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NextD Journal RERETHINKING DESIGN

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Science in the Making: Understanding Generative Research Now!

Liz Sanders Ph.D. Co-Founder, SonicRim Senior Lecturer in Design, Ohio State University Founder, MakeTools

GK VanPatter Co-Founder, NextDesign Leadership Institute Co-Founder, Humantific  Making Sense of Cross-Disciplinary Innovation

NextDesign Leadership Institute DEFUZZ THE FUTURE! www.nextd.org Follow NextD Journal on Twitter: www.twitter.com/nextd Copyright © 2003 NextDesign Leadership Institute. All Rights Reserved. NextD Journal may be quoted freely with proper reference credit. If you wish to repost, reproduce or retransmit any of this text for commercial use please send a copyright permission request to journal@nextd.org


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Science in the Making

1 GK VanPatter: Welcome Liz. Summer zoomed by and fall has already arrived here on the east coast. Time flys! We had this idea that we should spontaneously check in with three diverse thought leaders around the world and ask them what they are reading, thinking about and working on these days, so here we are! Thanks for taking the time. Liz Sanders: I spent the summer of 2004 working on client projects. When you travel as much as I do for work, it’s good to stay home when you can. I’ve mainly been working on one project that involves helping a client decide how to introduce a new business. It is an entirely new business for them, a business that does not yet exist elsewhere, so that is one project that I can’t talk about right now. The best book that I read recently is Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future by Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski and Flowers. One of my interests these days is collectivity in thinking, doing and creating. Presence speaks eloquently and inspirationally about the future and how we can collectively create it. I see a role for design thinking in the new modes of collective creativity. What I have been thinking about these days are my plans for next year and beyond. I recently decided that instead of spending most of my time on client projects (and trying to squeeze teaching, writing, reading, learning, speaking at conferences, doing workshops, etc. into my “free” time), that I would reverse my priorities. So starting in January, 2005, I will be spending most of my time on teaching, writing, reading, learning, etc. I will be leaving SonicRim to do this. My two partners will continue to run the company. There is so much going on now in design and design research and it is very exciting to see this finally taking shape. Innovation in these areas is happening all over the world. I want to learn what is going on and to see where it is heading. I plan to write two books. One will be a textbook to be used in undergraduate and graduate courses on Design Research or Qualitative Research. My primary audience will be students of the various design disciplines (e.g., product, communications, interaction, environment, systems, architecture). I am not sure if such a book can also be useful in Market Research courses. I’ll find out. The second book will not be a textbook.

2 GK VanPatter: Your next year and beyond plans sound exciting. You say, “There is so much going on now in design and design research and it is very exciting to see this finally taking shape.” What exactly do you mean by that? Liz Sanders: Well, I have always felt that doing research can be very creative and this is finally beginning to happen. I see experimentation and innovation going on in research today, particularly in the “fuzzy front-end” of the development process. It is interesting because the experimentation and innovation are coming both from applied social scientists (i.e., researchers) and also from designers. These two camps tend to take very different approaches and are often at odds with one another. But if you sit in the middle you can see that a lot is being tried and lot is being learned. I call the one approach (from the social science side) research driven by information and the other approach Page 2 of 16


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(from the design side) research driven by inspiration. Both are crucial to innovation in the front-end of the design process. In addition, triangulation (the use of multiple simultaneous research methods to reveal different perspectives on a given domain) is becoming much more common. This is in contrast to the “old days” when researchers would rather argue about which method or tool was best. I am also excited by the imminent collapse of the traditional design disciplines. I clearly see this collapse and realignment coming, but I am afraid that it may be some time before it is acted upon in the universities. This change is one reason I am becoming more active now on the academic front. I agree with NextD about the need for change. I don’t know what the realignment will look like, however. There is one new path that I am still waiting to see happen. That is the idea of truly human-centered designing. I don’t believe that you can be truly human-centered until you invite the ultimate “end-user” into the process of designing with you. So much of what is talked about today under the name of co-designing or human-centered innovation is still based on the expert-driven model. Informed ethnography is just not enough to support human-centered innovation. Participatory design practices together with an attitude adjustment are needed. Experts design for people. In the future we will be designing and innovating with people, not just for them. I find that it is often difficult for people of my generation (i.e., Boomers) to understand this. The new and the next generations of designers grasp it much more quickly.

