Bill Moggridge: Designing Interactions
Reflections from the master and interviews with 40 pioneers of interaction design.
Frans Johansson: Medici Effect: What Elephants and Epidemics Can Teach Us About Innovation
The sub-title for the UK edition is much more descriptive: 'Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, and Cultures'.
Howard Gardner: Five Minds for the Future
An excellent meditation on what skills and know-how will be at a premium in the future. The five minds are: the disciplinary mind, the synthesising mind, the creating mind, the respectful mind, and the ethical mind.
John Thackara: In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World
An eclectic collection of deft metaphors, charming anecdotes, and a call for a step back from technological complexity and towards a resource light future.
Richard Sennett: The Craftsman
Asks whether the dedication to craft, and the desire to do a job well, will survive in the fast-moving, 21st-century world. (NB. Will not be published until 2008)
It goes without saying that a conference as professionally produced as Intersections only comes together through the work and commitment of a big team. The first to thank are the conference backers Northumbria University School of Design, Design Council and Dott 07, who initiated the conference. Other critical partners include: The Baltic, Bibliothèque, Highlights, Media Arts, SpaceCraft and Universal Pixel. Finally I would like to thank our media partners Blueprint and Core77, and Adrem for their sponsorship.
Thank you for coming to Intersections and for all the great questions. Please let us know your general thoughts on the conference here, or you can post against particular sessions, which are listed in the Feedback category.
And if you write about a session in your own blog please 'ping' the TrackBack URL for the session post, so your post will also appear there for others to discover. For more general thoughts you can ping this post.
There is no doubt that society’s understanding of design is changing and so, therefore, is the role of designers. From dominant creative leaders to softly intuitive messengers of insight, interface and interaction, designers have become better able to capture and communicate the core components of their work and apply them to wider contexts. But the opening of the design process to all through concepts like co-design and real time user feedback raises new questions about the role of anyone called a designer. The archetypal design being is comfortable in his or her studio; isolated from business, politics and people; eagerly waiting permission to facilitate a better world; and designing when invited but impotent when not. This talk by Clive Grinyer questions our model of design and looks at how designers must step into the world and show their value.
Reflecting on his discipline-busting career, Richard Seymour will argue that designers should adopt a wide-spectrum approach to the future. He will begin with a historical perspective, and then put the case for spotting the gaps between existing skill sets and making new connections.
Strategy is a word managers and consultants use when they want to sound important and expensive. To a large extent, overuse has emptied it of much of its meaning.
As a growing number of designers like to call themselves strategic, what do they mean? What is the know-how involved in design strategy? What are the strengths that designers bring to strategy building and what new skills must they acquire?
There is more to DesignArt than million dollar price tags. The boundary between design and art is blurring in a number of ways, as traditional distinctions become more porous. Art was not supposed to be functional; and design was about solving other people’s problems, not self-expression. Now Julian Schnabel designs furniture; and a new generation of designers are more interested in self-expression or making critical statements, than designing for markets. Meanwhile as art retreats from aesthetics, consumers buy Alessi products to display as objets d’art. What do these developments tell us about the shifting cultural context around design and art? Is a significant new luxury market opening up for designers? What can designers learn from artists?
Chair: Jeremy Myerson
Sir George Cox, Andrea Siodmok
[Originally entitled Management: stupid by design to be delivered by Stefan Stern, but Stern was unable to participate due to transport problems.]
Peter Higgins will reflect on his journey from architecture school, through the BBC to designing media spaces. He will focus on the intersection between architecture, narrative and communication media and ask whether a new genre is in the making, as well as the new know-how involved. If there is a value in this potential crossover he would like to investigate who should support it, and how it may be achieved.
Inspired by Wikipedia and Linux, a new area of socially commited designers argue that products, and particulaly services, are best designed in collaboration with users and other stakeholders.
Is the open-source software model applicable to other areas of design? Is the primary aim to co-create high quality services, to shape behaviour, or encourage ‘social engagement’? If everyone can design, what is the the role of professional designers?
John Thackara + friends
John Thackara will argue that eighty percent of the environmental impact of products and buildings is determined at the design stage; and the ways we have designed the world force most people to waste stupendous quantities of matter and energy. But, for John, playing the blame game is pointless; the best way to redeem ourselves is to become part of the solution.
Services have been around for centuries, but service design has recently become a hot topic. So what are the core skills of service designers and how do they differ from those of interaction design? How important are traditional design notions such as craft, beauty and visualisation? How should service design quality be assessed?
