Archive for June 2007

Seeing Things

June 27, 2007

After about a month of dialogue with Bob Goodman and Eric Reiss, facilitated artfully by GK VanPatter, the NextD Journal publishes our ramblings as “Things you See.” A “brief” excerpt gives you a flavor for my bits:

Looking at the evolution of practices which we play into, I see several converging trends that originated from quite different inspirations: Information Architecture, Design 3.0, Innovation management, and organizational transformation. These are not inherently related trends, but have become interconnected now from the conversations WE have about these issues. Our communities of practice have brought these trends together, not businesses or authors in the research literature. We are creating new design ecologies within our own practices turning the focus of design from the product or service both to the user and back into the organization itself. As GK implies, this is not about creating a new design focus, a new What. Good design practice has always been about evolving the tools or How to’s, as an extension of interdisciplinary design thinking.

Design practice should also embrace and reach mastery of other thinking, research, and creative skills that are not being touched upon in d-schools or Boxes and Arrows. We should be learning and skillfully applying complementaries: organizational design, decision-making, dialogue, strategic scenario planning, work domain analysis, and other macro tools – but we risk losing credibility and leadership if we merely add practices to the portfolio.

Organizations and people’s work practices have their own life cycle and dynamics and are not “designed” by a small team making sketches on the whiteboard or in prototypes. It changes your design role, perhaps forever, to do these complementary design activities well. But to try but not do them well hazards risk to project and client. As with other related competencies, such as field research or project management, we must develop a sense of the environment, and know when to extend the team with deep competencies, and not just extend ourselves as post-disciplinarians (like ourselves perhaps?) As we would not accept a weak designer on a project team, we might not accept a good designer as a strategic analyst. We still need strong competencies, especially as interdisciplinary practitioners.

Design practice evolved in the tradition of following the lead of a defined desirable state, whether structured from a brief, a client proposal, or a value proposition emerging from a prior context such as a product line or user need. I say all design IS redesign, of something. True human needs are very enduring – it is difficult to conceive of a design proposition not derived from a related prior need, something currently supported by other means. We should be very good at this by now.

But we are facing the prospect of removing the imposed frame, designing in uncertainty, and creating better frames that better serve the need. This opens a huge new set of opportunities for future practice, but requires us to innovate collectively, not individually – uncertainty calls for the participation and design thinking of all stakeholders in the space. Not just collaboration or participatory design for a better product/service, but in the collective re-envisioning of the very need for a given artifact, its structure and form, the needs we believe to exist in the world, or the installed base or prior artifacts.


Axel Enzo Kambitsch Jones 1994-2007

June 25, 2007

After returning from a chilled out week in Maine (Port Clyde and Acadia), then a week or so in our Toronto home, we returned to a rapidly dying pussycat. He was not noticeably sick before leaving June 1st, he was still catching and eating chipmunks, but by the 17th was hurting and edemic. Axel has been a constant, delightful companion for 13 years, since inheriting him from Steve Price at Keenan Body Shop, the shop that turned out the 914/6 Monterey, in 1993, that’s now for sale. Axel was a shop cat, and imprinted on the cars as much as he did the others pets Steve kept around the shop grounds. He always loved cars, just like Axel in the Fletcher Hurd book Steve’s son Robbie gave us almost 10 years ago (Axel, The Freeway Cat). Axel Enzo was a car cat. He sampled the ferrous compounds from nearly every visitor’s car’s brake rotors, a bad substance abuse habit he picked up in his kitten year in Northridge at the shop.


We spent the last week with Axel and enjoyed his company, but could not let him suffer any longer. Goodbye Axel, you were a cool cat, we loved you.

Richard Rorty: A favorite philosopher leaves us

June 12, 2007

You would not have known from the US-based media, but one of America’s most thoughtful, insightful, brilliant minds left us last week. Richard Rorty, at age 75, author of many readable,influential works: Old-school patriotic liberal philosophy (Achieving our Country) and of rigorous probing our ways of being human in the postmodern era (Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity).

While the US media has not covered Rorty with sufficiency due this extraordinary philosopher of solidarity, Europe mourns his loss. Living philosopher of Communicative Action reknown, Jurgen Habermas reflects on Rorty’s life and contributions on How did we learn this news? From the Signandsight site, whose editor Naomi Buck was a panelist at last night’s panel discussion held at Toronto’s Goethe Institute. And we are, of course, in Canada. It has taken longer for the word to spread in his own US, but respectful posts have appeared on Huffington.

Rorty is best remembered by witnessing his own words: Moral insight “is a matter of imagining a better future, and observing the results of attempts to bring that future into existence.”

And from his writings, such as Trotsy and the Wild Orchids that Habermas cites:

So much for how I came to the views I currently hold. As I said earlier, most people find these views repellent. My Contingency book got a couple of good reviews, but these were vastly outnumberedby reviews which said that the book was frivolous, confused andirresponsible. The gist of the criticisms I get from both left and right is pretty much the same as the gist of the criticisms aimed at Dewey by the Thomists, the Straussians and the Marxists, back in me 1930s and 1940s. Dewey thought, as I now do, that there was nothing bigger, more permanent and more reliable, behind our sense of moral obligation to those in pain than a certain contingent historical phenomenon – the gradual spread of the sense that the pain of others matters, regardless of whether they are of the same family, tribe, colour, religion, nation or intelligence as oneself. This idea, Dewey thought, cannot be shown to be true by science, or religion or philosophy – at least if ‘shown to be true’ means ‘capable of being made evident to anyone, regardless of background’. It can only be made evident to people whom it is not too late to acculturate into our own particular, late-blooming, historically contingent form of life.

Goodbye Richard, and Godspeed to you, atheist that behaved and advocated all the original Christian virtues. After the fall and renewal of today’s most corrupted institutions, we can hope for a more reflective era where people will understand your clear and much-needed moral advocacy.