Category: Blog

50 Percent Seminar

While approaches for engaging the social “wickedness” of design have been a prominent topic of design research, serious questions continue to revolve around the moral and ethical aspects of collaborative design. In my 50% review I explore how emphasizing deliberation in design methods can be a useful way to enhance our awareness and ability to engage the underlying social forces at play in designing. Specifically, I suggest that by fostering deliberation we may support more thoughtful consideration about what should be designed. To support my argument I present the work from my design research investigation conducted in practice. Using a program of collaboration, time, openness, and multiple platforms for participation, I describe my process of inquiry based on experimenting and reflecting upon different forms of design methods in practice. Through two cases from my research project — the Family Bike Life campaign and The People’s Supermarket project — I raise questions around how social and material contexts affect deliberation in co-design. After discussing the lessons I took away from the two cases, I draw upon the concepts of habit, impulse, and deliberation as presented by pragmatist philosopher John Dewey, as a way to pull together the theoretical insights of my experience and frame the next steps of my research.

Title: Design Methods and Collaborative Exploration
Opponent: Per-Anders Hillgren, Malmö University, MEDEA Collaborative Media Initiative

You can find a PDF of the report here:

DESMA Course #2 – Design-Driven Innovation


The Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering Politecnico di Milano hosted the second full course of the DESMA program. A change of pace from the intimate format of Gothenburg we experienced, this course was open to current PhD candidates at Politecnico as well as candidates in the European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management (EIASM) circuit.

Around 70 students enrolled in the course with backgrounds and research interests in economics, organizational studies, management, product development processes, design, innovation, and engineering. At the start of the course we each stood up and introduced ourselves and our research interests, revealing a large portion of the class with backgrounds in the sciences, and only a few of us from the DESMA group with experience in the arts. As with any multidisciplinary course, the (apparently) alternate perspectives brought forth many questions about control, processes, structures, creativity, and meaning. Indeed, much of the course revolved around the work of Polimi professor Roberto Verganti, a leading scholar in design-driven innovation through meaning.

Day I

Roberto Verganti introduces innovation

Roberto Verganti introduces innovation

On Monday, professor Claudio Dell’Era introduced and managed the course, orchestrating a well-organized and stimulating week that included lectures and activities from five innovation researchers across two modules. After Claudio’s introduction we spent the remainder of the first day with Roberto discussing the evolution of the scientific field of Innovation Management. Building on some pre-readings assigned before the course, Roberto took us from two definitions of innovation through research trends in innovation management over time. The scope of the Innovation Management field laid out by Roberto engages a wide array of disciplines such as technology management, industrial design, engineering, knowledge management, marketing, and cultural anthropology. While Roberto recognized that each of these areas connect with innovation management, the first module of the course focused primarily on innovation related to business, management, and technology.

From these perspectives, he described two primary approaches of research in innovation management: strategic and operative. The two-levels of research, which generally reflect macro and micro perspectives, became threads that ran throughout the course — often as a subtext to comments, questions, and concerns from people with both design-oriented and business-oriented backgrounds. For me, the first day in general leaned towards a strategic understanding of innovation. Although Roberto alluded to the growing interest of innovation researchers in idea generation, much of the discussion revolved around economics and firm strategies. Indeed, a key driver of research into Innovation Management comes from the fact that an increased investment by an organization in Research & Development does not have a strong correlation with its level of innovativeness. In other words, innovation management research seeks to explain the surrounding circumstances that contribute to innovation beyond the direct investment in developing new technologies.

After Roberto’s brief framing of Innovation Management, we split into groups to piece together the rest of the story ourselves. Each group took a different stream of literature — I was in a group that combined literature around Organizing for Innovation and Learning / Knowledge Management — and mapped out some of the key texts, topics, and questions in the existing research. Before the class we were each asked to bring in some articles related to the topic we had chosen. Perhaps, in part due to the breadth of our topics, we had a challenging time creating our map. Additionally, we came with different language and perspectives about “learning” and “organizing”. Our map eventually reflected the composition of our group and took a relatively macro perspective on learning and organizing for innovation. My two articles based on individual interactions and experiences didn’t quite make it onto the final map, however I didn’t feel like I had the time or words to explain my own fuzzy understanding of how they fit into the landscape we had created.

Sara Jane writes up the literature on user-driven innovation

Sara Jane writes up the literature on user-driven innovation

After we had created our maps each group presented to the whole class, with a few follow-up comments from Roberto. It was a nice way to get a picture of the landscape of literature related to Innovation Management, however it was also a lot to take in. At the end of the first day I felt I had a much better grasp of how business and management viewed innovation. The PhD students from Polimi led many of the discussions and questions and appeared generally comfortable with the topic. Our DESMA group seemed a little quiet, as I think many of us with design backgrounds were trying to get our bearing among a class of students with strong opinions and knowledge about business and management.

Day II

Reinhard Prügl talks about  user-driven innovation

Reinhard Prügl talks about user-driven innovation

Day two featured lectures from Reinhard Prügl of Zeppelin University on User Centered Innovation and Federico Frattini of Polimi on Open Innovation. Both lectures stimulated lots of questions from the entire class, with the DESMA group appearing much more vocal than the previous day. Reinhard started with a description of the pressure that companies face to cut costs and increase their chances of developing successful innovations. As a response, many companies are searching for external knowledge to help them cope with pressure to innovate, aka “open innovation”. Reinhard’s research focuses on users as one important source of knowledge for innovation. In particular he described how they innovate based on use experience, making unusual discoveries, and develop totally new ideas. [To me, user driven innovation relates strongly to the concept of “everyday designer” developed by Wakkary and Maestri (2008).]