James Woudhuysen will place the future of design in a wider social and political context. Design now has new stakeholders, in addition to designers and clients. More than ever, it has fresh tasks to fulfil, and greater expectations to meet as politicians envision a creative economy. This in turn has led to design developing greater ambitions. So how far can design go and what are its limits?
Business Week has pondered that tomorrow’s Business school might be a design school; and it is now possible to do an MBA in design strategy.
Is this anything more than hubris after a decade of designers being feted by business? Should designers really go head-to-head with the MBAs? If some should what is the key know-how that they must acquire? Shouldn’t designers stick to what they know best?
Interaction design is a relatively young field, but already a very broad one. Its pioneers came from graphic and product design, architecure and programming backgrounds. Practioners design for different platforms including: the PC, mobile devices, the web and games; and a confusing vocabulary has emerged including: interface design, digital media design, service design and experience design.
What is the best way of understanding the discipline? Are interaction designers of different hues all essentially applying the same skills to different ends? If not what are the key distinctions?
Fashion is no longer the sole preserve of either fashion designers or clothes. Fashion designers tailor car interiors, graphic designers craft trainers and Prada has collaborated in the design of a mobile phone. Why is the rest of design developing more of a fashion sensibility? Will we see more graphics, products, and interiors by Fashion designers? What have other designers got to learn from fashion designers?
Tim Brown is a key promoter of the much debated concept of ‘design thinking’. He will argue that designers are having a greater impact in the private and public sector by tackling new and more complex problems, which require new cross-disciplinary methodologies. He will also suggest that this emergent area of design demands a different approach to assessing its success.
Frans Johansson will outline lessons for design from his best selling book, The Medici Effect, including the central theme that breakthroughs happen when we make new connections at the intersections of ideas, concepts and cultures. For him, these places where different cultures, domains and disciplines collide allow established concepts to clash and combine; and dramatically increase the chance that groundbreaking ideas will be generated.
Here are few ideas on where to eat. Folks with more local knowledge please add more ideas as comments:
(under the Tyne Bridge and up the hill):
Intersections will hopefully provide a chance to step back from day-to-day concerns and pan-out to the long view.
The ground has shifted under designers’ feet over the past decade. Many new influences have come into play, from globalisation and sustainability, to popularity of design amongst non-designers in business and government. The influence of design has expanded into new terrain, and the boundaries between different design disciplines have blurred as the work of designers from previously separate backgrounds overlap.
As we live through these disorientating times, we can either get blown around by forces we don’t understand, or we can grapple with them to comprehend the new terrain. The best way I know of doing this is to air and debate different perspectives with some of the best minds in the business (on and off the platform). So here’s to a robust and lively debate!
In this spirit, here are a few of my favourite quotes:
‘He who knows only his side of the case knows little of that.’
John Stuart Mill
‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’
‘Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.’
‘The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.’
F. Scott Fitzgerald
I finally caught time on a plane to read Howard Gardner’s ‘Five minds for the future'. I wish I’d made time earlier, as it provides a useful big picture context to many of the Intersections debates. It’s the best book I’ve read for a long time.
The Economist calls Gardner ‘One of the most influential psychologists of his generation’ and the FT lauds him as ‘the man who changed our notion of what it means to be clever.’
He makes a cogent argument that the future demands ‘capacities that until now have been optional’. For example information recall used to be key skill, which near permanent access to Google has made less critical. While mounting quantities of information has made the ability to filter and integrate it an increasingly important skill.
The five minds of the title are his characterisation of these capacities, which are: the Disciplinary Mind, the Synthesising Mind, the Creating Mind, the Respectful Mind, and the Ethical Mind. It is the first three of these that I found the most enlightening.
The disciplinary mind refers to mastery of a major school of thought, like science or design, and at least one professional craft, such as graphic design. He estimates that it takes at least 10 years to master a discipline and a disciplined mind knows how to steadily improve understanding and skills.
Gardner makes a useful distinction between subject matter and disciplinary thinking, and contends that the two are mostly confused. Subject matter is the body of facts, figures, formulae and examples of a particular field, whereas disciplinary thinking is a distinct way of thinking about the world and addressing problems. For example scientists develop and test hypotheses, historians look for parallels in other times and places, and designers quickly generate multiple solutions to a problem and then evaluate them – design thinking, if you will. Another way of understanding this concept is to think of disciplinary thinking as the ‘habits of mind and behaviour of the professional’.
