Tag Archives: Philosophy

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…

Italian translation of “40 years of Design Research” by Nigel Cross”

“40 years of Design Research” is a short but very informative piece by Nigel Cross (currently president of the DRS-Design Research Society, professor at the Open University, author of many books and articles). Originally written as a 2006 conference address, it has been then published in the Design Research Quarterly (the DRS official publication), where I found it some months ago. I thought that this was very well suited for my Design Methodology module on “Philosophy of Design” at NABA Media Design, and I completed the Italian translation before Christmas. Nigel has kindly given his permission for using it in teaching; he also made me smile as he replied to my final thanks commenting “how much more elegant it seems in Italian!” 😉

Buona matita (about social design)

“Buona matita social club” (“buona matita” translates as “good pencil”) is one of the few headlines that caught my attention on a magazine that I was lazily browsing last week while coming back from Isola d’Elba on the ferry (yep, vacatiors are over). The article, signed by MOMA architecture and design curator Paola Antonelli (let me note that she is an Italian), is about the emergence of social design and the idea that there are *not* only “pretty chairs and limited edition lamps” to care about in the field; UK designer Hilary Cottam’s work is reported as an example. Of course this might sound obvious to many specialists but I think it is still very new for the general public.

It could appear ironic, or notable at least, that the story appeared on a magazine entitled “Style” and that it is all about lifestyle and fashion in the most conventional meaning of expensive and sophisticated products, or, well, this is what its several advertisers sell (the magazine is packaged on Friday with the big Italian daily Corriere della Sera and it is mainly addressed to an adult, male and affluent readership; you pay an extra 50 eurocents for it).

Perhaps this is one of the many small signs of the increasing awareness of the themes so much discussed at Changing the Change in Torino, where I did have the impression of a very important but still quite relatively young and specialistic environment (despite the fact that some of the key principle and perspectives have already a quite long history in the design thinking tradition – Paola Antonelli quotes e.g. Papanek and his “Design for the real world”, published back in 1971.  Update 9th of November 2013: see below the memorable 1973 cover, taken from a 2012 Domusweb article, again from Paola Antonelli )

Victor Papanek
Victor Papanek “Design for the Real World” 1973 edition great book cover

“Changhing the Change” in Torino / 2

Conference board
Lots of emerging issues it seems (picture is mine)

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).
  • The “call to action” (as it is called in Mark Vanderbeeken post on Core77) often raised in official presentations and informal exchanges.
  • 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).
  • The beatiful, efficient location offered by the Politecnico di Torino at the Istituto di Biotecnologie.

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.

Some good questions about money (picture is mine)
Some good questions about money (picture is mine)

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”