My colleague Jason Toal’s recent blog post on visual thinking exercises inspired me to take the Four Icon Challenge and capture the core ideas from How Things Shape the Mind, Lambros Malafouris’s facinating interdisciplinary exploration of cognitive archeology and material engagement theory.
I discovered Malafouris’ work through Jonathan Bean, Bernardo Figueredo and Hanne Larsen’s fascinating paper at EPIC 2017 on Material Engagement Theory and branding gestalt research.
What is ironic about me completing this exercise using icons from the Noun Project is that one of Malafouris’s core arguments is that conventional semiotics reifies representation and privileges human intention over systematic, dynamic explanations of meaning.
For fun, I am participating in Design1o1 Redux, a MOOC that introduces basics of contemporary design. I’ve never been that successful as a student in MOOCs before because of the implicit time commitment they demand and, to be blunt, the poor quality of instructional design.
What I like about Design 1o1 is that the MOOC is playful, creative, and almost entirely based on the open Internet and through social media, mostly on Instagram but also on Twitter. One of the challenges we have in British Columbia is that the Freedom of Information and Privacy laws are particularly strict about sharing personal information across borders, so I it would be challenging for a BC university to pursue such an open approach without wrestling with informed consent and forms.
What I am learning in Design1o1 Redux so far is how to use my iPhone as an instrument for creative expression and design research. I can see how this will be useful not only as I continue to take countless pictures of Megan and Claire but also as I dive more deeply into design research. One of the assignments I had last week prompted me to start thinking how I might use my phone and a few APPS to document service walkthrough and user journeys easily.
I will have more to say about my learning experience as time goes by. You can follow my progress on Instagram.
What is your take on MOOCs? What have you learned by participating in them? How have you learned to persist?
When I was floundering about in graduate school, I read “Aramis or the love of technology” cover to cover. At the time, I was obsessed by the then state-of-the-art ASRS automated materials storage system that had just been installed at the heart of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre at UBC. Now, of course you can find automated, miniature sorting and retrieval systems at public libraries, and Amazon’s warehousing and delivery systems are Things of public legend:
My first steps into ANT were to ponder mediation, affordances, and the classic Engstrom activity theory model with Mary Bryson.
That led me to think about the assemblage of scholars, librarians, research knowledge artefacts, research libraries, giant climate-controlled storage environments, retrieval robots, computer networks, and the software that connects them. I even delved into the military-industrial history of the development of automated storage by the RAND corporation in the glorious, Modern 50s.
Which brings me to “Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory“. The book presents Latour’s explanation of the basic premises and implications of Actor-Network Theory. Its object is social science in general, and sociology in particular. Latour presents a methodology of activity-network theory. It is a history of ANT and a history of the Science Wars from the 1990s. Strangely, reading Latour brought be back to sitting at my parents’ kitchen table in 1996 as an English undergraduate, listening to an “As it Happens” interview about the Sokal Affair and those long-ago attacks on postmodernism.
I am struck by the sorts questions that Latour offers as a heuristic for courageous analysts to follow:
What controversies? What actants? Where do they lead?
“Where are the structural effects actually being produced” (p.174)
“in which movie theatre, in which exhibit gallery is […The Big Picture…] shown? Through which optics is it projected? To which audience is it addressed? (p.187)
“In which room? In which panorama? Through which medium? With which stage manager? How much?” (p.189)
“How is the local itself being generated?” (p.192)
“Where are the other vehicles that transport individuality, subjectivity, personhood, and interiority?” (p.206)
What form “allows something else to be transported from on site to another?” (p.222)
What happens upstream and downstream of the situation where subject and object arise? (p.237)
I doubt many people outside of academia will want to read this book but it offers a masterclass in how to question the most basic assumptions that most people take for granted, particularly society, culture, nature, science and politics.
Students of higher education will enjoy how Latour uses the example of a university professor lecturing in a lecture hall to explore how cognitive abilities assemble and are shaped by the scripts, forms, capabilities, and materials.
Despondent graduate students wrestling with theses can take solace from Latour’s perspective on academic writing. In a nutshell, write the 40,000 words and move on to the next challenge. One text does not a career make. Academics can also learn a lot from Latour about writing. Even though his text is complex, Latour is also entertaining, self-aware and humorous.
Thoughtful designers may want to consider Latour’s analysis of the relation between local, global and context in connection with the recent practical scholarship on context for post-thing design. For example, part of me wants to reconsider Andrew Hinton’s “Understanding Context“, Resmini and Rosati’s “Pervasive Information Architecture” and Thomas Wendt’s “Design for Dasein” with Latour in mind. If the aim of service and strategic design is to co-create pervasive information architectures and meaningful assemblages of digital and embodied experiences, then should one deploy, stabilize, and compose the social in the context of design before designing solutions or platforms. Furthermore, reading Latour made me wonder what ANT might offer design for social innovation. social innovation should embrace concepts like cosmopolitan-localism and rely on “sociologists of the social”, as Ezio Manzini suggests.
If the aim of service and strategic design is to co-create pervasive information architectures and meaningful assemblages of digital and embodied experiences, then should one deploy, stabilize, and compose the social present the context of design before designing solutions or platforms?