So how does this shed light on the concept of ‘design thinking’? While Gardner may not be familiar with this designland notion, he would recognise the concept. However, he would argue that it is a habit of thinking that is developed over years, if not decades of practicing a craft; and would probably question whether it can be taught to MBAs over the course of a project or two.
He concludes The Disciplined Mind chapter with the following:
‘Alas, a disciplined mind alone no longer suffices. More and more knowledge now lies in the spaces between, or the connections across, the several disciplines. In the future, individuals must learn how to synthesize knowledge and how to extend it in new and unfamiliar ways.’
The synthesising mind refers to the ability to ‘integrate ideas from different disciplines or spheres into a coherent whole and to communicate [it] to others.’ While being able to understand and evaluate disparate information and put it together in new ways has been valuable in the past, Gardner believes that the capacity to synthesise becomes ever more crucial as the volume of information mounts.
So while he asserts that ‘The ability to knit together information from disparate sources into a coherent whole is vital today’, he raises the difficulty of assessment raised in the ‘Yes, but is it any good’ post. Gardner explains that ‘we lack standards for determining when a productive synthesis has been accomplished’. Designers have always been synthesisers, but emergent areas such as design strategy/thinking and service design take it to a higher level, which goes some way to explaining why it getting harder to agree how to assess it.
Another distinction I liked was between types of intelligence best suited to synthesising. ‘Laser intelligence probes deeply into a topic, but ignores opportunities to cross-pollinate; it’s perhaps best suited to disciplinary work. Searchlight intelligence may not probe as deeply but is always scanning the environment and may therefore more readily discern connections across spheres.’
Gardner also has wise reflections on the concept of interdisciplinary work. In his view it’s a rare phenomenon, as it requires mastery of two of more disciplines. Just like we only call someone bilingual when they have mastered two languages, genuine interdisciplinary work integrates at least two disciplines and yields insights that could be reached by either of the parent disciplines. He calls most of what is mostly dubbed interdisciplinary work as ‘Multiperspectivism’ – clunky, but useful. By this he means an approach that recognises that different perspectives contribute to a better understanding of an issue.
I’ve over stayed my welcome on this post, so I’ll leave it here. Suffice to say that he believes that those with a Creating Mind will always stay one step ahead of super computers and robots!
One of the themes of the conference is likely to be the debate between two often counterpoised perspectives: design thinking and design craft. These concepts are embodied by two of Northumbria University School of Design school's two most illustrious alumni Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO and Jonathan Ive, Vice-president of design at Apple.
Definitions differ, but design thinkers tend to focus on: complex problems, new methods and multi-disciplinary teams; and many design and business leaders believe that its strategic focus on what to do, rather than how to do it, is one of the biggest opportunities for design.
Some designers (such as Michael Bierut writing in Design Observer) worry that the in the rush to include more people in the design process, core talents and sensibilities are being undervalued; a point Jonathan Ive makes with the simple formulation ‘Design is not important. Good design is important’. Others (such as Dan Saffer writing on the adaptive path blog) worry about design thinking’s influence on design education.
Richard Sennett, the influential sociologist, has picked up a similar theme in his latest book The Craftsman, in which he writes about his concern about whether the dedication to craft, and the desire to do a job well, will survive in the fast-moving, 21st-century world. Stefan Stern summarises his case in this FT article:
'Prof Sennett worries that driven executives find themselves constantly manoeuvring to achieve a higher position in the future, instead of focusing on the job in hand now. This undermines the healthy obsession to work on improving professional skills.
But such commitment is not what the modern, future-focused corporation seems to want. As Prof Sennett has written elsewhere: "In place of craftsmanship, modern culture advances an idea of meritocracy that celebrates potential ability rather than past achievement”'
Both sides of the argument have a case. Ive is right to point the finger at the mediocrity of much of design. While it could be argued that this is down to lack of design management vision or an over reliance on consumer research, even smart strategies falter through lacklustre design execution – craft is still critical and in world class talent in short supply. That said, he is fortunate to work within a well thought through strategic framework at Apple. For those designers who don’t have Steve Jobs to clarify the big issues for them, craft can rarely save a flawed strategy.
Clearly we need talented design thinkers and crafters, but is it realistic to expect ‘T-shaped designers' to hone both skills to world-class levels, or should designers specialise in one or the other?
One of the most interesting issues that cropped up in discussions with various conference speakers was that of design quality, and how to assess it. Success in design has generally been measured by either recognition from peers in design awards or through sales triumphs – preferably both. Both these yardsticks are being challenged, but without any real replacements being offered.
