stance issue, but it seems I should not overlook these experiments in neuroscience during my research into collaboration and sensemaking.

Daily Reflection 20: Wicked Problems

Today I focused primarily on the history of Wicked Problems. I have been familiar with the concept of wicked problems for some time, but I had never thoroughly read the articles that describe it. The two articles I focused on today were Dilemmas in the General Theory of Planning by Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber and Wicked Problems in Design Thinking by Richard Buchanan. Rittel and Webber describe the problems that social professions (e.g. planners, designers, educators) deal with as “wicked” because they cannot be defined in neat little packages for planners (I’ll just use “designers” from now on) to solve. The core of the issue seems to be interrelationships. First of all, every designer is unique and therefore every design solution uniquely based on the particular way that designer approached and defined the problem. Additionally, because design always involves people, their interactions, perceptions, judgements of and solution are variable and diverse. Writing in 1973, Rittel and Webber describe the pluralism that has disrupted any notion of a perfectly designed society displayed by the civil upheaval of the 1960s. In their essay the authors provide a list of ten characteristics of Wicked Problems, ultimately painting an imposing picture for design practice.

Buchanan takes the concept of Wicked Problems one step further by offering a description of why problems are wicked. He starts his essay by positioning design practice using the writing of John Dewey on experience. I was a little unclear on this point, but it seems that Buchanan is defining design as intentional “experimental thinking”. I got the impression that according to Buchanan, design is an activity that scientists and artists do at various times, but that designers have made a profession out of. Buchanan also points out the act of “placement” in design. The term appears to be pulled from rhetoric and refers to the way designers construct a placement for each design that may relate to subjects in the sciences and/or the humanities. Design is therefore neither a complete integration of arts and sciences, nor does it fall under either category, but shifts around based on the design situation. Building on the ten characteristics of Wicked Problems from Rittel and Webber, Buchanan states that design problems are wicked because they are “indeterminate”. However, he points out that no one has been able to articulate why they are indeterminate. Buchanan’s proposal for why design problems are indeterminate is that there is no definitive subject matter to design. Again, going back to the unique situation of every design problem, the subject matter for design is always constructed based on the particular context in which it resides. While the designer brings “general” subject matter based on experience, the designer also assembles “particular” subject matter unique to each problem.

While these are only a starting point for describing Wicked Problems, both articles have had a strong influence on the development of contemporary design practice, education, and research. I am glad that I have taken the time to read these articles because my definition of design will have a major influence on how I conduct, present, and ultimately defend my research. Thankfully these articles seem in-line with pragmatist philosophy, which I think will be useful in grounding my research in theories that are relevant to design practice as well as other disciplines (education, management, etc.)

Rittel, H. & M. Webber (1973) Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning. ‘Public Sciences’ 4, 155–169. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
Buchanan, Richard (1992) Wicked Problems in Design Thinking, ‘Design Issues’, vol. 8, no. 2, Spring 1992

Daily Reflection 19: Rough Research Question

A main takeaway from Monday’s supervisory meeting was that I needed a research question. I’ve spent the last two days writing questions that try to nail down what is floating around in my head. Some are very broad and very vague, but I hope that others start getting at something more specific. Below is a list of my first stabs at writing questions. However, I have one brief reflection before I write them out. Previously I have considered my focus to be on the difference between “non-designers” and “designers” but I am considering revising my perspective — while maintaining an orientation toward enabling design practice outside the field of design. Today I began acquainting myself with the concept of sense-making by gathering some readings by Brenda Dervin — which seem quite relevant to the way people interact while using design methods — and watching a short lecture (see end of post) she gave at Eastern Washington University. In her lecture she described how often researchers “divide users into boxes” in their studies. She then presented a long list of ways to divide people: demography, capabilities, person traits, cognitive / emotional styles, lifestyles, domains, tasks, channel, institutional context. The question is how much good does it do to research this way? Dervin suggests sense-making methodology presents a way to focus on communication among people rather than the boxes in which they are placed. I gravitate towards Dervin’s message due to its foundation in communication, a theme that seems of central importance to action in design methods. So I have begun questioning the use of distinguishing between designers and non-designers. Indeed, I have often expressed that everyone is a “designer” in some sense. Altering my terminology will influence how I craft my question, changing the focus to what is happening in the methods rather than who is acting. I am a little unsure how I feel about this, but we’ll see where it takes me.

