Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Interdisciplinary discovery through design workshop, Monday 28 September 2009

Yesterday I was at the Interdisciplinary discovery through design workshop, hosted by Tom Inns of the University of Dundee and who leads the research initiative, Designing for the 21st Century.

Here's what the workshop invitation said:

The Designing for the 21st Century research initiative was originally conceived as a platform for building new interdisciplinary research partnerships between the engineering and technology communities and researchers in the arts & humanities... A broad portfolio of projects have delivered on this agenda, interestingly however, many have gone far wider bringing in researchers and stakeholders from across the UK research council communities. In all of these projects a design research perspective has allowed interdisciplinary research teams to explore a range of business and social issues in new ways.

This one-day workshop will profile the work of six research teams that have worked in this way. Participants at the workshop will then have the opportunity to reflect on the emergent roles for design research within the interdisciplinary research landscape and strategies that might be adopted to capitalise on this approach.

Throughout the workshop, it wasn't defined if we were talking about design research in practice or in academia. But the good thing for my own research is that it is currently working in both contexts ie. My research topic looks at the changing and expanding role of the designer, and my research process is a discussion about a researcher looking into design (the latter is key to a PhD because one's research process needs to be articulated in order to asses the reliability and validity of research findings or theory).

The workshop was held a the Imperial War Museum in London and was well-attended by mostly academia, quite a number of people from the Design Council and a few PhDers such as myself as good friend, Qin Han, aka Design Generalist.

I did tweet some notes during the event, but operating my new phone isn't quite at the level of efficient translation of my thoughts, but I do want to thank Lauren (redjotter), Fergus, Tamsin, James and Nick who responded to a few tweets (and I did try and include some of your comments in the conversations) and thanks to those who watched updates.

The workshop began with a presentation from Tom. He spoke about the current archipelago of design practice which sees many different islands represent current and emerging practices of design such as product design and service design.

Tom and Tom's archipelago of design

I love this analogy because it not only maps a terrain but also reflects the state of the different design practices, which are always similar in nature but aren't often connected in any other way. It also illustrates many new islands of design practice, which have popped up alongside the traditional modes of product, fashion and communication. These new island include service design, social design, design for development, design for sustainability etc.

Furthermore, Tom's archipelago is influenced by deltas (design history), currents (such as design thinking), lighthouses (such as the Design Council), cold fronts (lack of research funding for design), oceans of uncertainty, banks (of management), inlets, streams and the analogy goes on.

The research projects for the Designing for the 21st Century initiative were to act as ships either navigating the islands, or landing on them to explore ethnographically what was happening on the islands. Either way they were, as Tom mentioned, to be the Scott of Antarctica- finding new knowledge about design, especially since traditional notions of design have changed (or expanded) over time. One of Tom's slides showed this and below I have adapted a short cut version of his slide:

Traditional notions of design -------> Extended roles of design

generating ideas ---------------> facilitating ideas
managing trade offs ---------------> negotiating value
visualising the tangible ---------------> visualising the invisible
accommodating uncertainty ---------------> navigating complexity
profiling users ---------------> mediating stakeholders
synthesising futures ---------------> synthesising strategy

Adapted from Tom inns presentation for IDD, 28 Sept 2009

We then had five presentations from the Designing for the 21st Century initiative to give us insight into the initiative's projects. The projects profiled were:
  1. Improving healthcare through design research by Prof Alastair Macdonald, Glasgow School of Art: Looked at how visualisation and participation could help in healthcare in the Ideal States project

  2. Mobilising older workers through design research by Prof Jeremy Myerson & Jo-Anne Bichard, Royal College of Art, London: Looked at reinventing the workplace for the aging population in a project called Welcoming Workplace

  3. Engaging audiences through design research by Prof Chris Rust, Sheffield Hallam University: Looked at the My Exhibition project which sought to explore how “affective” communication could help personalise experiences.

