Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Following Keynotes at IASDR 2009: Design Thinking NOW!

Here is Kati's essay for Design Thinking course, she says it is ok to publish it on the blog. Her impressions from IASDR conference:

I had the great pleasure of participating in the third IASDR (International Association of Societies of Design Research) conference held in Seoul, Korea between the 18th through to the 22nd of October. Altogether, there were some 627 conference guests, 517 papers and poster sessions which of 21 came from different universities in Finland. Most participants came from Asian countries, namely Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Design methodology and design behavior were the most common topics in the conference.  I gave a paper presentation of my own, namely: FANTASTIC RELATIONSHIPS – Adult bonding with designed dolls and listened to many interesting presentations with various topics related to design research. This is my report of the four central keynote sessions given at the conference.

Donald Norman

Don Norman, famous author of ‘The Design of Everyday Things ’ opened the keynotes sessions at IASDR. I had the pleasure to meet him already at last years Design & Emotion conference in Hong Kong. Norman is currently writing a book about social design, but the topic for this happening was “Design Research – Myths, fables and Folklore”.

The first question Norman addressed was what really is the role of design research. Most of the research made in the realm of design has, according to him, nothing to do with the product design and only with theoretical aspects of design work. It is inventors who think beneath the idea. But most of the time even the best ideas do not work. First, there should be a technology and applications should come second. Human needs come long afterwards something is invented. In Norman’s provocative argument, we need to ask ourselves if design research really is needed. He continued: It is not new inventions that are needed – what really makes products succeed is marketing.

Needs, values and concerns are driven by human need. Instead of conducting extensive research in the field of design concepts, we should look at new ideas/inventions. The creative mind lives in all disciplines and ideas should come first – justification for the ideas later. In other words, we as designers should not look at hidden needs, but hidden solutions. Good design research is done when the researcher keeps his/her eyes open for messages. It comes from watching people. ‘Hidden solutions’ is not a new idea. Good designers are good observers. Good designers just do it. 

Eric von Hippel at MIT has said ‘look at the lead users’. Non-intentional design is discussed. Technology and science both contribute to new phenomena, which is turned into applications. These are both used in both products and service design and art. All contribute to new human needs. Again, new needs result in new applications which lead to new phenomena. 

Norman also brought up the ‘cult of Productization’. By this he means that single product ideas may fail, BUT the category might live on. He gave a number of concrete examples of his own design work, like the digital camera which originally failed as a project when it first was introduces (in the 1990’s), but now is a certainly establish product category. As a conclusion: product categories thus have their time and they may not gain immediate popularity when making their debut on the market. Again, Norman stressed that it takes a company and a marketplace to make a product successful. 

Design research, actually, should be looked at as a part of design. There should be no ‘gulf’ between research and the designed product. Who then are the users of a designteam? According to Norman they are company executives, management, product group, manufacturing and sales & marketing.

The trouble with design research is that it is not paying enough attention to scientific methods. Science represents more than facts to Donald Norman. Disputes can be resolved with the help of evidence. Science is repeatable, verifiable and falsifiable. The scientific method thus is critical for evaluation of design work as other people may conduct similar work and get the same results.

Engineering design is formal, precise, quantitative, cumulative, repeatable and generalizable BUT this is inadequate for such areas of design research which are concerned with for example art and fashion. In the design profession, methods are often teachable, but not testifiable, Norman said. Thinking also is teachable and not testable – and this is not restricted to designers.

Finally, the purpose of design research is to understand people and the groups they form. Design research should evaluate products that are already in use. Design research should make more practitioners. In the same time, the designerly ways of knowing should be testable, repeatable and lasting. 

My own interpretation of Norman’s presentation is that design research may learn from scientific methods, because they give it credibility and trustworthiness. New ideas should just be realized even there is a risk because this leads to new thinking and eventually perhaps also to new product groups. Looking at people (which ultimately results in an understanding of their needs) is at the core of design research, but methodologies could be taken even more towards the ones of science instead of myths, fables and folklore.

Elizabeth Sanders

 Elizabeth Sanders, who functions as senior lecturer in design at the Ohio state university, gave a presentation under the title “Co-creation through generative design thinking”. The keynote was concerned with generative design thinking, more precisely the fuzzy front end before idea, prototype and product. Design research should, according to Sanders be done in order to figure out what kind of product should be done and design researchers are building at the front end of the design process. Co- creation means an alternative way of seeing and being in the world.

The research and design process use information from the past, inspiration from the future and this results in an idea. Accurate information for design use can be gained through scientific methods, through reliability, validity and rigor. Design research is conducted by researchers and applied social scientists. Also, exploration of the past needs to be done. The findings explored then can be applied by designers – this is about discovering trends and what is good research. Relevance, generativity and evocativeness are important, as are ambiguity and surprise. These draw primarily from the future.

According to Sanders, the design research of today suffers from overabundance of the consumption mindset. Creativity has been squashed. There should be a balance in thinking about the consumers of today not only as consumers who enjoy shopping and using, but also in terms of creativity; doing, adapting, making and creating. People are starting to explore their creative side. In Sanders’ prediction we will learn in the near future how to use design to serve peoples varied needs for creativity. 