Pursuing user centered innovation means that R & D involves an extensive search process for the right kind of users. Reinhard described two types of search processes: direct search, or pyramiding, and indirect search, or broadcasting. The pyramiding approach is based on the concept that people in a certain area knows someone who is better or more knowledgeable than them, and through a chain of interviews and referrals companies can find external sources of knowledge for innovation. Broadcasting on the other hand poses a problem to a large group of people with the hope that casting a wide enough net will lead to people who already have a solution, or have the ability to develop a solution to it.

According to Reinhard, the best approach may be to combine the two search processes. Through a pyramid approach a company can find communities of people with the expertise to solve a problem that they can then broadcast a question to. A key aspect of the pyramid search is that once a company locates a top expert in a field, that person will start to refer across domains, leading to new and unexpected sources of knowledge. Additionally, Reinhard proposed the importance reading into the implied statements people make in interviews to uncover interesting and analogous areas to explore. In broadcast search, he suggested the framing of the problem that is posed to a community limits the space for possible solutions. For me, both approaches represent a certain level of craft, as companies or researchers need to act, reflect, and revise their approach throughout the search process. User centered innovation is an interesting area, as it recognizes that everyone is creative in some sense. A few people remarked on the potential problems of fairness and compensation, which to me highlights the need for companies to develop traits such as authenticity, balance, clarity, character, honesty, and openness.

In the afternoon we met Federico Frattini who took us further in depth into Open Innovation. Federico did an excellent job of providing an overview of open innovation and took us through how and why it has developed in Innovation Management research. He stressed that although open innovation has recently been packaged as a holistic approach for business and management, openness has always been a part of innovation and that it is impossible to say that an “open” approach is better than a “closed” approach. Instead he suggested that there are degrees and types of openness that organizations should consider in their innovation processes. Federico also framed the discussion of openness using some impressive statistics about the growth of buying and selling knowledge as a business model.

Federico Frattini discusses the history of open innovation

Federico Frattini discusses the history of open innovation

During a time when huge amounts of revenues are generated through the sale of patents, Federico described a shift in organizations moving from know-how to know-where. This shift is associated with the absorptive capacity of an organization that needs to be able to identify, acquire, and transform (use) external knowledge. In order to manage this, companies may maintain key people with expertise to recognize and incorporate technological developments into internal innovation processes. These people at the boundaries of an organization serve as intermediaries and deal with in-bound and out-bound knowledge. Cross-fertilization also becomes a key driver of innovation as organizations drive innovation by finding new or unforeseen applications for technologies. As organizations interact, the people serving as intermediaries may need to recognize their role in acquiring and integrating knowledge. Roles such as intermediaries and knowledge brokers also have implications for competencies to develop or nurture in an organization.

Federico ended the class with a few suggestions for future research. Using Coleman’s (1990) general model of social science explanation, he pointed to the need for further investigation at the micro level of individual action and how that affects the macro scale. The goal of researching the micro/macro scale can help link individual characteristics with social outcomes. I was excited to hear this because this is exactly the arena I hope to explore in my research. In particular, how might design methods connect the project level with the community level?


On the morning of day three we had another lecture from Roberto with a more in-depth focus on design-driven innovation. He opened the presentation describing how design as a discipline defies definition and has a constantly shifting agenda. However, in the 1990s, the influence firm IDEO started to get attention because they codified their process, and process is what innovation management research focuses on. Additionally, the creativity associated with IDEO’s process linked with an increasing interest in innovation management in the front-end and idea generation phase of new product development. All of these factors created hype around design, culminating in several books and articles in business and management circles in the late 2000s.

However, despite the growing interest in design, Roberto showed that in much the same way as R & D, increased investment in design does not guarantee innovativeness. For him, the question is how to use design to drive innovation. How to create products and services that people love? Roberto suggests that the answer lies in meaning. Going back to the root of the word designare (to designate, give significance to), he suggests that design plays a key role in changing relationships among technologies and meanings. He also pointed out that the prominent practice of human-centered design only leads to incremental innovations because it is based on the market pull of existing user needs. To reach radical innovation, rather, design should be focused on re-interpreting technologies — proposing new meanings that push or create new markets. According to Roberto, the Wii represents a strong example of design-driven innovation through meaning. Rather than pushing hardware to provide gamers with better graphics, Nintendo utilized other technology (gyroscope sensors) to propose new types of gameplay that invited a whole new audience to participate. The Wii, along with other examples such as the iPod and iTunes, an Alessi teakettle, and Whole Foods Market, have led Roberto and his team to research into how radical changes in meaning can lead to radical innovations.

Claudio on design, innovation, and interpreters

Claudio on design, innovation, and interpreters

Wednesday afternoon Claudio took the stage to present some further research about the process behind radical changes in meaning, specifically focusing on the role of interpreters during the design process. In his overview his presentation Claudio mentioned that he wanted to give some practical examples and lessons from his PhD research. Throughout his presentation he did field many questions from the class, and it was nice to hear some of the rationale behind how they structured their studies and analyzed their data.