  4. Designing interdisciplinary research by Dr Lucy Kimbell, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford: Looked at the Designing for Services project which explored how service designers worked with SME's involved in science and technology

  5. Reducing crime through design research by Adam Thorpe & Prof Lorraine Gammon, University of the Arts, London: Looked at the Bikeoff Project where design was used to help reduce bike crime.
To give an overall feel for the projects, some commonalities I noted seen across the projects included:
  • The wide variety of stakeholders used on each project
  • This made the methodology complex, such as in Lorraine Gammon and Adam Thorpe's project where they attempted to visualise the process (check out their methodology map here)
  • A bit of theory was often overlaid on the project to help explain it, and most of the time the theory was literature from another discipline
  • Most projects were done "through" design ie. the academic researcher was doing the project as well as reflecting upon it. Lucy Kimbell's project however took a more ethnographic approach to exploring designing services in SME's. But this last point raised the question I had at the beginning of the day which was, were we talking about design research in academia or in practice?
After the five presentations, it was a break for lunch and back for a workshop.

The workshop asked us to reflect on the presentations and contribute our notes on what was the role of design research? More specifically, what perspectives, skills and methods do design researchers bring to the table?

Below are some tweets I got back when I asked the question on Twitter:

Jamesamperi: "Role of design research- to inform, inspire & set parameters around the activity of design giving it a better chance of success"

fergusbisset: "Role of Des. Res. is to make explicit what has hitherto been implicit within process of design and amongst the design community"

TAMSINA: "Role of design research... [doing all we can] for the sake of designing awesome experiences"

In our group we talked about the spectrum of doing design research in academia and in practice. Some differences were noted, such as more time and more theory being overlaid in academia. Some key words we identified among our individual scribbles in response to the question were:
  • Giving people a voice
  • Navigating uncertainty
  • Openness
  • Communication
  • Flexibility

Under the the question, what skills and methods do design researchers contribute we said:
  • Flexibility
  • Rapid learning
  • Iteration
  • Awareness (of people and markets)
  • Visualisation (making the implicit explicit, thanks Fergus)
  • People-centred
  • Bringing insight
The same kinds of words did keep on popping up and TAMSINA tweeted in response to the 2nd group of words: "Basically all the skills of a designer then!?! Design research is an oxymoron." The first part of Tamsin's comment was later repeated by a delegate in the final group discussion.

Tom did a quick overview of all the posters, drawing our attention to the fact that openness came up in many of the posters in response to the first question. Delegates raised issues with this saying that with openness, who owns the project? And also, how do Uni's teach this?

Under skills and methods, Tom drew out the fact that participation was the dominant theme, and mentioned that workshops were a great platform to allow this. A delegate commented in response to this theme that design and its visual nature allows a more democratic process as its not tied to a particular vocabulary.

The final exercise we did was listing challenges and opportunities for design research and what some action steps could be. My small group chose to focus on Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and we noted that the key challenge was having all disciplines in silos and a key opportunity would be to have them all work together by identifying, supporting and rewarding a catalyst. We also spoke about shifting paradigms of HEI's from places of teaching to places of learning. It reminded me of Sir Ken Robinson's awesome TED talk where he discusses creativity and how schools kill creativity.

In the final discussion for the day, more observations and issues were raised. Here are some I noted (but I think Qin might have more soon):
  • Design academia and practice need a better relationship
  • We have been talking about "different manners" of design research today
  • Design as a word has many uses which can be confusing
The workshop ended at 4pm and I went home a bit exhausted and soaked like a sponge! But it was great to hear more about the Designing for the 21st Century projects, Tom's design archipelago, reflect on design research (in academia and in practice), meet new people, old friends and also consider where my own research sits in the wider context of academia and practice.

- Update -

For further reflections on the workshop, see Qin Han's Design Generalist blog post. She goes indepth on the Bikeoff project and also Lucy Kimbell's presentation on Designing for Services.

Lauren Currie's blog has a public lecture of Tom's at Dundee University's MA Exhibition. Titled, The End of Design, both Lauren and Qin tell me Tom adapted this lecture for the workshop presentation written about in this blog post. Lauren's also posted a video of the lecture, so check it all out here.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Greengaged: Systems for common good

Today I was at the Greengaged event, Co-opportunity: A Day for World Builders. I only stayed for half a day as there's a PhD deadline looming at the moment... The event was hosted by the Design Council and asked:

How could we create (banking and financial) systems for the common good?