3 GK VanPatter: Understood. I can see several sticks of dynamite here, so let’s be brave and try to work with that for a few minutes. You know we are always looking for the story behind the story. Your comments above regarding the “imminent collapse and realignment of the traditional design disciplines” and the slow response from design education institutions leads to some very difficult questions that no one seems to be asking. Over the years the design education community built its own style of discourse that is still evident today in various places, including Design Issues magazine, the PhD Design List and elsewhere. For numerous years these forums were thought to represent best practice design education discourse. What is going on there from your perspective? Is this the emperors fiddling while Rome burns? The emperor’s new clothes? Or is this best practice discourse? How is it that design education has missed this massive change underway in the marketplace, but still thinks of itself and likes to position itself as leading design practice? Liz Sanders: Let me qualify my response by first describing my perspective: • • •

I am primarily a practitioner, so I value usefulness, relevance, and a future pointof-view in design discourse. I don’t subscribe to or regularly read Design Issues. I lurk on the PhD Design list when I have time.

My response is this: Practitioners are leading design practice. Design educators are leading design discourse. Of course, there are exceptions, but this is how it feels from where I sit. It would be great if there were more interaction between the two camps. So is the current design discourse useful or relevant? Yes, sometimes. I find that it Page 3 of 16


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presents an idealistic view that is good for thinking about the future. I also find value in the historical perspective that it gives me. I was not educated in design, and the list in particular provides me with a sense of what has come before and why people think it is important. Is the current design discourse accessible? No. I don’t think many designers read it. I can read and comprehend it, but I have an advanced degree in a social science so I have had a lot of practice with academic expression. One very interesting event going on now is the open reviewing process that is taking place for EAD06, the European Academy of Design’s sixth international conference. The theme this year is “the application of systemic and evolutionary approaches to design theory, design practice, design research and design education”. See: http://ead06.hfk-bremen.de/. http://ead06.hfk-bremen.de/ All the submitted abstracts are posted on the website. Reviews by anonymous reviewers are also posted. The audience (open to all) has the opportunity to comment on the abstracts as well as on the reviews. Now that decisions have been made about which abstracts to accept, full papers are going through a similar review process. It is a fascinating glimpse of this community at work. I have been involved in reviewing abstracts and/or papers for several other organizations (such as HFES and CHI). The contrast is apparent. I think the design discourse community can learn a lot about itself from opening up the process. I applaud the effort.

4 GK VanPatter: How might we explain the fact that the graduate design education community has largely missed the massive change well underway in the marketplace? Liz Sanders: I would hesitate to say they have largely missed it. Some of the programs in this community are attempting to address the change in a positive way. But I don’t see any of them leading the changes. I would say that the graduate design education community is not able to respond to the changes quickly enough to address the growing needs of the marketplace. From what I understand, it is very difficult to change old and large institutions such as universities. And it is difficult to change people’s attitudes and behavior. As constructivism in education (particularly at the graduate level) moves from rhetoric to action, we may see faster change and leading change as the next generation of design students and design faculty co-construct learning environments. How long this will take is unknown.

5 GK VanPatter: From which educational direction did you enter the field of design? What attracted you to the design business? Liz Sanders: I have undergraduate degrees in both psychology and anthropology. And a Ph.D. in Experimental and Quantitative Psychology.

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I was hired in 1981 by a design firm called RichardsonSmith (now known as Fitch) as “an experiment in interdisciplinary design� (Dave Smith, 1981). I knew nothing about the field of design at the time, but the visual nature of thinking and working was intriguing to me. I was attracted to the offer because of the challenge and ambiguity. It was already clear to me that I thought differently (i.e., much more visually) than the other graduate students in psychology.