So here is the unedited list of questions I have been working with. The questions are written in chronological order, many still include the designer/non-designer language. Some are pretty informal, but hopefully it is interesting to see the whole process.

How do people learn through externalization?

How does externalization influence learning?

How does externalization influence learning in groups?

How does externalization influence learning in groups of non-designers?

What influence do different types of externalization have on communication in group inquiry?

What influence does the structure of a design method have on the collaborative inquiry of non-designers?

How does the structure of a design method influence individual learning in collaborative group inquiry?

How does externalization affect collaborative group inquiry among non-designers?

How does externalization affect individual learning in groups of non-designers working in the design process?

What role does externalization play in the identification of design opportunities by non-designers?

How does the act of externalization affect the identification of design opportunities by a group?

What aspects of design methods are the most challenging for non-designers?

What influence does the materiality of tools have on the interactions of a group of non-designers in framing a problem?

How does the act of externalization affect group framing?

When groups of people outside the field of design are defining a problem, what tools / strategies do they use for framing.

What are situations where groups of nn-designers need to plan strategically?

What is the difference between designers and non-designers in identifying opportunities for design?

What aspects of design methods make them relevant to groups outside of design?

What can methods for design synthesis contribute to groups of non-designers?

What aspects of design synthesis contribute to group framing?

What aspects of methods for design synthesis contribute to group sense-making?
– What influence does the act of externalization have on communication in groups?
– What factors contribute to group framing in methods of design synthesis?
– What role do physical artifacts play in actions of design synthesis?

In another approach, I had a very simple question after perusing some writing of Jon Kolko. In his book, Exposing the Magic of Design, he describes the methods designers use for design synthesis. He talks briefly about how design methods engage sense-making: “Sensemaking and framing can be enhanced and supported through externalization and through representations” (p. 15) While Kolko goes on to provide some compelling examples of design methods in practice that support this claim, at first glance I didn’t see him reference any specific research studies. So the question I left off with for today is:

Do externalization and representation enhance and support sensemaking and framing?

And here is the video from Brenda Dervin

Supervisory Meeting Notes 01

Yesterday I had my first full supervisory meeting for my research. Below is a brief summary of the meeting as well as an outline of my next steps.

Anna Rylander
Bosse Westerlund
Malin Orebäck

1. Getting acquainted

    As the first time we had all met, we took some time to introduce our backgrounds and interests. Lots of experience from both academia and professional practice in design research among the group.

2. DESMA Practicalities

  • Complete individual study plan by mid-December (set milestones: 25%, 50%, 75% seminars)
  • DESMA courses make up 45 of 60 credit hours of coursework
  • Design Faculty courses count for credit as well (three upcoming Spring 2013 courses)
  • Check course offerings at Södertörn University (doctoral course listing)

3. Topic Discussion

  • Questions regarding the use of “fuzzy front end” and the phrase “problem solving” Squiggle diagram suggests a linear process, has no apparent y-axis. (I have a thought on this, that I will post about in an upcoming reflection, just for fun)
  • Clarify and be deliberate in usage of terms. Make sure they get at the core of my research. Visualization or Externalization; Problem solving or Opportunity identification / Inquiry; Organizational behavior or individual interaction.
  • Visualization is an embodied experience. Visualizing is an act of externalizing whether it is through sketching, arranging stickies, comparing images.(is it appropriate to say that the externalizations mediate the collaborative experience of a group?)
  • “Organization” and “organizational behavior” are huge areas. Define what I mean when I refer to an organization and what about organizations am I interested in? Before using the organizations, get familiar with what they are.
  • Classrooms are homogenous, closed settings. Do not have the same level of complexity as an organization.
  • Most importantly, what’s my research question? What interests are driving my research?