Before diving into his research, Claudio presented a model of the process of design-driven innovation laid out by Verganti in his 2009 book. He then broke down three key areas surrounding interpretation in design-driven innovation: listening to interpreters, interpreting, and addressing interpretations. While he suggested that each of the areas played an important role in driving innovation, Claudio primarily presented his research on identifying, selecting, and attracting interpreters. As he presented research on innovation in Italian furniture companies, several questions came up about how they measured innovativeness in the research. For instance, in one study they measured innovativeness by the number of Compaosso d’Oros — awards for excellent industrial design in Italy. In another example, the asked design experts from different companies around Europe to rate their perspective of design in other countries. Both studies generated a good amount of discussion, which highlighted that metrics are not perfect, however they provide a baseline for comparison and further investigation.

Claudio wrapped up his presentation with the proposal that all interpretations are not equal, and that there are ways to find and work with the interpreters to foster innovation. We finished the third day of the course (and thus the first module), with a group activity around interpretation. Claudio split us up and assigned each group a product to reinterpret for the future. Although we never wound up sharing our interpretations, the exercise was a nice segue into the work of Åsa Örberg, who presented the following day on critical thinking in design-driven innovation.

Day IV

Thursday morning we met Åsa. She started the day with an intro activity where each person in the class shared a personal sports item. When we were all acquainted, Åsa presented some of her PhD work on design-driven innovation. She provided several examples of organizations that had innovated by proposing alternatives meanings for their technologies, one of which was a robotics manufacturing company. Typically, the company designed robots for the assembling of industrial equipment. However, one day an employee who happened to love roller coasters proposed that the company use their robots as thrill-rides for theme parks. Reinterpreting the robots as rides created a new market for the company while also bringing robots into the everyday lives of people, making them less intimidating and more humanistic.

Using hermeneutics as a foundation for analyzing innovation, Åsa built on the importance of interpretation in order to create new meanings and open up new markets. According to Åsa a key aspect of the innovation process resides in critical thinking to envision new meanings for a product or technology. Rather than simply describing the importance of critical thinking in innovation of meaning, Åsa and Claudio built the second module of the course as an “Innovation Gym” for us to exercise our critical thinking abilities. The gym started with a share-out of a homework assignment, where we each chose a “theory” that somehow related to critical thinking. As each person in the class presented his or her theory, Claudio and Åsa started to cluster them on the board based by affinity. At the end of the session they had created several groups under headings ranging from “Lean Supply Chain” to “Paradoxical Thinking” (my group). The headings of the groups became what Åsa referred to as “thinking frames” and for the next few hours we analyzed the frame in relation to critical thinking.

Claudio and Åsa cluster theories related to critical thinking

Claudio and Åsa cluster theories related to critical thinking

Working with two Politecnico students, a student from Umeå, and Sara Jane, I had the chance to discuss paradoxes and paradoxical thinking in regards to problem solving and innovation. After re-introducing ourselves, and our theories — mine was based on “designerly ways of knowing” — we started sharing several examples of paradoxes. While finding examples of paradoxes came relatively easily, defining “paradoxical thinking” proved a bit more challenging. Eventually we concluded that paradoxical thinking involved overcoming paradoxes by first recognizing a situation as a paradox, and second reframing the paradox in a solvable way. As an example, we presented a case from Star Trek, where captain Kirk overcomes a lose-lose combat simulation by hacking into the computer at night and changing the outcome so he would be victorious the following day. We felt that Kirk shifted his perspective on the simulation, stepping back from the paradox in order to find a way to solve it. In addition to the example, we also had to critique the concept of paradoxical thinking. We concluded that paradoxical thinking represented a bit of a paradox in itself, because there is no clear way to describe how to do it. Thus it represents a desirable skill that is extremely difficult to teach. Finally we created a small illustration of a “machine” for exercising paradoxical thinking. Our goal was to represent a process that built on personal experience and direct “sculpting” of both analytical and synthetic skills.

Day V

The final day of the course was spent presenting and discussing each of the group’s thinking frames. Each group had a chance to lead a critique of another group’s frame in order to enrich the concept. It was a long day, but a valuable chance to build our understanding of the work. Listening to the presentations there seemed to be a shift in tone from the beginning of the week. More and more I heard reference to the personal and intangible aspects of management and innovation. By the end of the day I felt that many of the groups had described critical thinking in a way similar to discussions around design and design thinking. Although time ran long, the presentations provided a nice wrap-up to the week. It would have been nice to have a group reflection, especially with the students from Politecnico, in order to share how our perspectives on management, innovation, and design developed throughout the course.

Group presentation on framing in problem solving

Group presentation on framing in problem solving

After the course ended the DESMA group gathered together to discuss the development of the network. Naiara had prepared a room prepared the agenda based on input we sent her before arriving in Milan. We began by discussing our vision. Several weeks ago a few of us had met in Gothenburg during the European Academy of Design conference. Together we had reflected on how we hoped the network would evolve, which led to a sort of vision statement that we thought could start a discussion with the rest of the group: A meeting place for everyone interested in design and management. You’re warmly welcome to involve yourself in this ongoing conversation. Without dwelling too long on the statement, the conversation quickly turned to our personal hopes for the network. For at least an hour we went around the room sharing what we considered our vision of DESMA, and the role we would play now and in the future.

A large part of the conversation focused on the scope and tone of the network. Who is involved? How do people contribute? Who is our audience? What are we trying to do? We shared a few examples of other networks that we admired, but in the end there was some confusion about what exactly we meant by “vision.” It turned out that some people were describing the need for us to envision the organization of the network, and others were more focused on the vision of the content of the network. Of course, both the organization and the content of the network are linked, and at this stage it is clear that we are still trying to figure out what we are trying to say and how we are going to say it. We ended the vision discussion with a commitment to write two short articles about topics we are interested in for the next time we meet in July. We also decided that it was time to actually brand the DESMA network. I see both of these as important steps in the development of the network. More than anything, the conversation helped solidify the need for action and production.