6 GK VanPatter: Ah, yes. Those of us who have been involved in this arena for a long time will remember that years ago before the so-called dotcom bubble era, numerous international multidisciplinary design consultancies existed. I remember Fitch was among them. Some from that era are still around. Although it is still not reflected in design education today, working in a multidisciplinary way is not a particularly new phenomenon. What is new is the level of sophistication now possible. In those early days there was not a lot of sophistication around how people worked together in multidisciplinary design practice. In many sectors of design this remains true today. How did you end up at SonicRim? Liz Sanders: About five years ago, I left Fitch together with three other people from the Fitch Research and Strategy Group and together we formed SonicRim. Our aim was to focus on the early front-end of the design and development process using a wide range of research methods. Fitch is still around, by the way.

7 GK VanPatter: For those readers who are not familiar with your consultancy, can you briefly describe the focus and the value offered by SonicRim? Liz Sanders: SonicRim provides design research services to companies looking to gain a deeper understanding of the people they serve. SonicRim is known for innovative research, and has merged the disciplines of design, market research, anthropology, human factors, and psychology to bring about human-centered thinking in our client teams and in the design companies we collaborate with. SonicRim’s core offer is Research Services that support the full range of design development activities. We also offer Visioning and Co-Creating Workshops to improve organizational thinking, innovation processes, and team collaboration by developing shared visions of future opportunities.

8 GK VanPatter: I am guessing that you must work with organizations large and small. Have you seen the kinds of challenges facing your clients change in the five years since you started SonicRim?

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Liz Sanders: Yes, but we do work more with larger clients and particularly those in the “high-tech” industry. We are working a lot right now with Microsoft and Motorola. The biggest change I have noticed in the last five years is the increased freedom we are getting to understand human-driven innovation versus technology-driven innovation. And sometimes we are asked to approach the domain from both directions and compare.

9 GK VanPatter: Is most of what SonicRim does connected to human-centered product design? Liz Sanders: Human-centered yes, but it is not necessarily connected to products. We may be asked to explore an experience domain from the perspective of the needs and dreams of people with an open mind as to what the “solution” or the “innovation” might be.

10 GK VanPatter: Do you find the field of experience design to be heavily populated today? Liz Sanders: Yes, the field of experience design has grown and seems to still be growing. I have mixed feelings about this. On the positive side, it provides a much more holistic perspective from which to be designing, as opposed to the product-centric perspective of a few years back, for example. But I prefer to think of this new field as design for experiencing, not experience design. Seems like a subtle point, but it is not. You can’t design experience. People experience. Experience is a subjective phenomenon. Because I was trained as a psychologist, when I hear the phrase “experience design,” it just does not make sense. So for the negative side, I worry that designers do truly believe that experience is something they can design. I worry that they may not see that the best they can do is to design the scaffold for the experience to take place on. By building scaffolds for experiencing, we can encourage people to participate in the creation of their own experiences.

11 GK VanPatter: I find that there are many different ways to look at the experience design space. To us it is not a particularly new field. Years ago, my business partner and I met while working on a project with Nancye Green and Richard Wurman. They considered themselves to be pioneers in the realms of experience design and information architecture having worked in the space for many years, long before the Internet boom came along. We learned a lot from them. I would say that in our work today we find there are different types of scaffolds, to use your term. We like to do learning-related work, and often those experiences are more tightly knit than others. If you are designing a journey for humans to experience in a linear workshop-like way with a beginning, middle and end with specific interconnected intentions behind every exercise, sometimes even with a script, if the organization wants Page 6 of 16