4. Additional Notes

  • Establish a way to log my work in projects (my role, observations, conversations, etc)
  • Get involved in projects early
  • Schedule time for reflection
  • Set up Zotero
  • Pick citation format

5. Next Steps

    1. Research question and description to supervisors by November 12 (keep it clear, concise, and focused)
    2. Individual study plan

Daily Reflection 18: More Feedback Meetings

I had another chance today to meet with some colleagues at Ergonomidesign. The meetings supported my interest in structures and process for the development and implementation of design methods, and reinforced the benefit of my connection to a professional design consultancy. First I met with Diana Africano Clark, an experienced design research and interaction designer who has worked extensively with co-creation and co-design in the front of design projects. During our discussion Diana mentioned the import role of “designing research” in the design process. When clients propose a project, they often have a specific perspective on what they want research to reveal and present that perspective to the researchers. In such a case, design researchers such as Diana often have to reframe the way the client sees the project. The narrow vision of the client may focus on only one aspect of a much more holistic issue.

For instance, targeting one family member in a journey or product that involves the entire family leaves out crucial information about responsibilities and perceptions that have a profound impact on the development of a product or service. Diana and other design researchers seem to find themselves negotiating for their place in the design process. This concept goes back to the importance of “problem framing” and how research plays a part in how a team approaches a problem. I showed Diana a really simple sketch I have been playing with as a way to explain where I want to focus my research. Designers often refer to the role research plays in the “fuzzy front end” of the design process, a place where design methods help reveal the behaviors, needs, wants, and dreams of people. The research in the fuzzy front end then informs the development of a new product or service. However, there has to be a prompt that initiates the design process. My question has been, is there a process to arrive at the prompt that initiates the design process? And if there is, what are the methods, structures, and resources to support it? My little sketch tries to articulate that there is a fuzzy front end of the process for choosing choosing the research and establishing the vision that leads to the design process. After a moment of reflection, this also aligns with my limited experience in writing research proposals.

Additionally we discussed the actual practice of design methods. Recently I have been describing my focus on the visual aspects of design methods and not necessarily the performance of them. However, in speaking with Diana, I realized that regardless whether someone is roleplaying or acting our an experience, or sorting images on a table, performance is a part of the activity. This also brings back the role of the person facilitating the performance. Whether or not it is the designer, in design methods it seems that part of the value may lie in how people perform an action in front of others. Externalization then, does not simply describe the final artifact of a given method, but also in the production and explanation of that artifact. I also had a productive meeting with another design research / design strategist, Marcus Gabrielsson, but I will post more on our discussion at a later date.

Daily Reflection 17: Questions On Questions

A large part of the last two weeks has been asking myself questions. Almost every time I write a reflection I wind up ending with questions at the end of the post. I am not quite sure what to make of the practice, but today I tried a short exercise related to my constant questions. As I was considering ways to approach the study of design methods focused on “non-designers” I found that I simply posed question after question after question. Without knowing exactly what to expect, I decided to print off the list of questions and hand-write responses to them — almost as if I were critiquing someone else’s work. Some of my responses included further questions, others were comments or explanations regarding the original prompt. With work, I think this could become a valuable work process, but in the future I think I need to set a deliberate focus for what I am responding to. Today I wound up having responses to many topic questions in a row, and then I hit a few for which I didn’t have an immediate reply. I initially thought that I landed on a topic question that I couldn’t respond to without learning a great deal more about (which seems quite promising in searching for an area to research). Although, it is also possible that I just hit a mental speed bump. Either way, I think I am going to try and develop it further as a process for reflection and critique.

Some of the questions that stumped me were:

What role does visualization play in strategic planning among non-designers?

Does participatory visualization affect organizational sensemaking?

Do visual artifacts impact long-term innovation in an organization of non-designers?

How do designers and non-designers experience the co-design process?

It seems like there might be something about the way these questions are written that a more experienced researcher could identify as a reason for why they tripped me up. I am a little self-conscious because I have had my fair share of education in the art of crafting a researchable question, but at the same time I am pretty new to the process still and I don’t mind admitting that I have a lot of learning to do.