Archive for the ‘Design’ category

End of Design (as we know it)

April 18, 2008

So suggests Phillippe Starck, as reported by Allison Arieff in the NYT. Maybe this is a good thing to acknowledge – Design “as we know it” is what we would call Design 1.0. Making things cool and beautiful for consumers to buy and cherish. The design revolution of late capitalism has been largely consumer status-based, in my opinion, and is not reflective of a new American aestheticism. Design “Within Reach” epitomizes this for me – it is certainly not within the reach of an average consumer, yet, so the function of  design” remains that of strangemaking (as van Patter likes to call it). Selling distinction and uniquenesses.

In the future, promises Starck, “there will be no more designers.” And by extension, no more stuff! Now, that’s a surefire way to reduce one’s carbon footprint. (Will Starck now join the Designers Accord?) As is Starck’s prediction that the designer of the future is “a personal coach, the gym trainer, the diet consultant.” So not only will we consume less stuff (because no one is designing it), we’ll consume less food, too. Brilliant!

Design 2.0 is the most recent shift – to what we see as intentional, designed improvements, often cleanly functional and usable, that facilitate performance in life and work. Everything from Oxo kitchen tools, Aeron chairs, BWM cockpit displays, the best websites. The 2.0 trend has been with us since Tom Peters’ missives of the mid-90’s, and Don Norman’s popular books of the same time – which called attention to the qualities of the designed environment in everyday life, and the value of improving products and services to satisfy users and customers. While Design 2.0 overlaps the consumer-oriented design of 1.0, Design 2.0 serves the balance of function and usability, and less about the artifact as fetish object.

These waves of design practice and object, all called Design of course, strike me as explained by McLuhan’s media theories. As we culturally and cognitively saturate a media type, a new one grows up around it and subsumes it to accommodate the higher bandwidth necessary to manage the ever-increasing complexity. McLuhan’s Tetrad concept shows how a technology trend obsolesces and replaces the one before it, but then becomes “retrieved” later as a re-envisioned or even mythological expression. The Tetrad shows up in  the inquiry into Design by asking:

  • What does any (artifact or system) enlarge or enhance?
  • What does it erode or obsolesce?
  • What does it retrieve that had been earlier obsolesced?
  • What does it reverse or flip into when pushed to the limits of its potential?

Design 1.0 is replaceable by Art and personal craftsmanship, which is a retrieval of pre-Design 1.0 culture. Having artists in my families (mother Betsy and wife Patricia), I’m surrounded by the personal design of unique artifacts, and designed objects are selected sparingly in our homes. We have no desire for Design 1.0, except for certain “mythological” artifacts.  Design 2.0 becomes invisible after a good run of experience with it.  We expect all websites to be as usable as, and MP3 players to be as cool as the iPod. It is the baseline. Design 3.0 runs ahead of us … and is that which is transforming the object of designing.

But not the practice, just yet. Design 3.0 is best considered a verb, and is not a new field of design. More a different way of being about design, which leads thinking, which then leads practice. Keep checking back, this is likely to change.


The persistent persona

January 26, 2008

I have to admit not getting the fuss about personas. With a raft of new UX books out in recent years, including 2 books on personas in 2006 alone, I am always amused at the extent to which we (in UX, but also in design generally) believe we must re-invent everything. As if its better than some previous generation.

Personas are tools for describing the users attending to the products and services we are designing for. They are basically user profiles, succinct depictions of the salient characteristics of a given user type. Personas capture a set of meaningful properties around a given user categoru, with a name and fictitious background that personalizes it as a representation of a customer.

They have somehow become a big deal. Forrester conducted an international consultant’s study on the best practices in personas in 2007, and now they even offer a persona design course. There are blogs just about personas, such as this one that promotes the Forrester study.

Scott Berkun’s (oops – Joshua Porter’s, of course – and thanks for visiting, that’s one more thing I did not know about you!) So Joshua’s recent discussion about personas (and designing for yourself) spurs my title question, and answers it. I agree with most of what he’s saying, and he outlines a kind of essential history and context of personas which is worth reading, (and if it were in fact the only thing you would read on personas). And he switches from taking on personas as a communication tool within the design team to the notion of the designer finding their own empathy for the user, persona or no-persona. And that essentially designers can design for themselves if so enlightened (which they always have anyway, and often do a very good job if they know the domain). But designers don’t need the personas for themselves – maybe I missed this (it is a long piece) – but designers construct personas for everyone else, and then continue with design work after having wowed the team with their bit of research presented in persona format.