DESMA group hashing out the first network event

DESMA group hashing out the first network event

The second part of the meeting focused on the DESMA event in December. Ariana filled us in on some practical details regarding our report to the EU on our progress, and then together with Ulises presented some ideas for the structure of the two day meeting at Aalto. Taking what we learned from the kick-off meeting last November, we discussed ways to balance the needs of all the stakeholders that would attend the meeting. While we will need to present our work, we also want to provide an engaging and fruitful experience for the company partners. Additionally, we see the event as an opportunity to continue developing the network by bringing in guest speakers and inviting students from Aalto University. With only a day and a half to work with, we had some interesting discussions around how to balance expectations with different activities in a limited amount of time. For instance, I think we recognized the challenge of having all twelve of us present a year of work in an efficient format that provides for everyone in attendance. During the discussion I personally reflected on the need to foster expectations leading up to the event, so that people know what to expect and why. As we continue to develop the DESMA network through the vision and branding exercises I think we will also get a better grip on how the event will unfold.

Final Thoughts

Overall the course on design-driven innovation provided yet another example of the strange dance we do with partners from the worlds of design and management. During the first couple of days of the course, the value of innovation was frequently described in relation to profits. For instance, competition and growth frequently came up as key reasons that companies need to innovate. Due to the rapid pace of technological progress companies must innovate in order to stay commercially competitive. As the week went on however, I did hear people describe concepts such as the triple bottom line and socio-emotional wealth. Yet, there always seemed to be a general aim towards growth. For me, the complex challenges facing management and design should be connected with issues of ethics and politics as well as economics and technology.

At the end of the day we are talking about people driving the innovation process and it seems important to ask, “towards what end?” Of course, scale plays an important role in the theoretical and practical frames that guide our work. Large corporations almost inevitably demand structure, the shape of which affords different possibilities for action. Coming away from the course, I feel even more strongly the need to link the micro and the macro in my research. So far, my education and training have taken place primarily at the micro scale of individual interaction and experience. This course on design-driven innovation highlighted the importance of recognizing the heritage of research that investigates innovation at a much larger scale. As I take the next steps in my research, I plan to maintain the link between individual action and organizational change. The final part of the course involves a literature review of concepts related to design-driven innovation, and I look forward to digging deeper into critical thinking and learning as a way to connect design and innovation, individual and collective action.


Wakkary, R. and Maestri, L. Aspects of Everyday Design: Resourcefulness, Adaptation, and Emergence. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 24(5), 478-491 (2008).

DESMA Course #1 // D + M Essay Seminar

This week the DESMA researchers gathered in Copenhagen for the second part of our first course: Perspectives on Design + Management. For two days we met at the Copenhagen Business School, in a lovely old house turned studio, where we discussed our essays that we had written following our January meeting in Gothenburg. Several of us arrived on Wednesday evening, and sitting in the hotel lobby, we immediately began exchanging stories from the past several weeks. Sitting there, sharing experiences with the other researchers, it was clear that the diversity of partnerships that makes the DESMA network unique, has also led to some intense challenges for our group. From this initial discussion throughout the rest of the weekend, we constantly grappled with the tumbleweed of institutions, perspectives, expectations, beliefs, agendas, and protocols that make up our network.

On the second day we headed over to the studio where we would spend the majority of our time together, circled around a large table in a bright sunlit room on the second floor of the studio. After a short welcome from Anna and Stefan, we went over the agenda for the seminar. Due to the tight schedule, each of person had half an hour in which to give a brief summary of his or her essay, and to receive feedback from the rest of the group. To make the seminar manageable, we decided that two people would do a close reading for each essay and then lead the discussion during the seminar. While Anna and Stefan were there to provide some perspective towards the end of each feedback sessions, we were in charge of driving the conversation. As a reminder, the prompt for the essay was to take our discussions about theory and practice in Design and Management that we had in January, and to map our research topics.

Fernando volunteered to start things off with his essay on brands and meaning. The issues Fernando addressed regarding meaning became some of the central themes we grappled with over the course of the seminar. In particular different perspectives on knowledge impact how we discuss our work and how we conduct research. And so, how we define and describe meaning influences how we research it. Taking a stance that meaning is something objective that we can define and deliver is much different than describing meaning as a constant process of construction, particular to each individual. I have to admit that coming into the seminar I had not considered meaning in much depth, but several members of our group dealt explicitly with the topic and it emerged as a central theme that we all seem to engage in one way or another — meaning-making appears to be an important human activity, who knew?

After Fernando we discussed three more essays before breaking for lunch. Discussions continued to revolve around meaning, but we also touched upon knowledge in design and management, service design as innovation management, and the meaning of technologies in radical innovation. In the afternoon we covered a few more essays, one of which was mine. We were a little bit strapped for time, but I received some good comments regarding my focus on design toolkits. Reflecting on my work I realized the importance of presenting clear and targeted ideas. A good portion of my essay wound its way through different types of examples, making it difficult to hone in on the core of my argument. While this lesson may be particularly important for me, I also see it as essential to successfully communicating our research as a network.

