Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Design Thinking

Dev Patnaik's recent post at Fast Company.com about reinventing the MBA caught my eye this morning. In an interview of Roger Martin, of the Rotman School of Management, they discuss the idea of bringing Design Thinking into the mix of what a business degree should include. The discussion is an excellent one, and if you don't have the time to listen to it in the video, at least read Dev's summary at the Fast Company site.

This idea, Design Thinking (which I define as the sort of creative problem solving / lateral thinking / & so forth taught in many—but most definitely not all— design schools), looks like the new darling of the business press, and I welcome that. The more we can integrate this sort of thinking into all of our problem-solving processes, the better off we will be. But when I reflect on what's missing in today's business management, I see another, perhaps more important omission.

I think we're long overdue for a renaissance of the ideas of Peter Drucker. On my drive home yesterday I caught the public radio program, Marketplace, and heard Kai Ryssdal's interview of Harvard Business School's Rosabeth Moss Kanter, who has written an article about the continuing relevance of Drucker's ideas in this month's Harvard Business Review.

This week we are celebrating (along with the 103rd birthday of Eva Zeisel, of course) the 100th anniversary of Drucker's birth. Most will know about Drucker, who was considered the father of business management. I found this short interview an excellent review of Drucker's ideas, some of which we are in sore need of today:

As Kanter says, "First was the importance of a company having a sense of mission or a purpose, and that's not identical with its strategy, it's not identical with its business model, it's why it exists and what social good or greater good that it's serving." Most important, he did not hold that management should concern itself solely with serving shareholder needs: " He talked about all the responsibilities of management, so shareholders were certainly one for businesses but also employees, customers, suppliers, and society in general.

Ryssdal: what Drucker would say about "the context that a lot of businesses find themselves in today of really having to cut their costs and get their share price up, maximize their profitability?"

Kanter: "Peter was a very big believer in management by objectives. ...you know what your goals are and then you organize to get those goals met, which means to that you do have operate efficiently. But it also means that you don't sacrifice the long term for the short term. So ever since he started writing about high CEO compensation in the 1980s, he said that companies were often not fair. They often did have resources, but they were concentrated at the top. And that letting the shareholders, but also executives, walk away with the lion's share of the profits rather than reinvesting them, that would not create a productive future for business."

So my question is, who is enacting Drucker's ideas today?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Project Infusion, Miami

I'm back from the IDSA National Conference, Project Infusion, in Miami, and will post my impressions of some of the more interesting sessions in the next few days. Until then, we'll make do with some of the extracurricular events at the conference: Damien Vizcarra, Kevin Young, and Jung Tak of Continuum with their double-winning entry in the IBM Ultimate Derby, "Swine Flu." The design won both the race in their category and the People's Favorite award.

Money added to the car's piggy bank increased the weight and so made the car go faster. I and a number of others packed our change into it until it was full. The designers are multiplying the amount collected by ten and will donate $ 1000 to design education. Nice going, guys!

Below, Lorraine Justice, Head of the Design School at Hong Kong Polytechnic, in a round of PowerPoint Karaoke, in which she presents slides she has never seen before. This was a diversion cooked up by Tamara Christensen of Arizona State, and was great fun between sessions.

Monday, September 14, 2009

F L Wright's Meyer May House Anniversary

September 10th was the 100th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright's Meyer May House, built for retail magnate Meyer May in 1909 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This is perhaps the most meticulously-preserved example of Wright's work, renovated by Steelcase in 1987.

As I get ready to take another group of students through the history of industrial design, it's a joy to find Steelcase's detailed site about this house. I especially like the video on the house and the process of restoring it, as well as the section that illuminates Wright's design principles. Any student of ID or architectural history will be rewarded for spending some time here.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Analytical Toolsets

Here is the set of tools for analysis of research data that John Payne presented at EPIC 2009. He ran a workshop in which we discussed and refined this process. I was especially interested, as I had come to the same conclusion as John—that there are few who have assembled an organized and comprehensive way to analyze research results. I had begun to assemble a kit of tools of my own:

In my previous post I showed the "Tool Picker" for helping design students decide which research methods to use. The right-hand edge of that diagram containing the list of methods is shown, above. The question: after you use the proscribed set of methods in the field, how do you make sense of what you've found?

