“narrative prototypes” to get at the likely user experience of the product, to steer the design of the product, in fact, toward that user experience. In this capacity, he refers to himself as a “rhetorical engineer.” “My association with IDEO…has given me the extraordinary opportunity to observe the design process up close and in real time, whereas most academics only get to read about it and the public only gets to see finished products,” says Katz. At IDEO, there is a strong culture of prototyping, and Katz’s narrative prototypes have helped to shape that culture, bringing it out of the realm of the physical prototype alone. “Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought,” said Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, a Hungarian American physiologist, paraphrasing Arthur Schopenhauer before him. This is essentially Katz’s role at IDEO. To begin his research, Katz doesn’t simply look back to last year’s model. He doesn’t look back 5 or even 50 years. He looks much further back—500 years, 5,000 years—to uncover sweeping arcs of human behavior and the ways in which the effects of that behavior have altered human culture, which gives him deeper penetration into the range of possibilities for the modern uses of a particular product. “I have this conviction that there is no project so advanced, or conjectural, or high tech or out there,” he says, “that you can’t learn a lot not by looking forward and imagining but by looking backward and reconstructing where it came from.” Fascinated by what he calls “the expanding perimeter around what we call design,” Katz notes the way in which companies have gone from creating physical products to designing experiences, brands, strategies. Katz himself looks not simply at objects, but at the spaces around and between them. At the possibilities they offer us, in our use of them, for changing the moments of our lives. It’s an exploration, a creating and re-creating of reality. Katz’s wife, Deborah Trilling, is a painter who, one might argue, does something similar in her art. Her paintings—strewn about their simple California bungalow, leaning against the walls and sitting atop the mantel above the fireplace—are also about creating an experience. The difference between art and design? The distinction, Katz says, is not in the outcome, but in the question posed at the start, when the creator asks, “What is this all about?” The artist calls up resources from within, bringing into concrete existence something of internal life, sharing that experience with others. The artist may want to teach, may want only to explore. The designer too shapes an experience, but this is experience as a means to a very specific end: a product to solve a problem. Above all, the designer is a problem solver. When Katz is away from the office, away from the classroom, he enjoys long-distance running, where he can shift focus from abstract thought to the purely physical. “Most of my best ideas come when I’m miles from civilization,” he says, “just breathing very clean air up in the foothills and oxygenating my brain and not focusing on anything.” Design is a creative process, and taking a step back from creating is a part of that process as well. But don’t call design thinking a “process.” That would package it up too neatly, making it a cog in yet a larger process. From Katz’s perspective, design thinking is a philosophy. A way of viewing the world and exploring it. A way of shaping and reshaping it. A way of more deeply understanding our part in the ceaseless cycle of interaction, how the objects that we shape help in turn to reshape us.
Published on Jun 21, 2016
FEATURING: Day Trip to Santa Cruz, Ca | Illuminating Change | Artist, Emo Gonzales | HillStack Studio, Ron Hemphill & Tricia Stackle | SJSU...