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to replicate the experience globally, those scaffolds come a lot closer to designing the actual experience interactions then instances where we are just providing a black boxlike framework, or scaffolds in which humans can decide their journeys. We consider experience design to still be part of what we do, but it is not the center of our practice. At one time we were optimistic that the Advance for Design might turn into something interesting, but that seems to have gone by the wayside. We went and presented one year, but found ourselves the only ones there talking about participatory innovation skillbuilding in the context of multidisciplinary teams. We felt it was not quite where we belonged, but frankly, we have that feeling often at design conferences! I think the Advance got swallowed up by the whole branding, let’s-sell-more-cornflakes stream of logic that seems to still rule the roost over at AIGA. We saw the Advance for Design as something bigger than experience design as it seemed to have such great potential. I liked the name so much that I suggested to Ric Greffe, President of AIGA, that he change the organization’s name to Advance for Design in order to open up the strategic horizons. So this brings me to my next question. How do you feel about the way applied social scientists (i.e., researchers) are being applied to the fuzzy front-end of projects these days? Many seem to be tasked with figuring out how to sell more cornflakes or toothbrushes to end-users. What is your take on that? Liz Sanders: The skill-building journey is a good example of a scaffold. Thanks. I have to admit that I have not kept up with Advance for Design. Some years ago I was reading their website http://advance.aiga.org/expdesign/ (It looks now like they have since redesigned their website.) I was struck by this passage excerpted from the page called What is Experience Design? “The tools of the experience designer lie in software, hardware, and the ‘wetware’ of the human mind. The experience designer must combine the rigors of engineering with the inspiration of high art. He or she must become adept at the traditional skills of design, and engage in dialogue with the virtuosos in the world of social science, economics, architecture, theatre and the narrative arts.” What I took it to mean was that experience designers and those they collaborate with are the virtuosos in this new domain. In reaction, I wrote a short paper called “Virtuosos of the Experience Domain” in which I argued that the real virtuosos of the experience domain are the people who experience, not the people who design. Design for experiencing must be participatory in my opinion. I am not sure where Advance for Design stands on that issue now. But I am optimistic that change is on the way. Participatory thinking is difficult for people who have “grown up” thinking they are the experts or the virtuosos. I find that my students are far more open to new ways of thinking and designing than are many experienced design practitioners. I am glad to see that applied social scientists are being applied to the fuzzy front-end of projects these days. I think it good both for design and for social science. My sense, Page 7 of 16


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however, is that many are getting the opportunity to do generative research versus “figuring out how to sell more cornflakes or toothbrushes to end-users.” I believe that there is a lot of activity today in the product/systems domains that take advantage of applied social science to determine what to make versus how to sell it better. Maybe it is different for product design versus communication/information design. I have also been noticing lately that architecture (buildings, not information) is even farther behind in applying social science to design. But even they are showing an interest in change.

12 GK VanPatter: Well, you know those architects, always a bit slow! Tell us what you mean by social scientists conducting “generative research” in the context of design projects. Liz Sanders: OK. I am inserting a diagram to help in the explanation. I’ll enclose it, too.

The diagram shows a very simple overview of the design process in blue. The idea comes first. Then various forms of prototypes are constructed as the design progresses toward the final “product”. It is important to note that I am using the term product in a very general way. It could be an object, a system, an interface, a space, an event, etc. I have seen in practice that the research relevant for the various stages in this process are quite different, and I have been using the term “generative research” to refer to preidea research. Here are the definitions I have been using lately.

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The goals of generative research are to provide insight into the unmet needs and dreams of people, to identify new product opportunities and to provide inspiration to the design development team. The goals of evaluative research are to determine how potential users respond to a concept or a prototype and to gather the input needed for design refinement. Experiential research investigates what happens to the product once it is introduced and is being used by real people in real settings. It can reveal what value the product actually brings to people. It may also lead to new ideas. I have noticed that the evolution of design research in practice has been in this order: experiential, evaluative and now finally generative.