I have been putting together a set of tools gathered from my own experience and the experience of others (such as the good folks at the Institute of Design at IIT, Dori Tunstall, Lloyd Walker, Andy Ogden, among others). This is the "Insights : Opportunities" deck we've been using in my Design Investigations course. The intent is that, with the use of a variety of "lenses" through which to look at the data, the conclusions will be more robust. I've been very pleased with the results. Where before, students finished their research presentations with a single slide containing three or four bullet-point conclusions, they are now concluding with ten or twelve slides, each pointing out a viable design opportunity that derives from an insight from the research.

When I saw John's Analysis / Synthesis Palette at EPIC, I was fascinated. He is coming at the same problem from a completely different direction. I am using the metaphor of a group of individuals looking at the research data, each with a different point of view. John is looking at the process itself, and creating, in a wonderfully methodical way, different ways to arrange, sift, compile, deconstruct, and recombine the data, winding up with prescribed directions.

I will be looking over my notes for some time, to decide how I will change what I'm doing based on his approach.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Insight : Opportunity Deck

Research is worthless unless it fuels the design process. Once the fieldwork is done, we need additional tools to help us make sense of what we've got. I have been using a variant of the KJ Method (developed by Jiro Kawakita in the 60s, similar to Affinity Diagrams) for years in my course, but recently I've begun to beef up the process by which we analyze what results. I've begun to assemble a deck of analytical aids to help guide students' thinking into areas they might not automatically consider. I've found many methods in use for fieldwork and am developing an aid to reduce the complexity of navigating that decision (discussed in the previous post), but to date I haven't found many aids for making sense of the the analysis process.

In practice, designers always work in a multidisciplinary team and research findings are interpreted by a number of different specialists: designers, human factors engineers, anthropologists—the list varies according to the needs of the project. In student work and also in small design firms, those multiple viewpoints may not exist. The deck consists of lists of questions that we can "ask" the data—questions that an anthropologist might ask, or a cognitive scientist, or an engineer, or a management consultant.

Students stand in front of the wall of data and work their way through the deck, each card acting as a lens through which they view the data. The deck is in two parts: an insight deck and an opportunity deck. The first part helps reveal important insights that might fuel design opportunities. We work slowly and methodically through the deck, making an effort to find—even force—connections between the questions and the data.

The insights are listed, mapped, or arranged in diagrams, as needed. The second deck is used to create and validate the design opportunities represented by each insight.

This process takes two or three weeks, at least. At the end, we link the insights to opportunities for design intervention, seeking quantity, quality, depth, and range: products, experiences, and business models from near term to blue sky, mild to wild. Our aim is to present our clients with a robust set of insight : opportunity pairs, hooking each opportunity to the insight that inspired it.

This is a work in process. Last week at EPIC2009 I took part in an amazing workshop with John Payne from MomentDesign, who showed us an analysis framework he's been developing, and based on that excellent session (which I hope to cover in an upcoming post) I know I will be developing this further.

I'll be presenting this work at the IDSA National Conference in Miami in a few weeks. If any of you are attending, I'd love to have the opportunity to show you more and get your feedback. See you there!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Designing Design Research

By way of an explanation for why I haven't posted lately, this last term was consumed by two projects: finishing the plan for what I've come to call the "tool picker" (above) to help designers new to qualitative research expand their palette of methods, plus a set of analytical tools to use on the research data.

This, on top of a term of research for a multi-term project for the American Red Cross, kept me busier than a dot painter in a paisley tie factory. I'll post more on all of this in the upcoming weeks.

The so-called "tool picker," above, is an attempt to help designers explore beyond a set research methodology. As currently taught (and sometimes practiced), design research is often treated as a constant set of tools and, as a result, students tend to think that it's a standard process. The field of design research has evolved into a complex landscape of approaches, however, and good design practice stays abreast of these developments.

In order to help my students break out of a narrow approach and yet negotiate the complexity of the myriad methods in practice today, I am attempting to acquaint them with a comprehensive and yet manageable set of methods. Also, I need to equip them with an understanding of why, and in which situations, a particular approach would be effective.

