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How early 20th centrury ideas of production and science define how design is communicated now


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Talk on how technical rationality and positivism are common frames for design activities although empirical studies suggest that design does not adhere to what these concepts highlight.

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How early 20th centrury ideas of production and science define how design is communicated now

  1. 1. Influence of 20th century ideas of production and science on 21st century design
  2. 2. Some framing − This is not about the “right” approach and does not tell the “right” method. − Some of the ideas and suggestions in this talk are hard to turn into practice because they depend on cultural assumption. So if you want to change something based on it, you may need to start with small steps. − If I talk about science, it will often mean “the idea we have of science as a rational process that finds the truth” (but that was to long, so it will be “science”)
  3. 3. Kinds of problems − Tame ones: Swap the icons on our website. Add one that does say “external link” − Wicked ones [8]: Helping our clients to be more productive using footool. ● What does productive actually mean? ● Is footool the right thing? ● What doe the clients think?
  4. 4. Positivism Science can find the truth …quickly replaced by Poppers’ »Science should kick out wrong assumptions«
  5. 5. Technical rationality: Process How professionals should work according to the concept of technical rationality (see [9][10]): – Find the problem – Find the suitable [rational/scientific] method – Apply method to problem and get the right solution WIN! (If that fails, you got a step wrong!)
  6. 6. − »We say ›making and invention‹, like ›making an apple pie‹ … suggesting it is a form of production … [but is is] a complex process in which goals are discovered, determined and modified along the way.« Donald Schön [9]
  7. 7. We joined the frame of technical rationality − We “test hypothesis”, “validate ideas” − “Jan is a user researcher”
  8. 8. We joined the frame of technical rationality: orderly processes − We use orderly processes MrJanzen1984 (, Kadoictin ( ts.png), sa/4.0/legalcode
  9. 9. We joined the frame of technical rationality: right problems − »Before the sprint begins, you’ll need to have the right challenge« (, 30.5.17) − »Properly framing your design challenge is critical to your success. Here’s how to do it just right.« (, 30.5.17) NOTE: I am not “against” aligning on a problem; I want to show that the snippets suggest that there are “right” problems
  10. 10. We joined the frame of technical rationality: root causes − Problems have a specific cause; “We used the 5-Why technique to find the true cause of…” − The cause can actually be found: “We found out that the users’ true problem was…” − Finding the cause, fix the problem: “We thus implemented…”
  11. 11. Studies on design processes
  12. 12. Goals and Problems Design problems are ill-defined and „wicked“ [8] and it may be not be possible to „properly“ decompose them. − »It appears that successful design behavior is based not on extensive problem analysis« [7] − Assumed problem and its proposed solution are intertwined [1] − reframing seems to be essential for the quality of design solutions. [2]
  13. 13. Step by step? Rationality of Design work is signified via demonstrating a process, but: − Designers don‘t use hierarchical processes (even if they claim they do) [3][4] − Instead, design activity is opportunistic: – sudden discovery of new requirements (and often immediate suggestions)[5] – partial solutions [5] – If it is cognitively more economic to pursue the goal in another mode (mode= problem analysis, prototyping…), this is done. [3][4] (This all does not mean it is arbitrary, there is some order, but not a stepwise one)
  14. 14. Step by step? − »The environment should not embody a method that locks designers into a strict order of activities« [5] − Design processes may help novices, but also add mental bookkeeping load [6] − »It is not clear whether learning a structured, systematic process actually helps designers« [7]
  15. 15. Summary − Technical Rationality is the belief in right, scientific, orderly approaches to invention and innovation − Often, design work is framed in terms of technical rationality but: − Many problems are inherently not clear in the first place − Large parts of design does not adhere to technical rationality
  16. 16. Alternatives − Changing goals as a sign for having learned more, not for having failed or being “weak” − Goals help teams to talk, align, reflect. − Solutions depend on context instead of the one right method™ − Making sense instead of finding the truth™ − “Understanding users better” instead of phrases that suggest we find a fixed true thing like “finding needs”, “researching” or “validating”.
  17. 17. 1. Dorst, Kees and Cross, Nigel . 2001. “Creativity in the Design Process: Co-Evolution of Problem–solution.” Design Studies 22 (5): 425–37. doi:10.1016/S0142-694X(01)00009-6. 2. Valkenburg, Rianne, and Dorst, Kees . 1998. “The Reflective Practice of Design Teams.” Design Studies 19 (3): 249–71. doi:10.1016/S0142- 694X(98)00011-8 3. Visser, Willemien. 1990. “More or Less Following a Plan during Design: Opportunistic Deviations in Specification.” Int. J. Man-Mach. Stud. 33 (3): 247–78.+ 4.Visser, Willemien. 1994. “Organisation of Design Activities: Opportunistic, with Hierarchical Episodes.” Interacting with Computers 6 (3): 239–74. 5. Guindon, Raymonde. 1990. “Designing the Design Process: Exploiting Opportunistic Thoughts.” Hum.-Comput. Interact. 5 (2): 305–44. 6. Cross, Nigel. 2011. Design Thinking: Understanding How Designers Think and Work. Oxford ; New York: Bloomsbury Academic  7. Cross, Nigel. 2001. “Design Cognition: Results from Protocol and Other Empirical Studies of Design Activity.” In Design Knowing and Learning: Cognition in Design Education, edited by Eastman, C.;, Newstatter, W., and McCracken, M., 79–103. Oxford, UK: Elsevier, 8. Buchanan, Richard. 1992. “Wicked Problems in Design Thinking.” Design Issues 8 (2): 5–21. doi:10.2307/1511637. 9. Technology and Change, Donald Schön 10. The Reflective Practicioner, Donald Schön