I was attracted to the event for a few reasons:
  • The event was curated and facilitated by author of The New Marketing Manifesto and The Green Marketing Manifesto, John Grant, who's work I have been familiar with when I was a MA Business student. Grant wrote the best marketing "textbook" I came across. It was the closest I saw marketing "theory" come to placing people at the centre of product and service development and marketing;
  • Co-production/co-design/co-creation looked to be keys theme to the day;
  • The opportunity to think about how one might re-invent the banking and financial system. When I worked in business and management consulting, most of my clients were banks or financial institutions. They were all after disruptive innovation, paying more attention to the customer experience and using design to do this but also for innovation and transformation. But today's work shop threw up a whole bundle of issues, I have to say my previous work, largely overlooked. These issues had to do with sustainability, common good (though some of our projects were leaning toward ideas for community) and global issues (while some of the projects recognised the global context our projects weren't so focused on these issues).
The event attracted an interesting mix of people. From designers, to entrepreneurs, to educators, to people in advertising and a former banker. The agenda was sketched out by John, and peppered with presentations for example we heard about the Brixton Pound project from Josh Ryan Collins who's been working on the project at the New Economics Foundation. Josh (about to undertake a PhD himself next year on the subject) spoke about the concept of money and what its functions were in the real world. I had never really thought about it much before so they were interesting questions to reflect upon. Josh also stated how, "everyone has a skill that is valued by other people" but went on to say that our currency system is unable to effectively value those skills. After Josh's presentation, the (potential) combination between local skills and local currencies was swirling around in my head.

John's mapping of the day's agenda

But the day moved on at pace and continued with was lots of brainstorming of ideas and issues and John shared many stories of systems for common good that he's been identifying and researching for his forthcoming book, Co-opportunity (by the way, the book is being co-authored in a similar way to Charles Leadbeater's book We Think, which was done where people could access the progress of chapters and feedback to the author. Click on the following links to check out Co-opportunity and feedback to John).

The workshop

We also shared many examples, of systems for common good, among ourselves. One of our tasks of the day was to come up with new ideas for banking and finance using existing systems/models and connecting them to a banking and finance context. Some ideas from the groups included:
  • Mortgage pooling: An idea inspired by babysitting credits among a community of families where time credits are exchanged for babysitting each others children;
  • Banks as museums: Thinking about the experience of banks like one might think of designing a museum to appeal to the five senses;
  • Making banks more transparent: In the way Facebook is transparent with providing insight into the lives of our friends;
  • Peer-to-peer recommendations for banks: Which reminded me a bit of Tripadvisor, Ebay or the way one can leave comments on Amazon.com.
The morning provided lots of food for thought, much like the RSA event last night, so it was a pity to have to go home to continue tackling the research methodology chapter of the PhD. But am learning how important it is to punctuate a long process like a PhD with bits of inspiration, diversity and loads of new stories.

Monday, 21 September 2009

The RSA debates: Design, cities and citzenship in the 21st century

Tonight I attended a live debate at the RSA titled, Cities and Citizenship: Surviving the 21st Century. Here's what came into my mailbox many weeks ago, and what the website said:

What does it mean to be a citizen in the 21st century? What is the relationship between the way we design our city and our perception and experience of citizenship? Is it time to redefine Londoners’ obligations, responsibilities and rights to improve the liveability of our city? Are we equipped to tackle the environmental and economic challenges we face?

These questions and more will be tackled in a debate on Cities and Citizenship which kicks off the London Development Agency’s New Urban Agenda Debates in association with RSA Design and Society.

There were four speakers and one Chair and the subject in debate was urban planning and architecture and their contribution to citizenship through the design of cities and spaces. It was a bit off-the-beaten-track from what my research is directly about, but I always think it's good to gain other perspectives from the expansive field of design. Below are some notes I jotted down, and some questions the debate raised for my research.

The first speaker was social entrepreneur and founder of the community support organisation Bromley on Bow Centre, Lord Andrew Mawson. In his opening he said:

"Governments understand the shape of the forest, but don't know what's going on underneath the trees."