13 GK VanPatter: I see now. We are operating in parallel universes, SonicRim and Humantific. In our world, the activity that you describe maps to fact-finding (sometimes called discovery) that is done as we move from a fuzzy situation to more clearly defined challenges or opportunities. From our perspective, this journey from fuzzy to clear occurs not just in product development projects, but in all kinds of transformation or pattern building work. Let me think for a moment about where we connect and where we might differ here. In practice, we find ourselves less involved these days in product development (baking loaves of bread) and more involved in helping organizations build the capacity for continuous innovation (learning how to bake and building bakeries). As a result, we talk about discovery/fact-finding activity in a slightly different way, but I can see numerous connections. We would see what you are referring to here as bringing highly specialized skills to an early step in the process of innovation. What you are doing is adding significant firepower to discovery. Whether we call it science, design or design science, you are bringing robust skills and insights rather than having folks doing fact-finding in a willynilly manner. To us, ethnographic research/observation of existing conditions is a method of doing fact-finding. There are many ways and many tools to conduct discovery. The human-centered movement is creating many interesting and useful tools that can be applied in the context of innovation that many seem geared to in the earlier stages. In the work we do, it is understood that insights surfacing in discovery/fact-finding have the potential to reframe the fuzzy into something completely different from the initial assumptions. What you refer to as participatory design is opening up discovery to allow others – non-designer types – to participate and express themselves through making. I see now why you would have some concerns about the design of experience. This is creative expression and building experience activity, so you understandably want to provide the framework and the tools, not the script. I can see that one of the dimensions common to both – what you do and what we do – is the recognition, the point of view, that all humans are creative and thus have the ability to contribute to what we call the circle of innovation. At its core, our work is about widening that circle through the construction of inclusion.

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My business partner, Elizabeth Pastor, did her graduate work at Art Center where she was very interested in using the power and logic of information design to expand the learning circle. When Elizabeth was a child she often felt left outside of that circle due to the way the learning materials were constructed. In graduate school, she chose to design a learning system for kids that was much more inclusive. The irony is that when we met years ago, we were working on a giant innovation project for a Fortune 5 corporation and realized that the same phenomenon was going on in the realm of business organizations today. Materials were being constructed without inclusive awareness. We later combined the notions of inclusion, understanding and acceleration, and now apply those notions across several domains, including the construction of information fields to aid in participatory innovation acceleration. In our model there is an entire process inside the circle entitled “idea” in your diagram, and for us this is where the action is today. Let’s forget for a moment about the solving dimension of problem solving. Just figuring out what the problems and opportunities are involves high levels of skill today. This is the terrain that we gravitate to and enjoy. We see this as an area where next design, human-centered design can add a lot of value. We are optimistic that the human–centered movement will evolve to the point where it involves much more than the design of new products, as we see many needs and opportunities in organizational settings. I had to chuckle about your comment regarding students being “far more open to new ways of thinking and designing than are many experienced design practitioners.” I can appreciate this as we have many graduate students writing to us here at NextD. They are out in the community doing problem/opportunity-finding, in many cases far in advance of their faculty members and institutions. The truth is they deserve a lot of credit for helping to make change happen. Let’s talk about what the SonicRim version of generative research output might look like. Can you sight an example? Liz Sanders: Yes, we are operating in parallel universes. Your work is about the organization, with the inclusive awareness that you describe being focused on people internal to the organization. SonicRim’s work is about the product development domain (where “product” is broadly defined to include systems, space, interfaces, etc.), with inclusive awareness being focused on the people we call “end-users”. Sometimes our universes overlap. Let me explain. Because SonicRim interacts with clients in a very participatory manner (e.g., we invite them into our research process), the client organization often undergoes a transformation as a by-product of the collaboration. They begin to think and act in more human-centered ways. And every now and then I have engaged in a project primarily for the purpose of transformation of the organization, but that is not the norm. My original interest in being more inclusive in communicating and understanding began a very long time ago when I tried to understand how my younger brother could be so smart and funny, but not be able to read or write. That was before there was much Page 10 of 16