When I asked Chris Downs at Live|Work how service design should be assessed, he wasn’t sure, but was equally sure that traditional measures of the sales curve and the design award, did not make the grade either. He speculated that service design quality might be better judged on ‘triple-bottom-line’ criteria by multiple-stakeholders. I have to say that I’m not sure what that means in theory or practice.
Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, said that design thinking was about new problems, new methods and new ways of assessing design. When I asked about the new assessment criteria, he also wasn’t sure and said that this is still being worked out.
The now defunct RED unit of the Design Council, then led by Hilary Cottam, went even further in arguing in a paper called Transformation Design, that designers should get over their perfectionist obsession with slick outputs when involved co-design projects:
'The designer can no longer see themselves as the arbiter of design quality, defining what ‘good design’ is. Instead, what’s working and worth developing further defines what’s good enough. That decision, too, is made by a more diverse range of contributors. This can be unsettling to the design-trained because, as design practitioners have found, ‘including un-trained designers in design work changes the outcome of the solution. Often, we are finding, these outcomes have better staying power, but are not as ‘slick’.’
Unsurprisingly many ‘traditional’ designers raise their eyebrows about such ideas of ‘good enough’ design. Others question the quality of thinking and outputs of the work going on at the fringes of design practice.
However, what’s really interesting about this debate is that not only is the concept of good design being challenged, but also whether design quality should be our ultimate focus. For example, as I mention in an article in October’s Blueprint magazine, changing people’s behaviour has become central to many public service design briefs and therefore the its main success criteria. Also as sustainability is increasingly accepted as a new ethical framework, design is being gauged from a very different standpoint. For example Chris Downs is appalled that the design industry perennially lauds Apple, as ‘they produce landfill’.
I wonder if there anyone out there still willing to put the case for design excellence for design’s sake – a creative and cultural act – with out the need to justify its worth on social or ethical grounds?
I’m in Seoul at the moment and had an interesting conversation over dinner last night with some local design managers. They were talking about European designers becoming more cost effective, due to rising labour costs in Korea!
So just as some Western companies are 'Reshoring' – bringing outsourced projects back home from India – some Asian companies are considering more offshoring of design to Europe. An uplifting counterpoint to the globalisation doom mongers!
That the conference sold out two months in advance is a testament to the quality and breadth of our list of speakers. While only half are trained and practicing designers, all are leaders in their fields.
We’ve added a number of speakers since the conference was announced, including: Matthew Collings, the art critic, who will join the ‘But is it art?’ breakout session; and Stefan Stern from the FT, who will reflect on the wider changes in the knowledge economy and chair the ‘What can design bring to strategy?’ breakout session.
By the look of the delegate list the speakers can expect a lively and vocal audience. It’s made up of a healthy mix of design consultants, academics, and corporate design managers from the likes of: Intel, Microsoft, NCR, Nokia, Orange, Samsung, and Sony.
I’m also pleased to report that Intersections will very much look the part. The boys at Bibliothèque have articulated the concept of intersections beautifully across every touch-point.
For the slow writers out there or those who can’t make it, the conference will be documented in a number of forms. Hopefully, we will get some ‘live’ commentary on the blog during the conference and definitely immediately after. Northumbria University School of Design is aiming to publish edited summaries of each session within weeks of the conference; and conference chair Jeremy Myerson is lined up to edit and present a conference highlights podcast on the Design Council’s website a month or so.
Finally, a note on attire. Who knows what the weather holds, but on my last trip to the ‘Toon’, there was a definite nip in the air. Just because the locals wear T-shirts all the year around, it doesn’t mean you should
Welcome to the InterSections conference blog. My name is Kevin McCullagh and I’m the conference director. After spending the last few years defending myself against pointed ‘why aren’t you blogging?’ questions, I now find myself writing my first blog post(ing?).
While I tend to rely on old school edited content from the likes of the: FT, The Economist, Spiked and Blueprint magazine; I found the case for a conference blog hard to refute.
The thrust of the conference is to get beyond the regular industry schmoozing and posturing, and down to some lively debate between some genuinely different perspectives. So hopefully this blog will provide a good vehicle to inform and facilitate discussion around the conference themes before, during and after the event.
To kick things off I wrote a conference background article for Core77 in July, on how design is changing and some thoughts on how designers might respond. Please chip in with your comments on this or any other issue and let the debate roll!
I’ll end this first post with a plea for tolerance. As well as trying to deliver projects in my day job and pull together the conference’s loose ends, I’m grappling with HTML for the first time. SNAFUs seem inevitable.
Finally I would like to thank Intersections' partners: