Design Strategy


Design Strategy

The ability to influence corporate strategy and portfolio planning based on deep understanding and analysis of consumer, technology and market/industry trends, and translating insights and strategies into tangible and compelling product directions through visualization. Sets direction and targets for design and plans design activities to reach goals.

Why do I blog this? Notes to self.

Innovation and Design

Roberto Verganti’s Design-Driven Innovation, a business book on how “firm’s” can participate in larger networks of design discourse in order to achieve radically innovative stuff. Mostly an argument with a three-step “how-to” addressed chiefly to executives. An intriguing argument with a fistful of examples presented over and over to drive these points home. In the “good” column, I would say that it is not bad to have (another) book addressed to (potentially) skeptical executives who are more motivated by features and bottom line bill-of-materials/profit/margin sorts of things. On the “m’eh” column, I would say that the book, like most business books, simplifies the really curious, intriguing and fun challenges of leading an organization that has fiduciary and legal responsibilities to make as much money as it can; that has cultures that are led chiefly by engineering and accounting; that thinks design is putting lovely curves around rectangular circuit boards; &c; &c; It would be a much more interesting read to hear the knotty, thorny challenges of design-led innovation. Rather than the “pat” case studies, I would like to have more of a deep/thick investigation of what happens really when one leads with design. It’s more than partying with the well-known, hipster designers Verganti highlights.

I’m reading two books at once, a dangerous thing to do because one is always interpreted alongside the other, changing what it may have been and my perspective, necessarily. But, in hindsight I would say that I am doing this on purpose. One of the books is Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies) by Bruno Latour, which I am reading for the second time. The other book is Design Driven Innovation: Changing the Rules of Competition by Radically Innovating What Things Mean by Roberto Verganti, which I only bought because of the suggestive, business-y title and because business books are things I can make short work of during a 5 hour airplane flight. You know — they basically tell you everything you discover in the title, and then repeat it for no more than 200 or 250 pages, only with snap-to-grid, spic-and-span examples.

* Skip right on past my rambling to my executives’ summary *

What could be the relationship between a noted sociologist-of-associations and a tailored-suit-with-french-cuffs-wearing business professor / management consultant? Perhaps nothing useful. But, one of the roughly constructed graphics in Verganti’s book resonated with Latour’s notion of the collective — and it was even described as a drawing of “a collective research laboratory” — and being a good Latourian, I had to follow the links in my head. These are just some sticky-notes between these two books and my own interest in the role of design in changing things, as well as the ways that organizations can be led by design sensibilities or design studios, rather than engineering efforts and accounting principles. Both are things that are lurking below the surface of these two books, Verganti more explicitly than Latour.
Continue reading Innovation and Design

Pastiche, Scenarios, Design, Communication


While rummaging through a stack of things read and to-be re-read, I came back across this curious paper by Mark Blythe and Peter Wright called “Pastiche Scenarios: Fiction as a Resource for Experience Centred Design”. I believe I was referred to while deep into this business of “design fiction.” It describes an approach to design that employs scenarios that draw from pre-existing stories, particularly stories that have characters whose sensibilities, styles, quirks, etc., are well-rehearsed in the larger cultural milieu. You know — existing players from existing stories. The full design fiction production notes come from the things I learn from clever story tellers who actually do design fiction. Combining props as fictional design objects that are almost secondary to the experience that people have — like Hitchcock’s Macguffin’s that move a story forward, but now the story also has fleshed out fictional characters who have a large set of pre-existing attributes put together in a way that only a good story teller could accomplish.

I find this quite intriguing, particularly because most of the user scenarios or user segmentation models and demographic architectures rely on quite flat personas. They are not really people so much as database files of characteristics, demographics, and rather flat “marketing” grammars — the kind of car they are likely to drive, career aspirations, disposable incomes. This sort of thing.

As opposed to this, the idea of using an existing character to fill out the design thinking exercises may not produce better design, but it may produce more effective design communication. This is mostly what I am thinking about here — mechanisms for communicating an idea. This to me is not about strategies for devising clever new experiences — crackerjack designers should be able to do this from their own experiences and capabilities which is what makes a crackerjack designer crackerjack. It may be that bad design comes from poor design instincts. But it likely also comes from poor communication of intent and sensibility, which results in the loss of integrity and foundational principles of a design, which gets mucked up in the execution. Which includes all the objectives that cloud that integrity, such as, for example, accounting and profit principles.

From Pastiche scenarios: fiction as a resource for experience centred design.