Thursday afternoon we took a break from the essays and participated in a visioning workshop facilitated by our very own Veronica Bluguermann. We split into four groups based on four types of stakeholders in the DESMA network: companies, early stage researchers, universities, and fans. Our task was to compose a newspaper article for three years in the future, describing what each stakeholder group took away from the experience. It was a fun and enlightening activity as we confronted where we thought DESMA was headed. Veronica kept things fast paced and continually mixed up activities, which led to a productive and engaging workshop. In the end our articles served as a starting point further discussions about developing the DESMA network. Again we found ourselves confronted with the diverse environments and expectations of different stakeholder groups as we try to communicate with industry and academia, management and design, inside and outside our network.

Veronica rocks the workshop facilitation

Veronica rocks the workshop facilitation

Pulling and consolidating initiatives from the articles, we switched rooms to prioritize our next steps as a group. Through a relatively smooth and open dialogue, we were able to nail down around a dozen items that we felt were important to the success of the DESMA network. Then, casting votes, we chose the most urgent and least urgent initiatives we wanted to address, and split up into task forces to schedule a plan for each initiative. Five main initiatives came out of the workshop: Training Representative, Boot Camps, Off-line Meetings, Summer Labs, and Website. Each task force spent a few minutes outlining a schedule for their initiative and we presented out to the group before heading to dinner. For me, the workshop helped solidify our direction as a group. Each task force seemed to take ownership over its initiative, displaying a commitment to making it work. I joined up again with the website group and we are determined to get up a website as soon as possible. All around, it seemed that we are growing together as a group: gaining an identity, setting goals, and recognizing challenges that we will face along the way.

Dinner was a chance for us to unwind after the long day. Yet, more and more these casual gatherings seem increasingly important for our network. Discussions drift from topics such as workshop facilitation to cultural differences in surnames, blending our work and everyday experiences.

On the morning of the second day we sat down to discuss the final four papers. Our discussions were similar to the first day, feedback mainly coming from the group with bits of perspective from Anna and Stefan. Again the feedback revolved around developing a sound and consistent platform for our research projects. Setting goals, taking a stance, recognizing differences in perspectives, all affect how we present our work, and how other people interpret it. Meaning-making continued to be a topic of discussion, but we also heard about the history of user-centered / human-centered design, government procurement, social innovation, and organizational structure. Throughout the seminar, the discussions around the essays went by quickly. Rather than providing deep, critical feedback on our research topics, the seminar served as an important chance to hear what other people were addressing and why. I certainly came away with a greater grasp on what topics other people were dealing with, as well as a better understanding of the position my research has in the network.

On Friday afternoon we had the chance to visit MindLab, an innovation unit working cross-departmentally in the Danish government. For two hours we chatted with Jesper Christiansen, an anthropologist and Industrial PhD at MindLab. After introducing ourselves, we heard from Jesper about the unique structure and approach of MindLab. The conversation touched upon several areas pertinent to the work of our network: communication across disciplines and perspectives, research and public policy, organizational structure, knowledge sharing, qualitative research, and systems-level innovation. During our time together, Jesper talked candidly about the challenges working in government and also presented a case for design research as a viable way to bridge the gap between citizens and governments. Indeed, established in 2002, MindLab has long outlived the lifespan of similar initiatives in other areas, proving that something about it works. While we didn’t get at why exactly MindLab has stuck around so long, based on Jesper’s description it appears that the innovation unit is planning to grow and develop for many years to come.

After the visit to MindLab Anna and Stefan said a few final words to wrap up the seminar. We had a few minutes with Anna to discuss the fall course on Design Methods that will be back in Gothenburg. A few people brought up the desire to discuss different types of qualitative and quantitative methods, however Anna emphasized the need to differentiate the DESMA course from the standard courses offered through our universities. Finally, standing outside of MindLab, Anna and Stefan told us they would send us a few final comments on our papers in the upcoming week to help us push our concepts a little further.

Before calling it a day, the rest of us decided to grab some coffee and choose a date for the Summer Lab initiative we had discussed the day before. Sitting in a cozy café in downtown Copenhagen, we took on the challenge of coordinating schedules among eleven researchers. At times the conversation was difficult, with some of us questioning if it was possible to put on the Summer Lab. Thankfully, however, the group decided it was an important part of our experience together and we made it work. For me, the conversation served as a great example of our positive group chemistry as we somehow managed to work through a challenging process with level heads and democratic conversation.

The rest of the afternoon we split up and went out separate ways to enjoy the chilly, but sunny day in Copenhagen. Later that night several of us met up for dinner where we carried on many of the conversations from the seminar and workshops. At one point, discussing the challenging, almost paralyzing effect of different perspectives on research in design and management fields, the idea emerged that we should host some debates or panel discussions among leading experts in design and management. In just the short time we have been together we have already started to recognize the chasms that exist across design, management, industry, and academia. As our group toes the line between these two worlds, we agreed that it could be fruitful to confront these issues in a public forum along with people who have deeply held beliefs about the fields of design and management. There appears to be quite a bit of potential surrounding the idea, and we may incorporate it into our annual meetings.

Another interesting point that emerged from conversations over the course of the weekend was the need to brand our network. Hosting debates or forums, creating workshops, publishing articles, all go back to our mission as a research network. Meeting for only the third time as an entire group, it was impressive to see a shared vision of the network start to emerge. While we have a long way to go in fully fleshing out our position as a network, expressing the need for a solid brand suggests that we are starting to see ourselves as a group with a particular mission. Over the next several weeks I am confident that we will make great strides in developing our brand internally and externally.

