Thursday, April 6, 2017

Rapid Prototyping


Here is a terrific example, from the folks at NTD, of what you can do with some cardboard, superglue, hot-melt, a handful of plastic syringes and some fish tank air line. This video can also be viewed in much higher resolution by clicking HERE

Rapid Prototyping is an extremely useful tool in the early stages of concept development. Doing something  like this might uncover a latent flaw in an idea which wouldn't otherwise surface until much later if using a top-down design process.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Being Analog in an Increasingly Digitized World

Donald Norman is one of my favorite Odd Ducks. He has been blending technical and human sciences since the 1950's.

In 1957 he received a BSEE in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, went on to earn a M.S. and a PhD in Mathematical Psychology which is "based on mathematical modeling of perceptual, cognitive and motor processes, and on the establishment of law-like rules that relate quantifiable stimulus characteristics with quantifiable behavior."

Next, as an associate professor in the Psychology Department at University of California, San Diego Norman was a founder of the Institute for Cognitive Science and an organizer of the Cognitive Science Society. 

Norman left UCSD to join Apple Computer in 1993, initially as an Apple Fellow as a User Experience Architect, using "User Experience" in his job title, and then Vice President of the Advanced Technology Group.  Don was an early advocate of "user-centered design."

"Design is a way of... determining people’s true, underlying needs, and then delivering products and services that help them. Design combines an understanding of people, technology, society, and business." - Donald Norman

But there is a ghost in the machine which Norman attempts to exorcize in an article entitled Being Analog, that was originally published as Chapter 7 of his book; The Invisible Computer.
(Being Analog is a very thought provoking piece, which you should read.)

Norman strikes at the heart of the matter in the first sentence;

"We are analog beings trapped in a digital world, and the worst part is, we did it to ourselves.

We humans are biological animals. We have evolved over millions of years to function well in the environment, to survive. We are analog devices following biological modes of operation. We are compliant, flexible, tolerant. Yet, we have constructed a world of machines that requires us to be rigid, fixed and intolerant.

Here we are, wandering about the world, bumping into things, forgetful of details, with a poor sense of time, a poor memory for facts and figures, unable to keep attention on a topic for more than a short duration, reasoning by example rather than by logic, and drawing upon our admittedly deficient memories of prior experience. 

When viewed this way, we seem rather pitiful. No wonder that we have constructed a set of artificial devices that are very much not in our own image. We have constructed a world of machinery in which accuracy and precision matter. Time matters. Names, dates, facts, and figures matter. Accurate memory matters. Details matter.

All the things we are bad at matter, all the things we are good at are ignored. Bizarre."

A troubling question is hiding on a deeper level; Are we, as children, parents and grandparents, becoming a bit too much like our digital systems? Norman's list of human traits; being compliant, flexible and tolerant, stands in striking contrast to those of the binary machines we have created which are rigid, fixed and intolerant. He says our machines demand that of us and that we, as the creators of those machines, have done it to ourselves. That is true, but falls short of the mark;

What we - as consumers - have done is allow the designers to give us technology the prolonged use of which may be turning us into beings who are becoming inflexible and intolerant. At least some of us.

Looking at the current discourse in the wake of the most recent election, what are we arguing and seeing others argue, about if not matters of accuracy and precision, time, names, dates, facts, and figures, memory and details.

As the ambiguity and complexity grows, left unaddressed, this situation will only get worse.

So, the question is; what can be done about it? Can designers save themselves and their customers from themselves?

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Reflections on René Descartes

You stink, therefore I don't give a darn.

Rene Descartes is generally considered to be one of the greatest minds of his day and the father of the scientific method of inquiry.

Of Descartes, wrote;

Rene Descartes (1596-1650) was not only one of the most prominent philosophers of the 17th century but in history of Western philosophy. Often referred to as the “father of modern philosophy”... he rejected the final causal model of explaining natural phenomena and replaced it with science-based observation and experiment.