Rather than attempt to write strong character-based scenarios from scratch we have looked to re-use characters from existing fictions. Characters such as Ebenezzer Scrooge and Bertie Wooster Bridget Jones and Renton from Trainspotting. This has the advantage of drawing on readers’ shared knowledge of already familiar characters thereby recruiting a pre-existing rich understanding of the character-users and the use context. If you have read Dickens’ Christmas Carol or Bridget Jones’s diary you will have an understanding of these characters and be able to envision how they would respond to new and novel situations. This is so because giving the reader such an understanding is precisely the point of a well-written novel. If you have not read these novels there are so many other cultural representations of the characters in film and television that they will still resonate. And if you have never seen any of them they are strong enough on the page to make an impression at first reading.

Pastiche scenarios can be used as rhetorical devices for design – to convince and persuade and to make apparent assumptions and values around the design and use of technology. They can also be used to explore emotional, social and political contexts of use. Characters in fiction can occasionally surprise their own authors..When characters with as much depth and richness..are recruited to scenarios they might also surprise and inform designers. The use of complex, rounded characters may also create ambiguity which, as Gaver et all (2003) note, can lead to new design challenges and insights.

Related of course is critical design in the sense of creating provocations, to stir discussion and consideration of things, although critical design does not have as its primary purpose the creation of things.

Critical design is related to haute couture, concept cars, design propaganda, and visions of the future, but its purpose is not to present the dreams of industry, attract new business, anticipate new trends or test the market. Its purpose is to stimulate discussion and debate amongst designers, industry and the public about the aesthetic quality of our electronically mediated existence. It differs too from experimental design, which seeks to extend the medium, extending it in the name of progress and aesthetic novelty. Critical design takes its medium social, psychological, cultural, technical and economic values, in an effort to push the limits of lived experience not the medium. This has always been the case in architecture, but design is struggling to reach this level of intellectual maturity. [Design Noir: The Secret Life of Electronic Objects]

Critical design would seem to be preliminary to the communication, to stir conversations that help yield some insights into the design itself.

Why do I blog this? Rehearsing strategies for communicating the intent of designed things using something other than bullet points and four-quadrant graphics and up-and-to-the-left graphs. But I also wonder how these two curious practices can come together in a fruitful way. Current mood: Hopeful.

Overlap 09

Saturday July 25, 15.08.18

Saturday July 25, 11.12.59

This weekend, I was at this un-conference, event, workshop called The Overlap in the misty Pacific Grove along the coast of California near Monterey. It’s a mix of designers and self-described business types and some who were both, mixing it up with a variety of loosely structured “technologies” to explore, test, probe and be human.

So far we have learned the ins-and-outs of story telling, had an opportunity to share something — mostly some idea we are or would like to explore further. Some of these were propositions for new kinds of services that might exist in the world of things on the line. Others were larger social experiments, such as discovering ways to replace paper cups with something else, which I found to be quite an intriguing problem, especially because it may not be another cup made of some other sort of material, but perhaps a behavior and “practices” shift. (Thinking about design as something that does not necessarily result in an object or material is of course not entirely new, but giving this challenge some specificity in this regard was fun.)

Saturday July 25, 17.19.00

Body Storming to discover in a rapid prototyping fashion (15 minutes to explore, discover, present) what the new news might be.

Social Patterns In Cards, Christian Crumlish's Prototypes

Some prototype cards by Christian Crumlish brought for exploration. These describe some design patterns for social behaviors seen often in online contexts. Much more here. Great stuff.

We devised a technology for ourselves during a lunch break that consisted of a challenge — having a conversation with someone in which you asked no questions. This sounds weird, and it is, which means that it zips you out of your comfort zone and forces you to do more listening and consideration of what you say and ultimately puts conversations onto new trajectories. So, rather than saying half-thought things — “how did you like that?”, “what did that mean to you?”, “where did you study?” — or all the other things that force conversations along typical paths. No where near a proven tactic for provoking and probing and seeing things a little differently or discovering curious vantage points, but an intriguing exercise nonetheless.

The final exercise I participated in with was around the broad range of ideas that might be poorly pigeon holed under “innovation design” or something — strategies and tactics and practices for encouraging new thinking and creating new, non-incremental things/processes/thoughts. It is not surprising that there were some people interested in this area. Most of our activities were around discussions about this, anecdotes, common problems and issues — but, we were challenged to find a mechanism for embodiment of the challenge, or a “technology” of some sort.