On Saturday morning we had the last formal event of the weekend, a workshop with Citymart, one of the DESMA industrial partners based in Copenhagen, and Veronica’s host company. Growing out of the non-profit Living Labs Global, Citymart seeks to increase efficiency, transparency, and impact in public procurement. We had the opportunity to hear directly from co-founder Jakob Rasmussen about the mission and operation of Citymart. A relatively small company, Citymart has big aims. Leveraging the power of the web, they help research and connect solutions to problems shared by cities all over the world. The basis for their approach is that individuals or companies have already developed solutions to many of the problems facing municipalities across the globe. However, most municipalities have difficulty seeing past their own boarders. As a remedy, Citymart provides a platform for policy makers to find solutions that already exist, rather than spending large amounts of public money procuring custom goods and services for isolated problems spotted by different governmental agencies.

While describing the company, Jakob also raised some of the difficulties facing Citymart. Still in its early stages as a company, Citymart has to manage being a small size with a global mission. Thus the website, which serves as the primary touchpoint for their offering, houses an immense amount of complex information related to public procurement that must cater to diverse needs of small business, local governments, and citizens. Due to Citymart’s size, they must balance spending resources on the in-depth data collection and network development supporting their service, and the design, maintenance, and upgrade of their web platform. After our introduction to Citymart, Veronica coordinated a short workshop around some of the challenges facing Citymart.

We split into three groups—Cities, Companies, and Citizens—and imagined accessing the Citymart website based on different needs and expectations. In a short amount of time, we filled out what was possible and wasn’t possible on the current site, and came up with a few new options that Citymart could provide. Again the workshop format worked quite well as we were able to quickly dive into the content and gain insight into company’s situation. At the end, each group took a few minutes to report out to their findings and ideas for developing Citymart further. Overall, it was impressive to see the amount of headway eleven people can make on a problem in a compressed period of time. With the final word from workshop, Jakob sounded pleased to have some concrete feedback to move Citymart forward.

I left the workshop feeling positive with the outcome, but also wondering what we could have done with more time. In just three hours we dug quite deep into the experience from multiple perspectives. However, as a group of researchers with expertise in Design and Management, we began touching upon issues regarding the structure and strategy of Citymart as an organization that we simply didn’t have time to address. For instance, after hearing our feedback on Citymart’s offering and user experience, how will they implement changes? What are the internal priorities and operations as a company that will either support or hinder change in their organization? These are all questions that we are equipped to engage as a group. In future workshops or “bootcamps” I see potential for us to provoke questions around a huge array of issues connected to Design and Management, and I look forward to seeing how the Bootcamp initiative develops in the future.

To sum up, the seminar in Copenhagen was another fruitful DESMA gathering. There were several times over the few days when people remarked how amazed they were with the complimentary mix of personalities in the group. Perhaps it is that we are all struggling through similar issues, or that this is such new territory that we aren’t bogged down with prior expectations. I can say that I am already anticipating our next gathering at the course in Milan — not just because it is at the end of May. I came away from the trip with a sense of excitement and responsibility for helping our network flourish. Judging from what I saw and heard in the conversations and workshops during the seminar, I believe the rest of the group is just as committed to making the most out of this incredible opportunity.

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!

Design Methods and Complex Contexts

“I believe that this big shift in the responsibilities of composers, performers, and audiences is a good model of what is needed now in design: a change from the specifying of geometry, physical form, to the making of a context, a situation, in which it is possible for others, for us all as users, makers, imaginers to determine the geometry ourselves.” (Jones 1992, xxxvi)

Do contemporary design methods differ from those used thirty years ago? In 1970, design author John Christopher Jones reflected on the role of design in an industrialized society. Described in his book Design Methods, Jones saw a need for the development of new design methods appropriate for the complex challenges facing a modern society, “perhaps the most obvious sign that we need better methods of designing and planning is the existence, in industrial countries, of massive unsolved problems that have been created by the use of man-made things” (Jones 1992, 30). As designers, we have a rich heritage of scholarship that informs our work as social and cultural mediators. Beginning with Jones and continuing to today, designers have articulated myriad starting points for engaging problems of expanding scale and scope. However, designers interested in playing an integral role in solving global problems will need methods that propagate problem solving beyond the scope of a single field or discipline.

Jones’ observations contribute to a major trend in design scholarship that is focused on a fundamental principle of design: human participation. Whether trained in design or not, people unconsciously participate in design on a daily basis. They adapt the environment to suit their needs. However, popular notions of design of seek to separate it from the activities of everyday life. Viewed as a specialized area of expertise, design has become the practice of a select group of skilled individuals. Such a perspective leads to the training of expert designers who investigate problems and provide solutions for people unfamiliar with formal design practice. Although user-centered approaches help designers develop targeted solutions based on understanding human behaviors and needs, we frequently remain separate from the contexts—people, environments, structures, and tasks—for which we design. Additionally, the wicked problems of contemporary society extend beyond geographic and cultural boundaries. No single profession can solve wicked problems alone. The change needed to impact wicked problems requires collaboration among individual people, communities, and institutions. Designers invested in facilitating solutions to wicked problems need to ask: how can I develop design methods that fully integrate a philosophy of designing with rather than designing for people and places? Using methods that designers have utilized to consistently deliver effective solutions, people can work together to address complex problems.

Today we continue to face the challenges laid out by Jones over three decades ago—compounded by drastic growth in computing and network technologies. Of course, design practitioners and researchers have not stood idly by as technology evolved. Entirely new disciplines such as participatory design, interaction design, and service design have emerged to engage problems directly at a systems level. As participatory design experts Liz Sanders and Pieter Jan Stappers state:

“It is now becoming apparent that the user-centered design approach cannot address the scale or the complexity of the challenges we face today. We are no longer simply designing products for users. We are designing for the future experiences of people, communities and cultures who now are connected and informed in ways that were unimaginable even 10 years ago” (Sanders and Stappers 2008, 6).