On a much more personal level, the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews review of Desmond Clark's 2006 book; "Descartes: A Biography" makes some very candid observations about the father of modern scientific thinking, adding credibility by stating that the book is notable for its exhaustive detail, drawing helpfully upon Descartes' voluminous and revealing correspondence to reconstruct as best as possible Descartes' movements and mindsets throughout his almost 54 years of life... Clarke provides for the reader to better understand Descartes as a person and as an intellectual. 

NDPR points to three related themes which "edge repeatedly to the forefront throughout the book;"
  • Descartes' seemingly endless travels and his eventual isolation in voluntary exile;
  • Descartes' own largely unflattering character;
  • The ubiquitous and sometimes menacing presence of others exercising an influence over Descartes' life and work, especially his scientific work.

What follows are some edited extracts from the review;

Beeckman, one of Descartes earliest close friends, remarked, on one occasion, that Descartes saw travel as a replacement for study in schools and through books, of which he read few.

His aversion to the ideas of others extended to his avoidance of learned people

In fact, as he matured, he tended to avoid all contact with people, and his adult life was lived primarily in isolation.

Clarke's characterizes Descartes as lonely, paranoid, and generally unpleasant: "He had become [by 1638] a reclusive, cantankerous, and oversensitive loner, who worried incessantly about his place in history and the priority he claimed for various discoveries."

Clark writes of Descartes' "sensitivity to criticism and the certainty that he claimed, prematurely, for his own view", stating further that Descartes "fought with almost everyone he encountered while constantly announcing that all he wanted was 'the security and tranquility' required to complete his intellectual projects".

Among Descartes other flaws Clark lists; lack of modesty, paranoia and suspicion, reluctance to concede intellectual points, a tendency to bear grudges, duplicity, and manipulative treatment of people, even of supportive friends.

Descartes seems to have been in almost constant battle with one or another critic or erstwhile friend, while describing himself as 'docile' and reluctant to speak in his own defense.

Perhaps the least attractive of his many failings was Descartes' duplicity. "He sends pairs of letters to Queen Christina and to Chanut presenting sharply divergent attitudes toward the Queen's invitation to Sweden. 'These parallel letters… ', writes Clarke, "show Descartes at his dissembling best."

I close this post with three questions;

  • How does this seemingly self taught, argumentative, arrogant and self serving critic of everyone and everything but himself end up becoming the father of modern philosophical thought and scientific inquiry?
  • How can one be a fan of Descartes methods now termed :scientific" without simultaneously harboring similar traits, or at least sympathies, within one's self? 
  • Is the Cartesian mindset a necessary precursor for being a competent designer, scientist or engineer? 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Archer's Systematic Method for Designers

L Bruce Archer's Systematic Method for Designers was published 1964 by the  Council of Industrial Design in London and published serially in Design magazine in 1963 and 1964, revised, with additional material.

It is an impressive work, comprising seven sections, described in 13 pages;

1) Aesthetics and logic
2) The nature of designing
3) Getting the brief
4) Examining the evidence
5) The creative leap
6) The donkey work
7) The final steps.

Each section is loaded with the wisdom and advice of a seasoned practitioner, organized with the rigor of an academic mind.

In the introduction, Archer comments about the tectonic shift he saw under way in the design profession;

"The most fundamental challenge to conventional ideas on design, however, has been the growing advocacy of systematic methods of problem solving, borrowed from computer techniques and management theory, for the assessment of design problems and the development of design solutions."

With regard to aesthetics Archer observed that "as soon as two people start to talk abut design, misunderstandings arise. Some... are due to over-leaping vocabularies, such as those of the engineer and the architect, where the same term can mean slightly or completely different things. Many misunderstandings, however are due to fundamental differences in value and logic."

"Some of our most successful designers have been able to draw a line between sense and sensibility, logic and intuition, function and aesthetic, which needs neither analysis nor justification. They probably think that there is a deal too much talk and not enough action. Others, however, remain racked with prejudices which make them lash out at words like 'analysis', 'logic' and 'method' - or even at words like 'good taste' and 'style'. It would probably do them good to talk about design a bit more."