He emphasised that we shouldn't be designing our cities top-down nor bottom-up, but inside-out ie. working with people from within communities and organisations. This point supports some of the good practice models and lessons from Dott 07. Projects like Alzheimer 100, DaSH and OurNewSchool all took the approach of working inside-out, but they also worked outside-in to bring in the end-user perspective to help better decision-making.

Lord Mawson also emphasised people and connections, something Maggie Breslin, a designer from the Mayo Clinic recently discussed in her presentation at the recent Transformation Symposium hosted by the Mayo Clinic (13-15 September 2009).

At the end of his presentation Lord Mawson stated that we needed:

vision + leadership + design to connect the people from within

That's spot on, but I wondered who exactly can take on such a role? It's most likely not done by one person, but a few. In vision + leadership + design, designers can do the design very well, but is it also their role to do the vision + leadership too? If so, what if designers don't get to have that level of influence immediately? What is our point of entry into organisations? That entry point rarely allows us to create the vision (yes, designers are good at communicating and devising a vision, but we often need someone to invite us to help create the vision first) or be the leadership (again, designers can be leaders, but entering into an organisation or community as strangers doesn't usually mean we have credibility or influence straight away).

The other speakers were architect, Wolf Prix, whom I lost track of, but I did pick up where he mentioned that city planning should take a leaf from Muhammad Ali's book. Ali was a great boxer because he could change his strategy during a fight ie. spot the problem before it became a problem. I agree that there is a good lesson in there for city planners, especially since a lot of city planning is about systems and in previous experience, problems in systems usually only become visible when the system is already very broke.

Author and journalist, Anna Minton, spoke about the argument in her new book, Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the Twenty-First-Century City, where she critiques urban design as not being democratic enough today, and how it is linked to social behaviour. Anna discussed "defensible space architecture" ie. the implementation of things such as CCTV and the placement of security guards which creates the perception that the corresponding space is one of restricted behaviour and is unsafe, doing away with the idea of natural surveillance. The clear link between the design object/space and social behaviour was really interesting because I know a lot of designing for social issues/impact/innovation is focused on behaviour change. It made me think, should we be reviewing architecture, looking at discussions which have already taken place around the connection between the design and behaviour?

The final speaker was Chief Executive of the RSA, Matthew Taylor. He asked a series of questions, but the first was the most interesting: How can buildings services, spaces etc. give us stories (or clues) as to what kinds of citizens we should be today?

It's a fascinating question to ponder and I am going to leave my notes and reflections there. Will have more to blog from tomorrow at the Design Council's Greengaged event, Co-opportunity: A day for world builders.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Design Collaboration: Northumbria Uni's brand new resource

My friends and Northumbria colleagues, Emma, Joyce and Kath have been busy working on the brand new DesignCollaboration.org website:

"A space for design tutors to reflect, review and explore collaborative learning in design teams."

A screen grab of the DesignCollaboration.org website

While the site currently says its for design teachers, I believe it is relevant to any design project that demands collaboration. The site contains three key sections:
My research is most relevant to the Teaching Resources part of the site where one can find tools to help identify roles of designers in projects. Other content at this part of the site include tools to:
  • Form and mange a design team
  • Understand the design team
  • Communicate within the design team
  • Reflect among the design team
  • Assess the collaboration
There are also some neat filmed interviews with designers on the site. It's always great to hear different design perspectives straight from designers themselves.

The site was only launched last night, so more additions are to be made. Designcollaborations.org hits on a key issue for designers as collaboration is no more something a designer 'might do' rather its an essential skill for today's designers working in our highly connected, complex and technological society.

Photos from the Designcollaboration.org launch at Northumbria Uni last night

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Redesigning Business Summit: The Big Rethink

An exciting partnership between the Design Council and The Economist will host the Rethinking Business Summit to be held in London from 11-12 March 2010. The summit will explore high level design thinking in business. Here's an overview from the website:

Powerful forces are revolutionising business. It's happened before and it's happening again. Today's challenges mean customer needs are changing and fast. We need to start thinking of new ways to compete. The Economist's Redesigning Business Summit will show you how.

