Tag Archives: methodology

Less brainstorming, more reasoning

Over the past few weeks I bookmarked, well, I pinned on my Pinboard a couple or more of posts and titles about logical and cognitive fallacies. I’m not the one entitled to give a lesson on the topic,  but it might be helpful to recall that some of these discussions are centuries old. With the reading of Adland still resonating in my mind, and being immersed myself in the design of digital communication and marketing projects on a daily basis, I found out that these kind of basics were very relevant to me – perhaps much more relevant now than when I tried to grasp them as a student.

In fact, the business of designing digital platforms for brands (“digital platforms what?” ok, it’s a namesake!), or, more precisely, the design process that’s behind it, works through innumerable discussions that might greatly benefit of a thorough understanding of these common fallacies. As everyone in the field knows too well, the reality of agency life, and of the agency/client relationship, is dominated by meetings and discussions, many of them face-to-face, but also in writing (oh yes there are collaboration platforms too, but that’s not the point at the moment). Well, honestly I think that the quality of these discussions is quite poor pretty often, in the sense that are ridden with bad arguments. It’s a paradox but that’s happens even during brainstorming exercises (I’ve just been shown a great parody of the case by some good folks at DigitasLBi London but I don’t have the references right here) – and brainstorming in any case is frequently reduced to an unstructured “informal chit chat” as J.C. Jones noted a long time ago (no wonder people then have better ideas just sipping a coffee in a quiet place).

I put “reasoning” in the title but I could have written “rhetoric”, meaning the good reasoning, the use of good arguments. So I tried a Google search and Scholar also pointed to a world of research about design and rhetoric that it’s worth exploring (with a bit more time on hand). Anyhow, let’s have a look at the basics, as said. Here you have short readable pieces, a well illustrated book and even a poster (free in Pdf form). Enjoy. No, think about it.

First, from FastCompany Co.Create, the story about a recently published illustrated book about bad arguments.

Now More Than Ever, You Need This Illustrated Guide To Bad Arguments, Faulty Logic, And Silly Rhetoric

With your mind well refreshed by the logic gymnastic, you can get a bit of psychology.

The 12 cognitive biases that prevent you from being rational

Back to logic now. “Thous shall not commit logical fallacies” is a more concise guide printable in various formats – some big enough for an agency or a client meeting room…

New design cards deck — Psychology wins this time

(note: this post has been in draft for ages but I want have to publish something quickly 🙂 in reaction to a nice tweet from Alberto D’Ottavi, very good friend of mine; so guess what this is again design and methodology and tools stuff)

Stephen Anderson is working has a new deck of cards aimed at helping idea generation and creative turns in the design process. The material comes from psychology: each card presents a principle or a model, with a nice illustration and a brief explanation, plus some associations to other concepts. It should go like this, as far as I can undestand it: you and your team are about to face a design challenge; instead of going tabula rasa and start brainstorming, you pick up one of the card, just randomly, and the proposed concept provides the starting point for a freewheeling discussion on how to apply that concept in the given context. Each proposed concept is definite enough and accompanied by exemplary cases as to make its application feasible and effective, or this is the plan anyhow.

The (mythical) design funnel

I wrote a small bit of slideware on the topic for my lessons. I often refer to the “funnel” talking about process and methods but I lacked a handy reference. In terms of analytic clarity, I think the best representation is in Buxton, Sketching User Experiences, p. 144, that is based on Laseau, Graphic Thinking for Architects and Designers. Buxton discusses the topic also in relation to sketches vs. prototypes and other point of views. In my slides below you just have the combination between “divergent” and “convergent” phases. The classic scheme from J.C. Jones is still the underlying essential reference, although his specific terminology for the different phases has not achieved common usage.

One question that I can’t answer: who has been the first in talking about the “design funnel”? Who has been the first in using the “funnel” metaphor to express and represent the design process? (Yes, I checked on Wikipedia, maybe too quickly).

PS: yep the post title is a play on the Mythical Man-Month

Design research “against needs”

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).

IIT Design Research Conference 2010 on Vimeo via Putting People First.