Currently, the research approach is chosen by those with expertise. There is a "guru" who brings years of experience to bear on the decision. Is there a way to enable beginners to more quickly gain the experience necessary to know which approach might be best for a given problem?

I distilled the complex set of approaches in use today into a set of eighteen (you see them down the right-hand side of the diagram, above). I will be creating a decision-making tool to guide the students through the decision process by asking a series of questions about what type of knowledge they seek for a given topic.

Starting at the left-hand side with a careful choice of topic, students are asked to generate a research objective statement. We discuss issues of ethics, scope, appropriateness, and so forth, and gain explicit knowledge of the researcher's bias.

Moving on to the decision process (while at the same time generating specifications of which sorts of participants will be recruited and engaging in the recruitment process), students begin to consider the type of knowledge they seek. We consider three general areas of knowledge about the user: what they do, what they feel, and who they are. Moving right-ward through the diagram, you can see how we move into finer levels of discrimination, arriving at a recommended set of methods.

This is a first rough design for the tool. When I first completed this version, I was disheartened at first by seeing that, if one worked backwards through the chart one could see that a skilled researcher could use any of the tools to uncover any of the types of knowledge desired. But I reminded myself that this is a decision tree that helps beginners and widens their view beyond a limited single-thread process. The tool is designed to lead them to the most appropriate choice, by no means the only choice possible. Once they've used the tool for a few projects, they will begin to gain knowledge of the wider set of approaches and begin to see how the different methods work in different cases. Once they begin to see that the tools actually can be tailored to many purposes, they are right where I want them: imbued with a robust working knowledge of the multivariate research process.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Crossing the Chasm

Demo lecture
brought to you by Livescribe

Here's another "pen cast" from a user of the Pulse Smartpen, a 7.5-minute lecturette on Geoffrey Moore's book about technology adoption and marketing. For those unfamiliar with the innovator—early adopter—early majority—late majority—laggard bell curve of how new technology gets adopted by markets, this is a useful overview. You might also be interested to read about Everett Rogers' technology adopter categories (described in his Diffusion of Innovation theory) on which it's based.

It's also a good little demo of how the pen can be used to illustrate a point. If you click on the link to the lecture on the Livescribe site, you'll see that a community of users are sharing their notes—from the sublime to the ridiculous. For those working in study groups and teams, this seems to be an interesting way to share notes with people who missed a class or a meeting.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Peek Behind the Curtain

I've struggled for years to accurately convey the complex picture of industrial design at Art Center—the reality behind the hype. We are sometimes viewed as shallow stylists, mostly because what people see of our work are slick photos of final models. Rarely do people get to see the process that we employ, and the thinking behind it. This isn't limited to us, by the way—if you examine what gets published about industrial design, you'll see an endless parade of glamour shots of the latest shiny thing, and the criteria used for the curation of this work seem to revolve around the hot image it will create in a magazine. This shallow picture isn't helped by the fact that we at Art Center are often running at such a pace that we—students or faculty—rarely get out to share with others what we're up to.

Industrial designers complain that people misunderstand what we do. Part of the blame lies with us. We struggle to appear in publications that limit the view of our work to the single glam shot. If we're not careful, we might wind up like those architects who seem to design a building to create a photo op for the cover of Architectural Record—not to provide an optimal experience for the people who will inhabit the space.

For years I've admired the way that IDEO crafts their own story. Through artful self-publication as well as controlled use of traditional publishing outlets, they have created the image that we have of them. They are not known for any particular design; they are known for their innovation process, as they should be.

What's a designer to do who doesn't have the firepower of a major office as backup? Check out the blog of industrial design student St├ęphane Angoulvant. In January 09, at the beginning of his second term (or the second half of his freshman year), he decided to start a record of his work at Art Center, project by project, course by course. 

We get to look over his shoulder as he tackles each assignment, understanding not only the process he uses to solve the problem but also the rationale for the assignment in the first place, how it fits into the stream of coursework that makes up the curriculum. He does this without undue self-aggrandizement but with quiet confidence and clear-eyed excitement. As he says in his kickoff post, "Just want to keep it simple here and post what I can from my ongoing design projects." Following his posts I see the world that we have created for our students from the student's-eye view, and at the same time get to revisit the fun of my own experience learning the design process so long ago.