Sunday July 26, 15.03.27

Sunday July 26, 16.00.48

What ended up happening was the creation of a prototype children’s story — a story you would want to tell a child who you hoped would become an innovator. Well — we had about 15 minutes but described such a story and dramatized it when we presented. The beats of it were around a restless young girl who keeps being told “no” to the curious things she wants to do — put pickles on her ice cream; play with the man on the moon; paint the carpet purple. Finally when she asks to give the family cat a bath in the toilet, her mom tells her fine — give the cat a bath in the toilet, of course not expecting that such could happen, or in exasperation. The young girl proceeds to do such, succeeding ultimately through clever use of the fact that the bowl prevents the cat from escaping, a sponge-on-a-rope that becomes a distracting toy, liquid soap, and a flusher that provides a suitable rinse. The moral is to reflect on the way filters impede the expression of our imagination based on convention, conformity and all the other things that discipline us as adults. And, this “technology” is worth exploring — the design challenge of writing a children’s story to convey a design principle or as an expression of a design brief.

Besides the story, and whatever you may think of it I was quite intrigued by two things. First, how we moved from the “meta” talk on the subject to an expression in the form of this simple story. We had been talking over lunch and then with another participant who it turns out (quite unexpectedly for me) had been a Navy SEAL. He dropped a few nuggets on us related to the thinking and training that goes into such things which are related — initiative, following ones own compass, improvisation, continuing in the face of exceptionally withering fatigue, the differences between warriors and soldiers, and these sorts of things. Another point that came up was Michael Dila’s description of Innovation Parkour, and a previous exercise at another event in which the challenge was (in a limited time) to convince a group of people to try buttermilk, which is particularly nasty stuff if you’re not already used to it. It became known as the “Buttermilk Insurgency” in which one team managed, in the 15 or 20 minutes allocated, to convince a kitchen staff across the way to make buttermilk pancakes, thus shifting the assumption around forcing someone to drink a towering glass of the stuff. So we discussed this challenge of reframing things and some how that lead to a short discussion of parenting — getting kids to try things that they don’t want and disallowing them from doing things they shouldn’t. This point came up directly — “yeah, and they’ll say — can I wash the cat in the toilet?” Somehow this started the story, where we ourselves reversed our assumptions and looked at it from the positive side. How do you encourage unconventional, presumably preposterous things and not assume failed results?

Like, for example, my current favorite — imagine what someone would say a year ago if you told them that Middle East politics would be inflected by people yammering in 140 character messages. Or, even more plainly — against all the odds of thick, broad, rich forms of networked, digital communication — something like Twitter happens. Which is not a statement about it efficacy or its importance or its permanence — just that things happen, and assuming failure, or saying “it’ll never happen. move onto something else” probably says more about the person who utters this than it does about the discussion they interrupt.

Saturday July 25, 13.36.17

Why are you here?

Saturday July 25, 10.23.33

Testing Ideas.

Anyway, there was much more, but those were some highlights that stuck in my mind. Oh, also the great opportunity to “test” some of the ideas and principles around a few projects that I ended up lumping under the rubric “Epistemological Monkeywrenching.” If nothing else, it forced me to find and articulate the relationships between several projects that compete for my attention. And I think I found the linkages, at least the outlines of the relationships. So, thanks. Thanks to all those 49 people who I met for the first time, and thanks to Dave Gray of XPLANE for the invitation.

Why do I blog this? To capture a few notes before the escape the brain and remind myself why I spent the weekend in the beach woods of Pacific Grove. Overlap 2009. 50 attendees. Meeting 49 new people who I never met before. And the word “design” was part of the material. And I got to ask questions to continue my exploration and design apprenticeship. Notes to self:

See Starfire Director’s Cut (via Erin Liman)

Read more about Paul Rand (via Chris Finlay)

Discover who Chris Conley is (via Chris Finlay)

Asilomar Conference Center is also where quite recently, as reported in the NYT a top secret invite-only event was held by artificial intelligence experts who are now worrying that robots may outsmart humans. (I mean…clearly these scientists NEVER watch ANY sci-fi. Hello? Skynet? BSG? Pfft. Buffoons. Spend a weekend at the Bleecker household with MY DVD collection of nervous Sci-Fi and you’ll be convinced you should become a wood sculpter.)

This is also where “ 1975, the world’s leading biologists also met at Asilomar to discuss the new ability to reshape life by swapping genetic material among organisms. Concerned about possible biohazards and ethical questions, scientists had halted certain experiments. The conference led to guidelines for recombinant DNA research, enabling experimentation to continue.”

And then, also — the Jackson Family had their enormous family reunion here this weekend. And someone had their 80th birthday celebration, as well. So, like — it all matters.

Overlap 09 Lazy Susan from Julian Bleecker on Vimeo.

Continue reading Overlap 09