Understanding that problems often span multiple settings, designers incorporate a wide array of design methods intro their process in order to manage interrelated contexts. Designers working at a systems level cannot rely on intuition. To gain insight into the complex relationships that compose systems, designers follow a rigorous process of gathering, analyzing, and synthesizing data. Articulating moments of influence and feedback are essential to describing how multiple components of a system work together to create an experience—positive or negative, inhibiting or empowering. The methods we use during this process include visualization and iteration, as well as appropriated practices like ethnography, which offer insights into the way people behave, communicate, and organize. In fact, the methods and skills designers use for “human-centered design” (Brown 2008) have placed design in the international spotlight. Design-thinking is fast becoming a highly touted skill for business and political leaders at the helm of the twenty-first century global economy. With this growing attention focused on designers—framed by business and political leaders seeking innovative solutions to complex problems—it is time to position design methods as a means for understanding the vast structural systems and deeply-seated human behaviors connected to social problems.

Current design methods utilize tools for documenting and describing the context of a problem. To support problem solving at the level needed to impact wicked problems, designers will need to facilitate methods that empower all people to share visions and insights about the places they live and work. Just as designers approach a problem by talking with the people directly related to it, citizens of a community can inform each other of possibilities for change. Rather than rely on an outside expert to identify latent opportunities for design intervention, community members can themselves use design to actively engage the assets and deficiencies in their surroundings. Spanning a breadth of techniques, design methods use tools that are adaptable and flexible to the context in which they will be used. From drawing to dialogue, mapping to physically acting out experiences, design methods include diverse ways for people to develop solutions based on shared insights. Through a process that employs proven tools and techniques for affecting change, people can be empowered to address environmental and social problems on their own. Building infrastructures that propagate the active use of design methods by individuals from all backgrounds and disciplines, designers can enable localized change at a global scale.

A key development in our contemporary conception of design methodology is seen in the practice of co-design. Based on methods that support user-participation in the design process, co-design levels the relationship between the solution-providing designer and solution-receiving user. Co-design suggests that everyone has the capacity to design creative solutions. Building off of the work of Scandinavians during the 1980s, psychologist Liz Sanders and design engineer Pieter Stappers, describe the important implications for co-design: “Future co-designing will be a close collaboration between all the stakeholders in the design development process together with a variety of professionals having hybrid design/research skills. These team players will vary across many types of culture simultaneously: disciplinary culture, company culture, ethnic culture, worldview, mindset, etc.” (Sanders and Stappers 2008, 13). Co-design focuses on democratizing design activities to achieve greater insight during problem solving.

While co-design presents the opportunity for non-designers to actively contribute to the creation of alternative futures, it often takes place in small groups, organized and led by designers. Scaling the practice of co-design is essential to facilitating solutions to wicked problems—a very real possibility in a globally connected world. Consider two examples of socially driven design that take different approaches to complex problem solving. In The Open Book of Social Innovation, a comprehensive overview of methods and tools used to create social change, authors Robin Murray, et al. describe an organization that promotes innovation through one of the simplest and most accessible activities known to humans: walking.

“The Shodh Yatra, organized by the Honey Bee Network, is a journey of discovery and exploration. In one week, walkers (farmers, scientists and researchers) travel hundreds of kilometres across rural India to unearth, share and disseminate sustainable solutions to local issues including conservation, organic farming and biodiversity, as well as health and nutrition.” (Murray, Caulier-Grice and Geoff 2010, 25)

The Shodh Yatra helps people disseminate information to support change at a grassroots level. In grassroots led innovation, people share insights through word of mouth, driving larger social transformation as more and more people adopt new behaviors. Bottom-up, grassroots design methods require accessible means of communication and participation among many different types of people. Another example of social innovation, also involving walking, occurred recently in my own city of Raleigh, North Carolina. The “guerrilla wayfinding” project titled “Walk Raleigh” demonstrates how networks enable grassroots initiatives to drive change quickly from the bottom to the top of a community. The project, implemented in January of 2012 by a small group of action-oriented citizen, sought to change people’s perceptions about distance:

“Walk Raleigh started as a group of 27 unsanctioned signs installed at three different intersections around downtown Raleigh. The signs are basic; they include an arrow, general destination, color, QR code and text stating how many minutes by foot it is to walk to said destination (the destinations are made up of commercial areas, civic landmarks, and public open space).”(

After gaining popular support through the Internet—with coverage coming from major national and international media outlets—a project that began as a small gesture in a local community, was adopted by the City of Raleigh as a way to promote healthy lifestyles and community cohesion. Now called “Walk [Your City]” the project has successfully raised funding through Kickstarter campaign to develop resources that aid similar initiatives in cities across the country and throughout the world.

These examples provide important insights of how design methods can facilitate problem solving with people across multiple environments. Operating on principles of connectivity, participation, and scalability, the Shodh Yatra and Walk Raleigh facilitated social innovation through different channels. However, while these models describe how people—non-designers and designers alike—drive change through creative solutions to the problems in their lives, they do not provide a specific process for identifying problems and creating solutions. In order to deliberately target wicked problems, we cannot rely solely on solutions generated through a few creative individuals adapting to or altering their physical environment. By packaging design methods and tools that have a proven history of effectiveness, designers will be able to provide a transferable framework for people to solve complex problems. Such an endeavor requires a thorough understanding of both the overarching principles guiding social innovation, as well as an intimate knowledge of the techniques and instruments involved in the design process.

