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A Personal Design Philosophy


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"A Personal Design Philosophy". Paper for the I604 course "Design Theory" with Erik Stolterman. The presentation can be seen at

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A Personal Design Philosophy

  1. 1. A Personal Design Philosophy Omar Sosa Tzec Design Theory I604. Prof. Erik Stolterman University of Indiana Bloomington Fall 2012 design postulates and principles If we listen to a statement affirming that design is everywhere, we would make a quick reflection without externalizing any agreement or rejection about this idea. Probably, it might be some room for doubt before answering. Additionally, we could try to find a particular situation that would work as a counterexample. This little exercise will probably cause to start recognizing the plethora of artifacts surrounding us. All of them designed by humans. Design results to be a familiar concept to everyone. However, it might be complicated to define what design is. Commonly, we understand design as the materialization of an idea. We center our attention on the characteristics of the materials, and their quality in relation of what we understand as valuable according our economical and social scales. As we can notice, this perspective doesn’t take in count the process of design. It focuses on the result. Therefore, this scope may be considered as limited. We face design by using these artifacts in order to achieve a goal or to accomplish a certain task. Under this consideration, we determine the quality and value of design in terms of how functional the object is. In other words, it is during the action of use when we can specify if an artifact is well designed or not. Then, a communication bridge is established between the user and the1. In word of Clarisse deSouza (2005), the design designer1 during this stage. Because the needs a user have when facing aworks as the designer’s deputy. problem, the artifact of choice will reveal the designer’s understanding about the situation and needs. At the same time, it will reveal how the designer understands the user and the possible context of use, constrained by other factors such as the designer’s knowledge itself, desires and aims from the client and stakeholders, financial or technological limitations, among others. Thus, this bridge allows also the transit of knowledge and hence, design relies in a perspective that goes further than thinking in the artifact itself. The user’s action by employing the artifact, her reactions, and how reality is affected as consequence, constitute a particular experience within an interval of time. Hence, design is about the conformation of stories. These stories transit in the communication bridge as well. On one hand, the stories allow the user to construct her understanding about what design is and how to characterize it. In the other, stories work as a husk that encapsulates several aspects and factors present when user appropriates the artifact herself, which helps the designer to understand who is the user and what are her needs. As we can notice, design, as a process, is neither linear nor static, and any materialization of an idea doesn’t imply an end point. Design, as those externalizations of ideas regarding the solution of problems and fulfillment of the associated needs, is embedded in people’s everyday 1
  2. 2. stories. Consequently, design is everywhere. Thus, we can synthesize theconcept of design as follows: Design is about projecting solutions. First, it starts as a process, both cognitive and personal, that requires engaging with people’s needs given a certain problem in a certain context. In the middle, it involves a communication process, with sharing of knowledge, values, perspectives, desires, and aims. At the end, it concludes with the externalization of an idea, either for immediate use or as a basis for further design. Even more, within a social context, any projected solution and its materialization involve the conformation of stories in people’s everyday.This human-centered definition allow us to formulate the following postulatesabout design: 1. Design is about projecting solutions. If the idea for solving a problem and helping to fulfill people’s need is not externalized and put onto some physical form that conveys the solution, we cannot talk about design and a design solution. 2. Design is a cognitive process. Besides the cognitive processes such as memory, decision-making, reasoning, or learning, design also involves a distributed cognition (Holland et al., 2000) due to its social nature, the employment of external elements for its conduction, and the evolving manner in which a design problem is setting through time. 3. Design is a personal process. Design is a transformational process (Siegel & Stolterman, 2008) that occurs during the practice of design itself. Every experience the designer lives affects the way a designer comes up with a solution. The inner appreciation of people, society, culture, live, dreams, and reality, in addition to the design practice, shape the designer’s repertoire (Schön, 1987) and causes the evolution and maturity on the designer’s judgments and character (Nelson & Stolterman, 2012). Of course, this personal process becomes into a particular piece during the distributed cognition while a design problem is being attacked. Especially, when the designer is working in a team. 4. Design is about people’s needs. One fundamental consequence of design is that any result affects people’s life. Thus, the designer seeks for satisfying what people really needs. Nevertheless, we should remark there are different levels of these needs. Depending on the level, the repercussions of the design result change. In the lower levels, the design is associated with a low profile claim and its scope is definitively narrowed. Conversely, in the higher levels any design decision could have a big social or economical impact. 