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written about dyslexia. So I have been interested in alternative ways of learning and knowing for as long as I can remember. I agree with you that everyone is creative, and if we can provide people with the appropriate tools (I will explain below), they all can participate in relevant innovation. I will explain briefly how we do generative research. I have written papers about this so I will keep the description short. Results of generative research are harder to share since most of the work we do is future-oriented and is still proprietary. Generative research relies on insights that emerge at the convergence of three perspectives: what people say, what people do and what people make. “What people say” methods come originally from market research and applied psychology. Examples include conversations, surveys, questionnaires, focus groups, etc. These methods rely on people’s willingness and ability to express themselves in words. “What people do” methods come from applied anthropology. There is a lot of interest today in this category of research methods which go under the names of ethnography, video ethnography, contextual research and so on. It is quickly becoming standard to use the “say and do” methods simultaneously to obtain better insight into the unmet needs of people. We know, for example, that what people say and what they do often does not match. It is the “what people make” methods and tools that have the potential for letting us see what people dream about and aspire toward. Dreams and aspirations aren’t revealed in what people say or what people do. In the “what people make” perspective, we give people toolkits that are made up of a wide array of simple, often visual, and usually ambiguous stimuli such as shapes, symbols, images, colors, photos, textures, words, phrases, etc., along with instructions such as “use the items in this toolkit to describe your ideal home experience.” We carefully prepare the people for such an open-ended request by having them immerse themselves in thinking and dreaming about the experience domain (i.e., home) for a week or two before the “maketool” session. After they make their ideal home experience, for example, we ask them to tell us about it. We find that the open-ended ambiguity of the maketools evoke a wide range of personal, often emotional and creative expressions. We have not had anyone who could not express herself or himself in this way. The toolkits give people a language with which they can express themselves in alternative ways. We usually use the maketools on “end-users” because we are looking for opportunities to address their unmet needs and/or dreams. This all sounds abstract in writing. Seeing pictures of the toolkits and what people have made with them is helpful. Some of the toolkits are three-dimensional, and others evoke expression and creativity over time. The name of my new company is MakeTools. I intend to explore this new design language not only as a designer, but also as a psychologist in the next few years. The maketools are a new form of prototyping that enable all of us (designers, nondesigners, end-users, clients, internal people in an organization, etc.) to participate in the earliest parts of the design process using the same language. I am curious about what kinds of ‘tools” you use.

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14 GK VanPatter: OK, let me try this from the direction of how we think first. Many of the tools that we have brought to NextD have been developed over the course of several years, first in the Innovation Acceleration Lab at Scient and then more recently at the Understanding Lab, now part of Humantific. In general, the tools and point of view models that we use have been developed in the course of doing consulting work with real organizations. To say this another way, we do a large part of our R&D work in the context of real projects. We also do a lot of scanning in the marketplace where our clients are operating so we can be aware of the kinds of challenges they face and therefore the kinds of tools they might be interested in. We bring our innovation and understanding points of view into the mix there and tend to focus around these areas. We are dot-connectors, so we see connections between many things that seem to be unconnected. For us, this is one of the key ingredients in our practice. As you well know, it takes a certain mind state to conduct research and tool development in this manner. As in many consultancies, we have always been faced with moving from the specific to the general in short order. Over the years we have become adapt at doing just that. We often do a project and afterwards extrapolate in terms of how what we just did is much larger than the specific task we were asked to undertake. Out of that reflection and visual modeling come many tools. The trick in most consultancies, as you well know, is to develop tools in such a way that you end up owning the knowledge underneath rather than the client. In many cases early use ideas might not be made into general use tools until some time after they are first developed. Sometimes we do several projects and months later see a connection between the various tools created. OK, so that is the thinking part. From a slightly different perspective I can tell you that years ago we became aware that the foundational tools we needed could no longer be found in the traditional domains of design practice. I have spent twenty-five years in multidisciplinary environments, so I was well aware of the lack of tools across multiple disciplines. To make a longer story shorter, we have for many years been constantly reaching out to thought leaders in other disciplines to learn more about what tools they use and why. In particular, we look for others who connect into the understanding and innovation space. Today we work with thought leaders in several domains and we are always looking for others. Today we find ourselves working at the intersection of several domains, design being one of them. Our toolbox at this point is a hybrid. We have what we call foundational models, as well as many extension tools that are used for specific purposes that connect back to the foundation. Often our work does involve creating specific use tools for client organizations. An important project that we did years ago for General Motors was called the Future Made Visible. We had to figure out how to take global market trends research and make it into a tool that vehicle designers working on future vehicle concepts could interact with in team settings. At GM they have design studios the size of airplane hangers. Such tools have to be more than inspirational. There is often deep content that must be conveyed in meaningful ways. On such projects our job is to create what we call whole brain information fields that humans with various information use preferences can interact with as they work on the fuzzy front-end of their design process. In that kind of project we work hand-in-hand with Page 12 of 16


