What we need from research is more than description, and especially, more than a list of “needs,” explicit or implicit, met or unmet.
This is from Rick Robinson‘s talk at IIT Design Research Conference 2010, very recently made available online as a video on Vimeo. I listened to it one first time while writing but I will strive to go for it a second time with more attention.
Among other things, Robinson argues against the point made by Donald Norman in a much debated post and following article on Interactions, in which he said that ethnography-inspired design research quest for “unmet needs” can not provide a basis for breakthrough innovations, which are rather a result of technology invention (Norman added also that still design research has a key role in improving innovative products, making them usable and enjoyable).
One of the key points of Robinson is that actually “needs”, and hence uncovering “unmet needs” is not or it shouldn’t be the main business of design researchers; instead, they should focus on the values that inform design decisions.
Now, it is interesting to note that at the end of the talk Norman himself stood up and expressed his praise for Robinson, saying that he was not in agreement 🙂 about their disagreement (and asking for one of the t-shirts exhibited by Robinson, namely the one with the “against needs” slogan).
I am just back from three days of a very good conference on design and sustainability in Torino (and a much needed Sunday break), even though I have some mixed feelings about certain sides of it. If time allows, I will try to get into the details in separate posts, but as for now I want to scribble down what comes to my mind first.
This is a quick list of likes (see dislikes in the following):
Amazing talks from the invited speakers, especially those coming from Africa, India, China and Japan; Bill Moggridge of IDEO did a brilliant job too (his takes on the role of designers as strategists were bold and funny).
The idea of including virtually all of the conference participants, be they authors, speakers or simple attendants (like me), in an open round of sessions on “emerging issues” (see one of the preparatory boards in the pic above, on the left) — one of those was the new role of designers in this changing landscape (including very practical aspects, such as “how to make money – or, say, decent living – out of it”; see agan the pic above, on the right).
Some concrete, real-world project cases about design and sustainability external to the academic world
The open, online publication of all the papers(click “Themes” and then go on; the “login” link I guess will be activated for downloading the entire proceedings in digital format for those that attended the conference).
And a couple or so of dislikes (the first is pretty big, the last is very minor):
The lack of contrasting views in the overall conference debate, despite the themes under discussion can be regarded as highly controversial (I actually share pretty much of the leading visions there, but it looks like that many others in the world are not exactly of the same opinion… so e.g. why not to invite a very traditional product designer to give a talk? or a scientist with different views on climate change? etc.
A large majority of the attendants were from the academic environment — all right, a special kinds of academics perhaps, with a commendable concern for some of the most urgent issues out there and not only for their papers and titles; but the risk of turning the design research debate into yet another “academic industry” was voiced even by Nigel Cross in the conference opening (Nigel Cross represented officially the Design Research Society at the event).
The only remark I can made on the otherwise excellent organization: yes, it was possible to connect and recharge your notebook at the library, but the conference rooms had locked power plugs and no wi-fi; very possibly it has been planned like this for various reasons (e.g. is a setting like that not very sustainable?) but still…
Then, quite often I had the impression that speakers were not so eager to make explicit, articulated references to the epistemogical, ethical, political, philosophical assumptions underpinning this or this other position, analysis or proposal (on the contrary, e.g. Roberto Bartholo has recalled Richard Rorty, just to name one case). Of course, I guess that they are all in the papers; anyway, I would have liked having presenters more engaged and systematic on the principles and fundamentals level.
Decided to attend the “Changing the change” conference to be held in Torino next month, from 10th to the 12th. Among others, one good point from the event presentation, with regard to the necessity of rethinking change concept and practices in the face of the sustainability challenge:
If indeed design wants to be “part of the solution” it must, perhaps first and foremost, develop a new research culture and new research practices: open research, sensitive to present contexts, that leads to a better understanding of the great changes underway; that offers designers tools to facilitate movement within them; and that enable designers to be promoters of a radical way of changing the direction of these great changes.
Right after HCIed 2008 in Roma, I moved to Firenze for CHI 2008. Five days of good, dense stuff, very interesting papers presentations (including a nicely critical set at alt.chi and a panel on “harmful evaluations” with Saul Greenberg and others), design theater performances and the closing plenary with Bill Buxton, plus the course on “Mobile Interaction Principles” from Matt Jones and Gary Marsden (authors of “Mobile Interaction Design”), and the second half of the course on HCI and CHI history from Jonathan Grudin. Among others, nice chats with Finnish friends and former MobiLife project colleagues Esko Kurvinen (now at Elisa, was HIIT) and Petteri Nurmi (HIIT), but also with Luca Chittaro (Università di Udine) and Fabio Paternò (CNR). I was there with Neos colleague Dario Melpignano (and we did take note on research results very much in line with Neos mobc3 design approach).
Presented a short paper at HCIed 2008 about my undergraduate course on Design Methodology and Philosophy of Design, now running for the fourth year at NABA. HCIed is the annual international conference of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) educators.
The paper title is “Unfreezing thoughts. Philosophy, design studies and role playing games in a foundational undergraduate course” (download from publications page). Then, the conference organizers invited me to join a panel called to discuss the paper contributed by Russell Beale (University of Birmingham, BCS), “Architects or builders; scaffholding or duck tape?”, regarding the role of HCI education in University level courses (I proposed to educate “builders with a conscience” — download). Since Russell could not make it to Roma, the panel was chaired by the conference keynote speaker, Harold Timbleby (Swansea University; his fifth book, “Press on”, has received an important award); panelists included Tatjana Leblanc (University of Montreal) and Lars Oestreicher (Uppsala University); both of them presented at the conference interesting contributions on HCI, design, complexity and education implications.
Among others, I had very nice talks with Carlo Giovannella (Università di Roma Tor Vergata-Scuola IaD, event hoster), Tatjana Leblanc, William Wong (organizing committee) and Toni Granollers (Universitat de Lleida).
HCIed 2008 has been held at the central premises of CNR in Roma (the building facade is quite an example of the 30s Italy official architectural taste, to say so… The building has been inaugurated in 1937).
Digital, technology, UX, design research. Reviews. Some Philosophy here and there.