In new design thinking, design is about experiencing, emotion, interacting, sustainability, serving and transformation. The focus is thus more on the purpose, not the artifact.  In Sanders’ view, in Scandinavia we have generally an expert driven approach. The other approaches are participation research, user-centered design, critical design and generative design research. This means a design-led approach but with a participatory mindset with people in the front-end in mind. This approach can be used by all, individually. It is multicultural, verbal, embraces ambiguity and can serve as a common ground for co-creation.

Make-tools are used in this design approach. Different kinds of toolkits help everyday people to express their needs about various products and services. The kits are used to find out how people would like to live in the future. They use either 2 or 3 dimensional objects. Sanders explained about tests made with consumers to explore future ways of living. In some examples, designers used puppets in finding out different needs of people. The participating people played out different scenarios with the puppets while designers observed. (From the perspective of a toy researcher, I find this rather interesting a method!). So co-creation is mainly about activating the users and communities in order to get more accurate design information to be used in companies. It is about stimulating ideation, stirring the emotions and discovering unmet needs.

As a conclusion, Elizabeth Sanders said, there needs to be a balance between industrial and convivial tools.

 After listening to this presentation, or rather, looking more closely at visual material the keynote speaker shared, gave me some new ideas about how the users may be activated. It’s a bit complicated to illustrate this in writing, but somehow co-creation now is a more understandable method for me.

Kazuo Kawasaki

The most vibrant keynote of the conference was presented by Japanese Kazuo Kawasaki, professor at Osaka University. This also was a holistic emotional experience as Mr. Kawasaki did not hesitate to promote his design skills and awarded work from the past.

Kawasaki’s presentation did not have a topic, neither did it need one. The audience was bombarded with an overwhelming audiovisual show, presenting Kawasaki’s design work over the last decades including artificial organs, wheelchairs and eyeglasses without screws. The artificial heart Kawasaki had designed had kept a goat alive for 3 years, so this demonstrated what design possibly can do in human future as well. He showed how well-known opinion leaders such as Colin Powell, Sarah Palin and celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg have worn his eyeglasses in the public. He therefore has gained media attention of being a master of making rimless lenses and eyeglasses made of titanium with only 23 parts compared to common eyeglasses that utilize 45 parts.

In Kawasaki’s thinking, only design can improve the world. To end his quite narcissistic presentation, the designer showed a project having to do with a new designof the tetanus medical injection that could be easily used in third world countries for common good. What started as a rock star-like ego-fest ended up in the presentation of a ‘serious’ approach to design and a demonstration of how good design is for the benefit of humanity. In Kawasaki’s words: our design must be the leading role as methodology to solve the various problems which current Earth has.

Kees Overbeeke

Mr. Overbeeke comes from Eindhoven University and presented a keynote under the topic “Visions, dreams: what are they made of”. This keynote had a very practical approach as it demonstrated widely (and nicely, for that matter), current design projects of master and Ph.d. students at Eindhoven, Holland, namely, in the field of interaction design. One keyword of the presentation was HPI, Human Product Interaction which means an approach to enhance dynamical aspects of products, having to do with personal, aesthetic and socio-cultural values in combination with highly interactive intelligent systems. In Overbeeke’s thinking, visions and dreams in the context of design, are about intuition through doing and reflecting and dynamic interaction. 

Design thinking, in Overbeeke’s presentation, was seen as being industrialized by companies. A new educational thinking is thus needed – a reflection on doing. At Eindhoven university the students are grading themselves not through tests but personal development as designers, through an integration of research and education.

The design process is seen as reflective and transformative, trying to integrate science, engineering and design. It is about designing for skills, through skills. These skills can be perceptual and motoric, emotional, cognitive and social skills which result in new craftsmanship.  New designers have to design dynamics instead of objects in their physical sense.

Design started with design for appearance. Then came design for interaction. Also, the behaviour of the product is important. Now we are moving into design for systems.  Kees Overbeeke presented working prototypes like stereos and vending machines which express and provoke emotional responses. To me, many designed objects shown seemed to have a playful quality to them, which is interesting. Obviously, toys are emotional objects and design of everyday things may utilize toylike characteristics in order to getemotional responses. Movement is important but also embodied interaction, as Overbeeke explained.

Future design dreams are based on phenomenology and seeing meanings in the sensuous body. The level of being is important, like in the thinking of Merleau-Ponty. To conclude, Overbeeke said that design is about people, lives and joy. The meaning of design lies in the interaction between objects and users. We should not forget that we have a body. The reflection of action is the source of action. Intuition and common sense should be high on the agenda. Design research is about transforming the world.

Practice of curiosity, sympathetic principles and independency should be kept in mind by teachers of design. Grand words, but I found many of the keynote speakers thoughts and examples inspiring. The design work of the student at Eindhoven university looked very interesting indeed.

To conclude, I must say that the keynote presentations were refreshingly different from one another. These presentations gave me a nice overlook of current design thinking and how academics from different countries and backgrounds address design issues. Perhaps the most useful aspect of the presentations was to inform researchers about different methods and attitudes that can be applied in design research. After all, design research is still a quite young discipline and searches its place among other academic fields. As my own conclusion, it maybe is fruitful to see design research as a truly multidisciplinary phenomenon that can learn and utilize findings from both the humanities and science.

Kati Heljakka


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