Following a notice on Coroflot earlier this year, the blog has acquired an enthusiastic following of fellow students and admirers. By the time St├ęphane reaches his 8th term, he will have already created that new requirement for career success—a solid web presence.

I find this profound in so many ways—seeing the world of the Other from their point of view (which is what my research methodology is all about), seeing the organic start of a designer building what will eventually become his career and his reputation, and perhaps most interesting, seeing how young designers gather together in communities of shared interest. IDSA, and all who purport to be gathering places for designers, take special note of this last one.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Serious Happiness, Serious Toy

Last January I attended a conference on Positive Psychology at Claremont Graduate University that confirms my belief that the best conferences to attend are ones outside your field. I had heard that one of my heroes, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, would be speaking (the author of "Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience" and one of the authors of "Experience Sampling Method: Measuring the Quality of Everyday Life", which reveals him to be one of the granddaddies of what we call beeper studies), and I wanted to hear him. He was scheduled for the end of the day-long seminar, and I toyed with the idea of coming late just to hear him. I am so glad that I didn't.

The entire conference was a revelation. The field of Positive Psychology is a young one but they are getting busy with the act of measuring happiness, developing a Manual of the Sanities (the opposite of the DSM, or the "manual of the insanities," as they call it), and otherwise treating dysfunction, whether individual or organizational, by focusing on what one is doing right, rather than what one is doing wrong. Being firmly rooted in academia (and most likely attacked from all sides by traditional—i.e. dysfunction-focused—psychologists), they are building an impressive body of work that proves that thesis. You can find video of the entire conference on their web site, plus a good overview of the field in this Time Magazine article.

I took the opportunity to try out my new Pulse Smartpen, a product I'd bought with the hope that it would aid me in taking notes during research interviews. 

What an amazing product. Usually these things are vaporware; this is the first product I've seen of this type that performs as advertised, with very few glitches. The pen works with paper printed in a proprietary dot pattern licensed from the Anoto Group. The dots are in a random pattern, and each area of the pattern is unique. 

Evidently, they have generated an immense area of this pattern—something like an area equivalent to the size of Europe and Russia—and have printed it out on the pages of a set of notebooks that you use with the pen. If you can imagine chopping the pattern up into page-sized pieces and printing it in notebooks, each page of which is unique, you'll get the idea of the basis of the technology.

The pen has an IR camera embedded in the tip that "sees" the dot pattern. The pen knows, then, where it is on any page of any of the eight notebooks. And just when you think, aha!, here's where they're making their money—you're hooked into buying their notebooks—it's true that you are, but the notebooks (standard spiral notebooks or 5.5 x 8.5 Moleskine-type books) cost about what the ordinary versions cost. Not a big deal.

So the pen does not actually record the image of the pen stroke; it records the location the pen is on the paper when the pressure sensor indicates that you are pressing down, i.e. writing. It's a pretty fool-proof system that records what you write by hand and stores it in the flash memory in the pen.

You dock the pen to your computer to download the files to a companion piece of software, the Livescribe Desktop, where you can view your notes.

"Cool," you say. But wait. There's more. The pen has a microphone on it that can record audio of what's going on when you write. And it links it to what you write. So. In your notebook, on the analogue version of your notes, you can tap the pen on any part of those notes and the pen will replay the audio that was recorded. It does this on a crappy little speaker on the pen, but on the computer, when you click on the visual image of the notes with your cursor, the playback audio reveals that the mic on the pen is surprisingly good for the size of the pen, and if the speakers on your computer are good (or you're listening through a headset), you will hear surprisingly good-quality audio.

But wait. There's more. The pen comes with a headset that plugs into a mini-jack at the top end. Each earbud on the headset not only contains a speaker but also contains its own microphone. When you wear the headset while taking notes, the pen will record binaural, stereo audio. The playback, if you listen through the headset or through any headset connected to your computer, will give you a "you are there" experience of the event. This is seriously cool. Knowing just enough about brain science to make me dangerous, I can imagine that a learning-disabled child, taking notes with the pen and headset in school, can replay the notes later and hearing the stereo recording will enable him to better recall the experience of the teacher's lecture, hence enabling better incorporation of the knowledge. Just a theory, but I'm sticking to it. At the very least, the high-quality binaural audio puts me back into the conference in an immersive way, which I know helps my recall of the event.