Phase 4 - Develop Prototype design(s)

The arc of Archer's thinking shifted over the years, as he struggled to close the gap between thinking, feeling and doing as foundations for a grand theory of design. After many years pursuing the idea that computers could help manage the immense complexity of a process which filled 13 pages, had 228 steps, plus five pages of accompanying arrow diagrams, embodies in six phases;

1) "Receive the brief, analyse the problem, prepare detailed program and estimate.
2) Collect data, identify and analyse subproblems, prepare performance specifications.
3) Prepare outline specifications.
4) Develop prototype designs.
5) Prepare and execute validation studies.
6) Prepare manufacturing documentation.

This detailed, top-down approach dovetailed nicely with the well organized planning methods being developed in government managed military and aerospace at the time.

Note that some of the arrows in the diagram point left, indicating some recursion in the process flow. (This is also true of the other five phases.)

 Archer's Eight ways an idea can be expressed

In Part five: The creative leap Archer states; "When all is said and done about defining design problems and analysing design data, there still remains the real crux of the act of designing - the creative leap from pondering the question to finding a solution." Several paragraphs later he observes; "...there can be nothing unscientific about the traditional reliance on intuition and inspiration in design." Confronted with the then recent discoveries of the Transactional school of perception, he concluded; "We are thus brought face to face with the reality of the need for rich, wide and fruitful experience among designers, as well as the capacity for flexibility and fantasy in thought." Archer also asserts that this leap is something which the designer must do alone, although I suspect he was referring to the idea that our thinking occurs within our individual minds first, rather than a collective, shared consciousness.

For all his process rigor, Archer understood the value of cut-and-try. He wrote; "In some industries - furniture, for example, it is often quicker and cheaper to build a prototype and submit it to user tests than it is to carry out extensive detailing and stress calculation. The advantage of suck-it-and-see (cut and try? -df) methods is that however subtle the variables, a direct measure of the overall success or failure is possible. The chief disadvantage is that so many problems of construction must be wholly or partly solved before performance testing can even begin."

Archer's family donated 34 boxes of documents to the Royal College of Art in 2007. The RCA's website states; Different stages of Archer’s model for the design process would later be understood in now-familiar terms such as ‘quality assurance’ or ‘user-centred research’, Unfortunately, access to the documents is limited due to their not having been converted to digital formats.

He did use the phrase "design thinking" on page 1 of Systematic Method for Designers, in context it reads; "Ways have had to be found to incorporate knowledge of ergonomics, cybernetics, marketing and management science into design thinking. As with most technology, there has been a trend towards the adoption of a systems approach as distinct from an artefact approach."

I'll leave it to the reader to determine if they think Archer was referring to a formalized method of design in that statement. My read is that he was speaking of the way designers think, as opposed to a formalized method - and, based on his work, writings and teaching, he clearly was interested in developing an expression of a repeatable design process.

Contact me for more information on Archer's work.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

What's Your Style; Thinking, Doing, Feeling or...?

For several weeks I've had an idea percolating to frame Design Thinking as a learning style which combines feeling, thinking and doing in order to discover and solve problems. Today I found a web site by the New Jersey Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages/ New Jersey Bilingual Educators which had a one page handout entitled What does your preferred learning style mean? Much to my delight, the column headings were; Thinking, Doing, Feeling and Innovating. The footnote said it was adopted from Skip Downing's On Course Workshop.

Unfortunately, the link to the Learning Styles Inventory there was broken, but here is what the NJTESOL/NJBE web page showed:

Reframing this to the context of the Design Thinking process, the pieces are all there; Analysis Empathizing, Building and Testing and Reflection. I was disappointed that the Innovating column didn't integrate more of the items from the other three - are Innovators not also Thinkers and Doers and Feelers? I also disagree with the notion that Innovators would be "Uncomfortable with answers based on abstract theories, cold facts, hard data, emotion, or personal considerations" but perhaps thats because the context is academic rather than practical.