5. Design is specific to a certain problem within a certain context. Any design solution applies only to a certain context and profile of users, and it looks for meeting the specific needs generated by the design problem. Even more, the nature of this problem is characterized as wicked (Rittel, 1973). Some solutions might look universal; nevertheless, this implies the design problem is well delimited in such manner that the solution, seen as an ultimate particular (Nelson & Stolterman, 2012), 2
  3. 3. has the quality of being durable while the conditions associated with the design problem remain equal. 6. Design is about communication. During all the design process, there is an exchange of information between the designer, client, stakeholders, and the potential user. Either from gathering information, conducting research, sketching and prototyping, or testing solutions, the design process entails a variety of communication instances through the use of different media. Consequently, the designer should be prepared to be a facilitator of information and understanding throughout the process, regardless whether she is present or not. The latter implies that the design solution works as the designer’s deputy (de Souza, 2005) in front of its user. 7. Design is about sharing knowledge. Connecting what we mentioned so far, we distinguish that design is not merely about problem solving. Whereas it is about communication, all the participants also exchange knowledge that helps the design at the end in understanding how to set the design problem and hence, to come up with the design solution. The designer acts like a processor of this knowledge with the subsequent intention of redirecting it to the user through the materialization of the design solution. 8. Design is about sharing values, perspectives, desires, and aims. During the design process the designer, client, and stakeholders exchange their own perspectives about the problem, the user’s needs, and other relevant matters. Additionally, the designer should act as the user’s deputy in this case, by bringing into discussion the values, desires and aims of the users in contrast with those from the client and stakeholders. 9. Design is equivalent to stories in people’s everyday. During the use of the designed artifact, there is always a story in the user’s life. The designer, as composer of experiences, incorporates her understanding on narrative to figure how the design solutions can improve or enhance people’s life in an effective and aesthetic fashion.In turn, design should obey to the following core principles (Fig. 1): 1. Design must be human-centered. The first intention of any designed artifact is to support people in the achievement of a certain goal or the accomplishment of certain task. 2. Design must be functional. Any designed artifact should fulfill the functional requirements that made its creation necessary. 3. Design must be aesthetic. Besides the functionality, both the solution and the experience of use itself should transmit qualities that cause heightened impressions in terms of beauty. Moreover, the designed artifact should convey a dramatic impact to its users. 4. Design must empower communication. A designed artifact allows its user to be capable of communicating her desire, attitude, intentions, and anticipated results in regards with the problem she is currently facing. 5. Design must empower understanding. Through the use of the 3
  4. 4. designed artifact, the user can characterize the current state of the world and reflect why she wants to change it, and what would the consequences of such change. Furthermore, the designed artifact must facilitate the reflection-on-action (Schön, 1987) once it has been used. 6. Design must empower transformation. The designed artifact should allow the user to be capable to succeed in her intention of transforming or changing the current state of reality. 7. Design must be thoughtful. The designed artifact has to be a consequence of reasoning and reflection-in-action (Schön, 1987), in addition of interiorizing and being sensitive to people, needs, reality and the implications of creating and embedding the artificial (Simon, 1996) into reality. 8. Design must be sustainable. The designed artifact considers the limitation of resources available in the context of use, and it derives from the optimization of these without compromising the fulfillment of user’s needs. 9. Design must be useful. Within an interval of time, for the specific context of use and the current problem, the designed artifact should be considered as the best solution for meeting user’s needs. 10. Design must be rich. Every designed artifact should reveal explicitly or implicitly all the core principles to the user. Either before, during, or after the experience of use. The richness of a designed artifact is independent of the form as such. It is more related with the subjective impression the user has in regards with the intention of achieving a goal or accomplishing a certain task.Fig. 1. Core principlesof design. 4