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the Futurist researchers to help make their great work into something that humans can use in the pursuit of innovation. We were later asked to do a project to design the architectural interaction environments in which the tools would reside. Later we got more involved in developing problem solving skill-building experiences that humans working in teams can use while using the tools. So you can see how everything is linked together for us. We think of tools in a macro way (a building can be a tool, etc.), most often in connection with innovation acceleration, helping humans work together, helping to improve performance in one way or another. To do this work, a deep understanding of process is key. We could not do what we do with out that. Other projects fall more into the realm that you described earlier, but not related to product development. For example, we have done projects where the objective was to help an organization manifest its values. Often corporate values are written as words, but what do they really mean? What behaviors are interconnected with those values? How can we find ways to communicate those behaviors in understandable ways? To do this, we develop a workshop experience and place in the environment very simple tools: paper, markers, sketch-pads, hundreds of pages from magazines, etc. The objective is to help the participants move from words to visualizations. In the room we also place a process leader who works with the group while they construct visual representations of each value. At all times we have to know exactly where we are in process. Clients look to us for that mastery as much as the tools development. To us, this is all human-centered work, but it is very different than product development. It would be interesting to see if we could do a project together sometime. That would be fun. Let me take us back for a moment to something that you said earlier. You said “the real virtuosos of the experience domain are the people who experience, not the people who design.” You also referred to the importance of what you called “participatory design”. Let me ask you then, in the land of SonicRim, is there a difference between co-creation, participatory thinking and participatory design? Although inclusion is a big part of our own work, often what comes out of co-creation sessions with users or non-design trained humans (although very useful and informative) is quite different from what we would call refined design output. We view output from such sessions more as fact-finding, challenge-framing or even directional input related to solutions, but not refined design. In addition, final solutions often encompass considerations that the project leaders/designers are aware of, but users may be unaware of. If we use the word design to simply mean a generative mental and hand activity, then such user session output could be considered design. Is this more general generative definition of design what you mean when you say the virtuosos are the users? Liz Sanders: Thanks for that explanation. I would be very interested in some day seeing the models and tools that you use and/or collaborating on a project. Page 13 of 16


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Science in the Making

A research interest that I intend to pursue with MakeTools (the name of my new company) is the use and evolution of very rough, early and fast forms of prototyping that are emerging across the design domains today. I use the term “prototyping” to refer to all forms of physical and visual manifestations of ideas. The new forms of prototyping seem to be emerging much more quickly in some domains (interaction design) than in others (architecture). I see that the participatory design toolkits that I use in practice are a means for everyone (i.e., users, clients, other stakeholders) to contribute directly in the design development process by “making” and prototyping, particularly in the generative phase. You asked, “Is there a difference between co-creation, participatory thinking and participatory design?” These terms are closely related. My use of them is such that co-creation is an extreme form of participatory design. The diagram below might help. It shows the evolution of labels we have been using over the last 20 to 30 years to refer to the people we are serving as designers. Co-creator is at the top of the evolutionary path.