The collection offers a wide-ranging set of essays, research articles, and case studies. What I enjoyed most about the collection was the range of contexts it explores: everyday micro-interactions with commonplace objects like a tea kettle (Grimaldi), urban public spaces (Rajendran, Walker and Parnell), eating situations (Sommer et al.), and festivals (Strandvad and Pederson). Most of the studies were short enough to be read in a brief sitting, so after the deep dives that Thomas Wendt and Andrew Hinton’s Understanding Context offered me, this collection offered a fast-paced, high-level survey.
I’ve already started experimenting with one of frameworks presented and extended in the book: Grimaldi’s adaptation of Desmet and Hekkert’s “Framework of Product Experience”, which proposes that experience can vary on four dimensions:
I’m starting to experiment with using these dimensions as a point of departure in conversations about designing learning experiences. The categories are intuitive, and, in retrospect, I realize that aesthetic experience includes interactions with objects, things and other material elements in the learning setting.
Rajendran et al.’s chapter on how people experience urban public settings prompted me to wonder about how learning might be orchestrated in new and novel ways in the very constrained setting of large, front-facing lecture halls. Might there be creative, inexpensive ways of creating spaces within the room? Many years ago, I interviewed SFU mathmatics education professor Peter Liljedahl and he shared an anecdote about how he uses construction tape to direct student flows. This chapter also probes why people value particular spaces.
The final chapter that has stuck with me is Tara Mullaney’s case study of her design education intervention to disrupt design students’ tendency to adopt a problem-solving mindset rather than to search for transformative solutions to existing experiences. Working in the context of transforming the interaction between a bank and it customers, Mullaney had student do a one day design sprint to externalize an initial complete design and then mid-project had the group collectively ideate alternative concepts to interweave a personal finance and banking concern. I appreciated how this chapter questioned the dominant logic of observational and user research. It made me wonder how collective brainstorming across disciplinary and educational knowledge domains (e.g.workplace business practice + higher education) might produce learning experience designs that transform learning experiences.
There is a lot of rich material in this collection and I anticipate returning to the first section on phenomenology and other theoretical perspectives over time.
What are you reading on experience design and how has it shaped your practice?
Thomas Wendt’s Design for Dasein was an affirming book for me to read. The text sits at the interface of many of my passions: continental philosophy, design, literary theory, learning and discernment, service, embodiment.
When I was in graduate school enacting the flậneur, I read David Sudnow’s amazing account of learning Jazz improvisation, Ways of the Hand, which was my introduction to phenomenology. Don’t ask me why I read that book or how I came across it. At the time, I was following my curiosity. Around the same time, and thanks in large part to two remarkable seminars with Mary Bryson, I was exposed to the work of Bruno Latour, Yrgo Engstrom, Brain Massumi, Elizabeth Ellsworth, and Dorothy Smith. Towards the end of my time at UBC, I delved into the literature on education and embodiment and affect theory. (Silvan Tomkins is still my favourite thinker from affect theory in particular.) What ties all this reading together, I can now see, are concerns centred around around the design of experiences, particularly learning experiences, and the assemblage of human and non-human actants into webs of significance. Wendt reviews Heidegger’s foundational concepts on design and technology and extends his framework into some wicked, contemporary post-phenomenology thinkers and concepts like Don Idhe’s thought on multistability and the difference between objects and things. Overall, Wendt’s text has helped me to is to integrate disparate intellectual threads from my past and to point me into some new directions.
What I appreciate about this book is that contextualizes service design in relation to other design fields like experience design, user experience design, and industrial design, and it offers a critical, balanced perspective on design thinking.
Design for Dasein is generating a lot of talk on Twitter amongst designers and researchers I respect. Others are better placed to position its contribution to design theory and practice that I. But I admire Wendt for resisting the trend in design books to focus on rational-technical, how-to methods or case studies. Instead, Wendt has written a book that offers insights that can inform academics, design research, and practitioners alike.
Collective Genius presents ethnographic studies of innovation in leading organizations including Pixar, Volkswagen, eBay, Google.
The range of case studies the book addresses is one of its main assets. Readers’ curious about how Pixar makes animated blockbusters or how Google handles its need for massive storage city will enjoy the deep and rich descriptions.
At the heart of the book is a framework of principles that capture the interpersonal and organizational conditions that make innovation possible:
What I like most about the book is how it blends rich description from formal case studies, evidence and concepts from academic research, and practice principles and frameworks that managers and leaders can adapt and experiment with at work.
Service designers and design thinking consultants will find the frameworks in Collective Genius useful tools for taking stock of the organizational cultural practices. The principles might enable cross-functional innovation teams assess the conditions and readiness for innovation work. As you may have noticed, the ideas of creative abrasion, creative agility and creative resolution share some similarities to Roger Martin’s ideas on abductive reasoning in The Opposable Mind.
Leadership team coaches, particularly those interested in advancing models of co-creation of value with stakeholders will appreciate the discussion of principles and paradoxes that underlie high performance collaboration.
Learning and development professionals interested in social learning should pay attention to the case studies on Volkswagen and Pixar. The Volkwagen case addresses how to create community amongst siloed, fragmented units, and to instil collaboration towards a common purpose. The initial Pixar case, which opens the book, explores how Pixar enables exceptionally creative workers with diverse skill sets to work together a common shared purpose and to enact shared values. The book will challenge the learning and development community’s focus the psychology and behaviour of the individual work.
Dark matter, service ecosystems, and outside-in thinking — How might service design disrupt dominant logics in educational development?
Pragmatic educational developers interested in enabling meaningful learning experiences and organizational change can learn from service design, a design movement that is reshaping institutions and organizations worldwide and driving social innovation.