You don’t ask your customers what they want

“Being customer-driven doesn’t mean asking customers what they want and then giving it to them,” says Ranjay Gulati, a professor at the Harvard Business School. “It’s about building a deep awareness of how the customer uses your product.”

via Prototype – Seeing Customers as Partners in Innovation – NYTimes.com.

This is from an article by Mary Tripsas, associate professor in the entrepreneurial management unit at the Harvard Business School; it describes “Customer Innovation Centers”, special facilities set up by big companies like 3M. Bruce Nussbaum has a post on it in which he refers also to the discussion raised by a provocative short essay by Donald Norman on the role of technology in radical innovation (“Technology first, needs last”). I won’t try to make a synthesis of Norman’s argument and the related debate (see e.g. one of the always nice ChittahChatta Quickies by Steve Portigal pointing to an interesting and critical post). But I would like to add here my 2 cents. The quotation above points to a common negative prejudice about design research, way less articulated than the takes by Norman. Quite many design research methods and techniques — or even the entire design research approach (see e.g. the MIT Press reference) — are often miscoinceved as ways to just extract innovation directly from users’ and customers’ minds, e.g. by inviting them to dull focus groups in which they are asked “what they want”. This is *not* design research but a caricature at best <grin>
Update: if you are interested in the discussion raised by the original essay from Donald Norman, see this other post from Nussbaum and the related comments, including one from Norman himself. En passant, and with all the due respect to everyone (the big and famous and all the others), I am a bit puzzled by the almost total absence of explicit philosophical argumentation. E.g. am I wrong or the all discussion might also be seen as a reneweal of the debate on technology determinism? The comment from Michele Visciola on the relative importance of human needs and their relation to culture points in the same direction from this point of view. Then one could argue that the all idea of contrasting technology and culture is weird, as technology is a cultural phenomenon — the cultural phenomenon for some, but this leads to wider questions.

Paper on Design Methodology course & panel discussion at HCIed 2008 in Roma

HCIEd 2008 logo
HCIEd 2008 logo – slightly scary isn’t it? 😉

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).

CNR premises in Rome
CNR premises in Rome – it looks like Italian 20s-30s architecture…

Design Methodoology / Philosophy of Design course, 4th year

Started the course on Design Methodology / Philosophy of Design for the undergraduate Media Design program at NABA, fine arts academy in Milano. This is the fourth time; it began back in 2003, when the issue of methodology in design to me was the point where some very practical professional concerns (I was a middle manager in a then 300 people Web design and digital marketing agency) met the discovery of J.C. Jones seminal books.

This is also the year in which I managed to write a short paper about the course and get it through in a scientific conference (HCIed 2008; see the publications page for download).

I copied below some text from an early version of my contribution, dropped out in the revision process. The studies director mentioned at the beginning is Francesco Monico.

“Four years ago the studies director of the undergraduate media design program at NABA-Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti, a design school and fine arts academy in Milano, Italy, questioned around the possible shape of a foundational course on design methodology. The need was to propose something different and beyond the specific methodologies already covered by other foundational courses in various design disciplines. As the media have largely overcome their traditional boundaries to spread over a vast range of contexts and industries, with design challenges that cut across the domains of creative production, science and technology, it seemed sensible trying to nurture the ability to think about the possible ways to structure the act and process of designing, in broad and radical terms.

The immediate and slightly provocative reaction of the author was to urge whoever was put in charge to go straight back to the very heart of the word and the concept of method, starting perhaps with some pages of a classic like Descartes Discourse on Method, and ending maybe with the harsh but sophisticate criticism of any methodology in often cited (but lesser known) Paul K. Feyerabend Against Method. To the author initial surprise, the provocation was not turned over; for three years on (and with the fourth coming soon), students have been engaged in a detour from early modern philosophy to contemporary epistemology, to be followed then by a proper investigation of the design process along the lines of a standard book on design methodology, John C. Jones Design Methods. The insisted questioning on the meaning and nature of method is also played out in two practical ways: one is role playing and collaborative dynamics in group games, the other is nonfictional writing”