They call these recordings linked to notes "paper replay" sessions, and there is a community web site where one can upload paper replay sessions for others to access online. I haven't experimented with this part of the system until now (I've only looked around at some of the recorded sessions that others have uploaded there). They just added the ability to embed sessions into blogs, so I'm trying it out. Here goes.

This is a 7-minute session of Martin Seligman's introductory remarks at the Claremont Positive Psychology conference. I recorded this with the headset, and if you listen to it with headphones, you'll see the quality of the binaural audio. Pretty darned cool.

Oh. By the way. Click with your cursor anywhere on the greyed-out notes and you'll skip instantly to that part of the recording. This is immensely helpful for reviewing longer talks, like this one:

This one is a longer recording, but an interesting one. I recorded it at Art Center College of Design's 2009 Summit, a small conference we hold each February on the topic of sustainability. This talk is an example of why I like this little conference—it attracts a wide variety of presenters on a number of interesting topics, in this case Col. Jodine Tooke, who is talking about how the US Air Force is keeping us safe from Cyberterrorism. Pretty darn cool as well.

And speaking of the length of the recording, you can see how, by clicking anywhere on the image of the notes you can skip to that part of the talk. This makes listening to a longer talk much easier—you can navigate around within it in an intelligent way (as long as the notes I've taken are intelligible to you, which they may or may not be... sorry). This is a marked improvement on merely listening to an audio file, where your only option is to scroll forward or backward, without knowing where you are "landing."

This second recording is an example of what is captured without using the headset—just recording with the mic in the pen. Not bad at all, although you'll note that it's a monaural recording.

In sum, I'm very happy with the pen. In the past, I've recorded using a Belkin mic attached to my iPod, making note of the time signature in my notebook whenever the speaker says anything interesting, so that I'd be able to cut straight to that part of the recording later. With this pen, the linking of written notes to recorded audio is automatic.

The only glitch that I've found is that not all of my pen strokes are captured, which you can see in the first example, above. I was writing more slowly in the second example, and so (while my handwriting is atrocious, sorry) you can see the complete words.

My friends who are designers are not happy that the pen strokes are recorded as lines of consistent width. They would like the dynamic quality (thick, thin) of the line to be captured. To them, I say, This is not a Wacom tablet. Get over it. It would, however, be an easy way to record simple sketches (the files can be saved three ways: as linked Paper Replay sessions, as JPEG files, and as AIFF sound files) and get them into a layer in Illustrator or Photoshop to use as an underlay. You can buy unlined Moleskine-type notebooks with the dot pattern only, which would make this easy.

All in all I'm pretty happy with the pen, and it's made accessing my notes much easier than before. I used to attend conferences and take copious notes that I'd rarely look at later. I find that I'm accessing what I've written much more often now.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Omnivorous Eye

California Department of Transportation District 7 Headquarters, Thom Mayne, 2004

Earl's Service, Gilmore Gas Station, Farmers Market

Sean Casey, storm chaser and IMAX director, in front of his Tornado Intercept Vehicle

I think 90% of design research is the act of walking through the world with your eyes open. Today I was reminded of Martin Schall, one of the all-time champions in that department. Schall, called "LA's Intimate Stranger" by the LA Times, has been shooting Los Angeles—mostly our architecture, but also vehicles, street art, and anything else that catches his distinguished eye—since he visited as a tourist in 1966. He makes yearly pilgrimages to our fair city and though he's not known for it even to those close to him, he has become well known here and among urban designers for the detailed, street-level documentation of LA on his web site, you-are-here.com. He's not an architect, photographer or connected to urban design at all. He's a German oil and gas engineer who works on oil rigs in the Persian Gulf. What spare time he has is dedicated to maintaining the web site, and when his boss forces him to take time off, he comes to LA to continue his mission. 

I celebrate his magnificent obsession and invite you to examine the length and breadth of his site—the STARchitects, the Googie, the Transportation, and especially the MAP—with the same attention to detail that he gives our town. You won't be disappointed.