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Showing posts from 2015

It is Rocket Science!

As a scholar practitioner advising people in businesses, governmental agencies and even universities, it is too often the case that the refrain: “this is too abstract”, “this is too academic”, “this is too complicated”, “this is too hard”…is heard when the reality of what is required to actually change complex systems by design begins to sink in. The implied judgment is that 'thinking' gets in the way of practical 'doing' and doing should be simple and easy—i.e. ‘keep it simple stupid’. People want to claim the competencies of change agents but they hope to gain that competence through ‘edutainment’ or by learning the ‘tricks of the trade” or some other minimally demanding means. The famous pragmatic nature of Americans has led to the rise and nurture of prideful anti-intellectualism, which has reinforced the historic split between thinking and doing inherited from centuries of Western tradition. However the best designers have learned how to reintegrat

What's a Horse?

The design process is a learning process. Learning is the result of inquiry and experience. There are many designs of inquiry created for different purposes with different expected outcomes. Among them, design inquiry is a composite form of inquiry that includes scientific inquiry which, is necessary but not sufficient for adequate design inquiry. Scientific inquiry—research—is designed to determine what can be accepted as true and real. However, even the determination of what is true and real is more involved than objective forms of inquiry, such as the scientific method, would imply. Describing and explaining things as true and real is much more complex and challenging than many design academics and professionals appreciate. That is a problem in todays complex world. Designers need to know what is real and what is true about the real-world design situations they are thrown into. Inquiry into the nature of things and events has been approached in two diff

Design Inquiry: Metaphors and Images

Design inquiry is distinct from other forms of inquiry in that it is ‘inquiry for action’—not merely description, explanation, prediction,   or control. At the beginning of design inquiry it is essential to make a reality check—an ‘assessment’—of the situation at hand. What constitutes the nature of the reality that designers find themselves in when they begin designing? This assessment is too often framed as a process of ‘analysis’. When someone is directed to learn more about a situation, an organization, a person, an event or anything in the real world, the assumption is made immediately that what is needed is an ‘analysis’. Analysis is a process of breaking something into its constituent elements, which allows for a certain level of understanding and people excel at this. However, it has become clear that in order to really understand something it is important to know how the constituent elements interact as a whole—a ‘synthesis’—as well. It turns out that it is diff

critique and comments on The Design Way

Found this great critique of The Design Way as well as some thoughtful comments on a presentation I made at Stanford University. Nice to see what someone else thinks I said. This blog also has some thoughtful comments on C. West Churchman and other systems ideas. Worth a look.

The Design of Fire

Humans did not discover fire—they designed it. The wheel was not something our ancestors merely stumbled over in a stroke of good luck; it, too, was designed. The habit of labeling significant human achievements as ‘discoveries’, rather than ‘designs’, dis­closes a critical bias in our Western tradition where observation dominates imagination. The Design Way, Nelson & Stolterman, pg. 11 There is still a wide chasm between what people believe about the genesis of the ‘real’ world and people who make ‘real’ things—i.e. designers.   It is still generally accepted and promoted that traditional design fields delimit the reach and grasp of human making. It is also true that 'invention' is commonly used to describe the means by which things are created while 'discover' is still used to define human agency in the real world more often than not. But there seems to be movement, maybe even progress, towards grasping a fuller appreciation

Ethics and Design

A recent article in Fast Company, titled “ Stanford’s Most Popular Class ...”, dealt with a class titled ‘Designing Your Life’.   The first time I was introduced to the idea that one could 'design' their life was when I was a graduate student at Berkeley. Over the years, My friend and mentor C. West Churchman —a polymath Professor at UC Berkeley—had written and lectured on the concept of the ‘Design of a Life’ with a focus on questions of ethics in whole systems. He was very concerned with the ethical behavior of individuals within business, governmental and institutional organizations as they ‘designed’ or planned interventions in complex social systems. Ethics was at the center of designing behavior from West’s perspective. West Churchman and Harold Nelson, Mill Valley, CA (1990's) Reading further in the Fast Company article on Stanford’s class, Bill Burnett—the Executive Director of Stanford’s design program—is quoted as saying: … "Design doesn’t s