Procter and Gamble, Samsung, Google, Amazon and Apple know what's needed - they use design thinking.

The Economist, in association with the Design Council, is inviting business leaders to sample the fresh thinking that business needs to seize opportunities in a volatile world.

Friday, 11 September 2009

LTA Newsletter | August 09

Click on the image and you'll be able to read the text. The blue links won't work with the jpeg, they only work with a pdf version. If you would like to be emailed pdfs of my monthly research updates, please email me at fiorucci [at] hotmail [dot] com.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Reflections on Service Design Thinks 1

Last Thursday, 3 September 2009, around 50 people gathered at the Sense Loft in London to attend the very first Service Design Thinks (SDT) event. Thinks grew out of the design network that were attending Service Design Drinks, an informal gathering of people interested in service design to meet and share a few drinks every two months or so.

A fuzzy photo from my mobile of Service Design Drinks 3 in April 2009 at the Slaughtered Lamb, Clerkenwell

Service Design Thinks 1 was, "The first in a series of practically focussed talks and debates featuring an inspiring range of practitioners from across the service design and innovation spectrum."

The night had a great turn out, and lots of fun (see some photos I uploaded on Flickr this week). Nick Marsh opened SDT 1 profiling four broad areas for presentation and discussion. These were:
  • Evaluation
  • Research
  • Design and
  • Management

Nick opens the first Service Design Thinks event

SDT1 audience with Noar and Jaimes filming and recording the event

The following notes are my reflections on the four presentations, mostly drawn in relation to my current research.

The first presentation was on evaluation by Alice Casey, who recently began working at NESTA as a project manager. Alice was scheduled later in the evening, but had to catch a train to Scotland that night so we made a last minute change in the programme and began with evaluation. The move seemed in line with one of Alice's key messages that was- when it comes to design projects we need to be thinking about evaluation earlier in the piece.

Alice spoke about how service design project could better address evaluation. She shared four key learnings with us from her side. These learnings were:
  • It's never too soon to think about evaluation;
  • Involve people in the evalution process;
  • Appreicate the policy context; and
  • Tell a compelling story, as "not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted" (as she quoted from Einstein).
Next up was Jo Harrington of Engine who talked about research in service design projects. Engine have always been very open with their design research tools (see their some of their key methods here) and Jo shared with us some tools he used on a recent Engine project. I thought the most interesting part of Jo's presentation was how he went beyond the research tools and spoke about the importance of personal devices when one is doing research. For example Jo talked about the "ethnographer's jumper" and "the cup of tea" as devices which further help break down barriers between researcher and participant. Jo and Re (in the audience during Q&A) both spoke about how tools mediate the relationship and interactions between researcher and participant, and it's really up to the researcher to make everything else happen.

Joel Bailey, from The Team, who kindly sponsored drinks for the night, gave us insight into work he had done in the Government and how he used design on various levels- from cosmetically changing the look of websites to creating better usability, which was linked to hard evidence that design does make a difference in the public sector. One interesting thing I noted from Joel's presentation, and also Karl's (who was to follow) was their comments on not necessarily calling what they do service design and that labels usually happened in accordance to what the client calls it. In the case of Joel, Government-speak was more "service transformation" than service design, a reference to the 2006 Varney report on Service transformation: A better service for citizens abd businesses, a better deal for the taxpayer.

Karl Humphreys from MoMat was the final presenter and spoke about how we could better bring stakeholders together in a project through propositions and prototyping. He profiled propositions as being clear on the 'why' and 'what' of the project. In his experience, Karl found that propositions were a great point of reference for the team at any time throughout the project. In prototyping, Karl spoke about how one must build to show an idea and also build to discuss the idea. He mentioned that where things weren't prototyped, the project idea often suffered in the long run. He added that prototyping, was live and also interesting for the client and organisation, Karl called it, "great PR!"

SDT finished at 9pm and some of us grabbed another drinks at the local pub. For those who weren't able to attend SDT, all the presentations were filmed and will be uploaded on the website servicedesigning.

SDT 1 was a great success and only the beginning of what we hope will continue and move forward to contribute to the work, practice and projects of designing for services in the private, public and social sectors.