Participatory design (PD) includes the relevant stakeholders as participants in the development process. PD can take many different forms and can occur at many different points along the product development process. I see it today taking place more often at the fuzzy front-end, but it is not always followed through along the entire process (often due to time and cost constraints). Co-creation is participatory design in which all the relevant stakeholders are direct participants in the process throughout the entire process. The role of the non-designer participants will change throughout the process. For example, when the idea has been embodied in a visual and semi-functional prototype, the potential end-users would be involved in usability testing the prototype rather than doing design refinements. “Participatory thinking” is not a concept that I have used. It seems to me that participation

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NextD Journal I ReRethinking Design Conversation 13

Science in the Making

requires more than thinking about it. It requires doing. You wrote, “If we use the word design to simply mean a generative mental and hand activity, then such user-session output could be considered design. Is this more general generative definition of design what you mean when you say the virtuosos are the users?” I am saying that the virtuosos of the experience domain are the people who experience, not the people who say they “design experience”. I am not implying that everyday people are virtuosos of design. My point is that designers can at most influence only a small portion of experience since so much of it comes from the past experiences and future dreams of everyday people. Designers are still the virtuosos of the design development process. But that is quickly changing. (I agree that we are not preparing design students for the changes ahead). In the years to come, designers can either attempt to own the design development process (and keep non-designers out of it), or they can open it up and work collectively with others in redefining designing. The second option seems to me to be the most exciting challenge. How can designers use their expertise and intuition to spark, harness and guide the collective creativity of others? The second option is, in my opinion, inevitable and imminent.

15 GK VanPatter: I wish we had more time. There is a lot we could talk about that connects tool making, co-creation and the emerging demands of design leadership today. Perhaps you will come back so we can do Part 2 of this conversation? Are you familiar with the realm of distributed cognition? It is a way of thinking about cocreation, problem solving and tool making that you would appreciate, I think. Derrick De Kerckhove, Director of the McLuhan Program, introduced me to this territory and I have found many things to connect into there. Derrick has been working in the realm of connected intelligence for many years. (See NextD Journal, Issue 2.) Based on our conversation here and the fact that you liked the book Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future, I think you would appreciate the book Distributed Cognitions, Psychological and Educational Considerations, edited by Gavriel Soloman. It is more tool-focused than Presence. We hope to have some of the contributors as future guests. Presence reminded me a lot of The Celestine Prophecy written several years ago by James Redfield. In the same vein, but more recently, I found Six Degrees, The Science of a Connected Age by Duncan Watts and Linked: How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What it Means by Albert-Laszio Barabasi to be useful. As you well know, there is a lot out there in the world that seems to be converging. We love all of the connections being made, and all for the good hopefully. In closing, I will turn the floor over to you for your final thoughts on where you see generative research going? In five years from now, what kinds of work do you hope to be doing? Liz Sanders: Thanks for the pointers on the books! And yes, I am open for Part 2 in the future. I have enjoyed our conversation.

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Where do I see generative research going? I see generative research changing the shape of design space. In fact, I see multiple design spaces evolving and emerging in this order: 1. 2. 3. 4.

Design for consuming (this is where we are today) Design for experiencing (this is where we are exploring) Design for adapting Co-creation

I think we will see all these design spaces simultaneously co-exist. We will need to prepare design students for a much more challenging situation. What might I be doing in five years? I would like to be conducting two types of research on the new tools and methods for co-creation: 1. Psychological research to understand how people use the tools, and 2. Design research to explore new tools and methods most useful for practitioners. My dream is also to have opportunities to apply the results of this research while working with those institutions and organizations that are most in need of generative tools and methods. Those that come to mind right now include healthcare and education. So far, generative tools and methods are being used by those organizations (i.e., companies) most able to afford generative research. I hope this changes in the future. I’ll close with a quote. “People need not only to obtain things, they need above all the freedom to make things among which they can live, to give shape to them according to their own tastes, and to put them to use in caring for and about others.” Ivan Illich, Tools for Conviviality, 1973.

NextD Journal RERETHINKING DESIGN

NextDesign Leadership Institute DEFUZZ THE FUTURE! www.nextd.org Questions: Please direct all questions to journal@nextd.org Follow NextD Journal on Twitter: www.twitter.com/nextd

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Science in the Making: Understanding Generative Research Now!