  5. 5. design process Our design process can be seen as a line segment where one extreme corresponds to the starting point, denominated engagement, and the other one corresponds to the end of the deployment stage, denominated in turn as embedment. Therefore, the design process starts in the realm of the ideas and it ends with the incursion of an ultimate particular (Nelson & Stolterman, 2012) into reality. Nevertheless, we cannot affirm that design solutions cover all the space of reality as such. Instead, we consider that the designed artifacts live in a subset of the artificial (Simon, 1996) –subset of reality itself– where the materiality and the imaginary of a society overlap (Fig. 2).Fig. 2. Design process. The engagement is the first stage for our design process. In this stage the designer faces the problem –and the client– for the very first time. Consequently, the designer establishes her first framing about the problem. Once this activity happened, the designer might accept or not to be involved. If the designer decides to accept the challenge, this stage ends when the designer has collected enough information from the client and other resources to frame –and hence, to understand– the problem, in such manner she is confident to start with the creativity stage. Once the engagement stage has passed, the designer falls in a creation loop that consists in three intertwined stages: ideation, exploration, and materialization. The ideation and exploration correspond to the stages when the designer starts using her imagination to figure about possible scenarios related with vague ideas about possible solutions. By recalling cases from the past, the designer tries to find some analogies or differences that help her to understand the current situation. Together with these activities, the designer employs three types of thinking: analytic, synthetic, and abductive (Kolko, 2011). Additionally, it is during the transition from the stage of exploration to the stage of materialization, that the designer engages herself into reflection-in- action (Schön, 1987). The materialization reaches its peak when the designer comes up with a schema, sketch, or prototype. Once the intent of solution is obtained, the designer backs to have a dialog with herself, either verbalizing or not, but indeed having a reflection-on-action (Schön, 1987). Consequently, the designer might or might not go back to repeat the loop depending on the constraints at that particular time. 5
  6. 6. Afterward the creation loop, the designer seeks for a refinement stage. Depending on the user’s needs and the constraints of the problem, the designer has to determine how complex and iterative this stage will be. The refinement stage includes both types of evaluation, quantitative and qualitative. In turn, the qualitative spectrum includes discussion sessions with the clients or potential users, and critiques from colleagues and authorities in the context where the problem is situated. As result of this stage, the designer reframes the problem and then decides if she could go back to the creation loop. Again, her decision will be influenced by all the constraints given in the problem and the ability of the designer for managing time, client, stakeholders, and resources. The duple of the creation loop-refinement can be repeated many times if necessary. Of course, the latter will depend on the same constraints and relevant factors mentioned before. Finally, the stage of embedment comes. This stage implies the administrative and logistic work to embed de design solution in its context of use. Depending on what was agreed in the engagement stage, the designer would be or not ahead of the full stage. In such occasions, the nature of the designed artifact involves the client or any other stakeholder to be ahead of this stage, particularly in the final steps. Sometimes in this stage, the designer is required to communicate how the process was conducted, or to indicate the characteristics and features of the solution. The latter for completing the deployment or for functioning as reference for future design work. Once the solution is embedded in the realm of the artificial within reality, the client or another stakeholder can require going back to the refinement stage. This happens when the conditions or boundaries of the design problem have change in such manner that the way the designer framed the problem just before the embedment is not working anymore. At this point the client or any other stakeholder, and maybe the same designer, would determine depending on the current conditions, if some modifications (i.e. going back to the duple creative loop-refinement) or a complete redesign (i.e. going back to the engagement stage) is needed. stage activities and tasksTable 1. Activities and task Engagement • Interviewfor each stage of the design • Framingprocess. • Research • Benchmarking Creation Loop • Analysis • Ideation • Synthesis • Exploration • Abduction •Materialization • Reflection • Verbalizing • Sketching • Prototyping Refinement • Revision • Testing • Discussion • Critique Embedment • Deployment • Documentation 6