If our focus is to enable people to use design to positively change their environments, then we need structures to promote, teach, and support the many facets of design methodology. Unfortunately, design methods do not fit neatly into a predetermined box. Every design project unfolds in a unique setting. Thus, designers must customize their process and tools to fit the needs of the context in which they are working. While there are no cookie-cutter procedures for the mass reproduction of the design process, designers have started to build toolkits that help people implement design methods.

For instance, the international design consultancy IDEO publishes several resources that promote design methods and tools for use by people outside of design professions. In the introduction to their Human-Centered Design Toolkit, IDEO answers the question of why a toolkit is an effective means to support the work of NGOs:

“Because the people are the experts. They are the ones who know best what the right solutions are. This kit doesn’t offer solutions. Instead, it offers techniques, methods, tips, and worksheets to guide you through a process that gives voice to communities and allows their desires to guide the creation and implementation of solutions.” (Human-Centered Design Toolkit 2011, 5)

The toolkit then goes on to describe step-by-step instructions for using design methods, including: the duration of activities, the material tools they require, and the purpose behind their use. Resources such as the HCD Toolkit take an important first step toward specifying the qualities of design methods. People who understand design methods gain the power to use them in generating alternative futures to social and environmental problems. As more people gain access to design methods, greater opportunities exist for social innovation, and ultimately, for solving wicked problems.

Design methods come in myriad forms and operate across many different contexts. Rather than focus on a single method or tool that supports complex problem solving, designers interested in addressing wicked problems need to understand the organizational and operational principles that connect our methods to social innovation. Current strategies for social change suggest that innovation does not come from a single source. As Murray ,et al. describe “most social change is neither purely top-down nor bottom-up. It involves alliances between the top and the bottom, or between what we call the ‘bees’ (the creative individuals with ideas and energy) and the ‘trees’ (the big institutions with the power and money to make things happen to scale) (Murray, Caulier-Grice and Geoff 2010, 8). Clearly seen through the practice of co-design and the emergence of resources like the HCD Toolkit, designers have recognized the means to support the “bees” of innovation. Additionally, in the example of Walk Raleigh we see the capacity of bees to influence “trees” unlike ever before. If , as designers, we hope to apply our methods to bigger and more complex problems, we will need strategies and structures that connect people and enable them to use design methods to solve wicked problems that impact their lives.

As a design researcher, I am interested in finding new ways to connect people to design methods. For my graduate thesis, I focused on understanding the characteristics of design methods and tools, in order to integrate them into the educational strategy of service-learning. Connected by a need to develop solutions in a specific context, both designers and service-learners seek an understanding of the social and environmental factors that affect peoples’ lives. While my investigation began with an intense focus on the qualities of methods, I soon realized that simply delivering descriptions of design methods to service-learners would not sufficiently aid them in reaching their goals. Methods alone do not make a project successful. Rather, for people to truly benefit from incorporating design into their work, they need a structure to plan, use, and evaluate design methods based on the specific demands of their specific context.

Throughout my thesis, design methods operate as an integrated system for students in service-learning. In my particular project, students gain access to skills that empower them as citizens and members of a global community1 through the implementation of multiple design methods. Embedding these methods in a widely supported instructional approach like service-learning provides the essential connection between the bees (students, teachers, and community members) and the trees (educational institutions, government agencies and non-government organizations) of local communities. By creating infrastructures that spread design understanding, designers have the opportunity to facilitate problem solving for both individuals and communities. Citizens with an understanding of design will seek the collaboration and communication necessary to drive change in their communities. Additionally, through design people not only have the agency to deliver solutions to their immediate communities, but are able to understand their relationship to other people and places around the world. Empowering people to take action at a local level is a vital step toward generating change at the scale needed to address wicked problems.

With the knowledge I gained through my graduate research, I am prepared to pursue new possibilities for defining, implementing, and disseminating design methods. I have taken preliminary steps in investigating how design methods can be integrated into an infrastructure (e.g. university-level class), but many other institutions and networks offer great opportunity for promoting positive social change. Moving forward, I will continue to analyze the role design methods play in problem solving on multiple scales. I will also continue delving into ways to connect structures for social innovation with my research into the practice of design methods. Through my work I hope to partner with community members and organizational leaders in developing new models of design methodology. Finally, evaluation will play an essential role in the successful development of design methods for social innovation. New design methods require rigorous testing at multiple stages during the development process. Indeed, empowering people the implementation of design methods will only occur through constant community participation and feedback. Looking to the future, I see design methods as the link between individual innovation and systemic change. Through continued research into the characteristics of design methods and the organizational structures that support their use, I plan on developing methods that empower people to generate creative solutions to some of today’s most difficult challenges.

1. My thesis argues that outcomes of design and service-learning contribute to the development of skills essential to democratic engagement in the twenty-first century. See more details in the selected work attached.

Works Cited

Brown, Tim. “Design Thinking.” Harvard Business Review, June 2008: 84-92.

Ideo, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation The, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Human-Centered Design Toolkit: An Open-Source Toolkit to Inspire New Solutions in the Developing World.” 2011.

Jones, Christopher. Design Methods. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1992.

Murray, Robin, Julie Caulier-Grice, and Mulgan Geoff. The open book of social innovation. London: Young Foundation, NESTA, 2010.

Sanders, Elizabeth, and Pieter Jan Stappers. “Co-creation and the new landscapes of design.” CoDesign, 2008: 5-18.