As far as the axioms of designing for yourself, it depends. It seems people in UX are often not trained in Human Factors, or understand the psychology of tacit knowledge. You cannot do knowledge elicitation on yourself, and you cannot measure your own responses to interaction. If you are considering product design, it helps to have separation and empathic understanding. If you are a designer, you are NOT an expert in your user’s work practice, but you can become a kind of participant observer if you are a good researcher. I design for doctors sometimes – I’m not a doctor, but have learned a lot about their work practice and everyday drivers and constraints. So I advocate research-design cycles so that designers can learn over time.

I also quibble with the provenance of Alan Cooper as the formulator of the method. As with everything in UX, there were many historical priors. Cooper only appropriated the the term persona, as part of a best-selling book. We called them User Profiles for many years (those years before Alan transformed from Visual Basic guru to UCD/UX guru). We all adapt tools of the trade. So it seems in UX, everything is new again, all the time. But as kids of the 80’s, some of us “invented” User Profiles because we needed them, and we used them to describe representative users in sufficient detail to support design rationale arguments to developers and product managers. I don’t recall ever using them as major design artifacts though – and they were and are communications tools. To promote them as more seems to demote other methods that we ignore in our attempts to perfect personas. Just look around – How many personas have you seen with well-developed user scenarios describing an ecologically valid use situation? Now that’s something useful.

Sorry to be such a curmudgeon, but that’s what blogs are for. I suggest that the fascination with personas is a way of elevating our methods to an importance they don’t deserve, perhaps just because they are so simple and representative. After all, they are a tool our internal customers in marketing actually understand about our UX deliverables. Try explaining activity theory to them, and framing the user in their context of social activity. They will ask us to stick with the personas, no doubt.

Finally, we should recognize that in order to publish something (like another book or post that promotes personas) we have to create some differences, otherwise there’s no real contribution. But if we have nothing new to say, why print more books about personas? Blogs are a more ecologically sound approach anyway. The fields comprising user experience are starting to feel like electronica genres, with their dozens of nuanced categories that only DJs care about. I know, breakbeat is very different from broken beat, but who cares, if you just want to dance! So let’s dance! (And when you’re in Dayton or Toronto, come dance with us).

Dialogue as Participatory Design

November 3, 2007

(Insert standard excuses for blog slipping here).

Torch Partner Robin Uchida hosted the second year of Juice Dialogues at Ontario College of Art and Design, October 25-27. Wit the theme of Making the Invisible Visible, I kicked off the Friday night session, followed by Gary Gray, founder of Carder Gray agency. I was delighted to accept an invitation to present, as well as participate in the open dialogues with faculty, students, and design community professionals like myself. This is the kind of exploratory educational venue all universities should hold regularly, and the type of informal program design schools in particular need. Provocative presentations with Q&A, followed by a circle of dialogue for everyone who stayed on, hosted by insightful, caring facilitators that easily generated the space for listening and understanding to emerge. Each night’s dialogue lasted well over an hour, and afterward, I physically felt energized, inspired, and buzzed, like I had been at a great party.

My talk was on Dialogue as Participatory Design (see on Slideshare), which is my first attempt at integrating the concepts of structured dialogue as participatory design for social systems and public domain issues. While I”m sure we could use which have many stakeholders and where no single “answer” is possible. a way of facilitated design thinking with stakeholder groups holding a complex problem in common. While we at the Agoras Institute and at the Blogora wiki have written books and pages about SDD as a model of participatory design and decision making, we have not shared these ideas with designers who practice Participatory Design as a school of design. I have not seen similar tools employed in transformation design practices yet either, but perhaps unstructured dialogue is preferred for front end conceptualization of problems. I would like to know what the experiences are of other design teams that have employed facilitate dialogic methods in problematizing, conceptual design, scenario planning, or even in visual sensemaking and generative ideation.

Here’s a brief summary of the concepts from the talk:

A participatory design approach based on structured dialogic design is presented. Dialogic design represents a developing perspective toward design for complex or techno-social systems where stakeholders must own the design planning, solutions, and take responsibility for action. Where participatory design methods engage “users” in design play and process as a generative design approach for creating the right products, dialogic design requires participants’ deep contribution to the outcome of the designed solution or service itself. Think of the significant need to involve community stakeholders in transformative solutions for public policy, transportation, urban planning, or infrastructure. Consider the need to involve medical practitioners and even patients in healthcare delivery or service solutions. Consider dialogic design a means of radically democratic design, guided by principles such as requisite variety, requisite learning, and requisite authenticity.