  7. 7. design as a discourse and the design outcome As we mentioned before, design is about communication. Moreover, because the process is being constructed, determined, transmitted, and applied by humans, it is in fact a communication process itself. The design seeks for communicating a statement to reality by intentionally embedding a new element in the real of the artificial (Simon, 1996). Hence, the designed artifact is a consequence of a communication process. On another hand, the designed artifact is needed but it wasn’t existent before. It might result strange for its own user. Nevertheless, the designed artifact must appeal its users to employ it for achieving that desired goal or for accomplishing that crucial task. Under this perspective, the designer is a speaker and the designed artifact is a discourse or speech. The rhetorical intention of this discourse is that its user takes action on transforming reality through the use of the artificial. Consequently, each designed artifact can be seen as speech that results from combining the three modes of appeal (Ehses, 1989) that the art of rhetoric employs: logos, ethos, and pathos (Fig. 3).Fig. 3. The design as dis-course or speech ponderedby the rhetorical modes ofappeal. The logos includes all the logical and functional considerations and understanding the designer has in relation with the design problem. The ethos corresponds to all the designerly qualities that can be attributed to the artifact, and they are more related with the result (i.e. the form). These qualities are closely linked to what the designer considers as good design in terms of form, and what is needed for achieving that result. The pathos is about everything attributed to the designed artifact that facilitates an emotional connection between the artifact and its user. Moreover, this connection involves transformation. On one side, the designed artifact transforms the user’s close reality by providing certain characteristics that engage this user into an aesthetical experience. On the other, the user transforms the meaning of the designed artifact by making it hers. Customization is the common manifestation of this transformation in this direction. As consequence, the designed artifact is not another cold, abstract, or fuzzy element in the realm of the artificial. It becomes part of some personal identity. The designer’s purpose is to equipoise the weight of logos, ethos, and pathos within the designed artifact. The weighing that will characterize the designed artifact depends on the designer’s character and judgments (Nelson & Stolterman, 2012) in combination with her design competency sets (Nelson & Stolterman, 2012) at the time when she faces the design problem. Conceptually, the 7
  8. 8. design competency sets –the mindset, knowledge set, skill set, and tool set– encapsulates the designer’s discourse (Fig. 4) in order to constitute the design outcome.Fig. 4. The design compe-tency sets encapsulating thedesign discourse (artifact). Finally, we should remark the design outcome under this conceptual vision based on rhetoric, embraces all the previous ideas mentioned previously. This outcome is dogmatically taken as a result of following the stages of engagement, ideation, exploration, materialization, refinement, and embedment. In turn, this process fosters the accomplishment of the ten design principles introduced before. Therefore, the design outcome can be perceive as a rich and complex communication unit –a discourse that appeals for taking action– that conveys both the principles and competences of the designer within (Fig. 5). Even more, the characteristics of the design problem –time, context, people, and all the constraints– make the design outcome unique and unrepeatable. This communication unit is indeed an ultimate particular (Nelson & Stolterman, 2012) that is valid, valuable, and appreciated, depending on all the other materialized elements that reflect the humankind’s imaginary and materiality, all of them in the realm of the artificial, all of them in the realm of those things that are intentionally created to change the reality.Fig. 5. The design outcomeas an ultimate particular em-beded into the realm of theartificial, which carries thepersuasive discourse fromthe designer and the coreprinciples of design. 8
  9. 9. referencesDe Souza, C. S. (2005). The semiotic engineering of human-computer interaction.Cambridge: MIT Press.Ehses, H. H. (1989). Design and rhetoric: An analysis of theatre posters. DesignDivision, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.Hollan, J., Hutchins, E., & Kirsh, D. (2000). Distributed cognition: toward anew foundation for human-computer interaction research. ACM Transactionson Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI), 7(2), 174-196.Kolko, J. (2011). Exposing the Magic of Design: A Practitioner’s Guide to the Methodsand Theory of Synthesis. New York: Oxford University Press.Nelson, H. G., & Stolterman, E. (2012). The Design Way: Intentional Change in anUnpredictable World. Cambridge: MIT Press.Rittel, Horst W. J., and Webber, Melvin M. (1973). Dilemmas in a generaltheory of planning. Policy Sciences. 4 (2), 155-169.Schön, D. A. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner. San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass.Siegel, M. A., & Stolterman, E. (2008). Metamorphosis: Transforming Non-designers into Designers. In Undisciplined! Design Research Society Conference 2008.Retrieved from, H. A. (1996). The sciences of the artificial. Cambridge: MIT press. 9