What do you think? As a Design Thinker, are we not seeking to be Feeling, Thinking and Doing as the situation demands?

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Brief History of IDEO's Design Thinking Process

In the February 1, 2009 issue of FastCo Design, Linda Tischler told the story of David Kelley, the founding of IDEO and the at Stanford, but there is much more to the story than that.  It also mentions the cradle of Design Thinking at Stanford; the Joint Program in Design. What follows is an edited and expanded version of what started out as her story;

Stanford's Joint Program in Design dates from 1958, when Professor John E. Arnold, formerly of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, moved to Stanford with a joint appointment as Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Professor of Business Administration.

John Arnold and a friend from Arcturus IV

Arnold had received a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Minnesota in 1934 and a M.S. in Mechanical Engineering in 1940 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  In the 1950s he sought to shift the meaning of design from being “the language used to tell fabrication and assembly where to make their cuts” to “the language of innovation,” by which engineers expressed their imagination, He proposed the idea that design engineering should be human-centered, which was a radical concept in the era of Sputnik and the early Cold War.

In 1959 Arnold wrote; "...[the engineer] can take on some aspects of the artist and try to improve or increase the salability of a product or machine by beautifying or bettering its appearance, or by having a keener sensitivity for the market and for the kinds of things people want or don’t want.” Similar to L. Bruce Archer and Harold van Doren, Arnold was suggesting that beauty and desirability were key elements for the engineer to consider.

John was already known for his unconventional methods of teaching engineers, for example; Arcturus IV; a problem-based learning assignment that put his students in an off world setting to work on tools and appliances for a bird-like race of "Methanians" who had “three eyes, including one with X-ray vision” as featured in the May 16, 1955 issue of Life Magazine.

Building on Arnold's work, Bob McKim (Emeritus, Engineering) and Matt Kahn (Art), created the Product Design major and the graduate-level Joint Program in Design. The curriculum was formalized in the mid-1960s, making the Joint Program in Design (JPD) one of the first inter-departmental programs at Stanford.

The Ping Pong Ball Problem made it into Adam's book

Textbooks included McKim's Experiences in Visual Thinking, and Jim Adams', Conceptual Blockbusting, a Guide to Better Ideas. McKim's work predated other writers and proponents of the Visual Thinking concept. ME101: Visual Thinking became the introductory course to the Product Design major. Adam's Conceptual Blockbusting contains more than one problem right out of John Arnold's bag of mental challenges.

When Bob McKim transitioned to Emeritus status, Matt Kahn, Rolf Faste and David Kelley  continued instruction in the tradition of merging art, science and need-finding though the 1980s and 1990s. ME101 is still taught at Stanford and the Mechanical Engineering Department and the Department of Art continue their collaboration, with faculty drawn from both schools.

After graduating from Carnegie Mellon in 1973, David Kelley took a job at Boeing, designing what he calls a "milestone in aviation history"; the 747's LAVATORY OCCUPIED sign. He moved to National Cash Register (now NCR) in Ohio, which turned out to be a similarly frustrating experience. Fate intervened during the 1973-74 oil embargo, when a guy in David's car pool told him about Stanford's product-design program.  At Stanford, Kelley met Bob McKim, who became his mentor.

In 1978, Kelley and some of his Stanford pals banded together to launch a design and engineering firm, Hovey - Kelley Design, opening for business over a dress shop in downtown Palo Alto. In 1981, the firm created the first Apple mouse.

In 1991, Kelley's firm merged with two others; Bill Moggridge's ID2, which had designed the first laptop computer, and Mike Nuttall's Matrix Design, whose skill was in visual design, to form IDEO.

In a 2003 meeting with IDEO CEO Tim Brown, Kelley had an epiphany: They would stop calling IDEO's approach "design" and start calling it "design thinking."

"I'm not a words person," Kelley said, "but in my life, it's the most powerful moment that words or labeling ever made. Because then it all made sense. Now, I'm an expert at methodology rather than a guy who designs a new chair or car.”

"They went meta on the notion of design," says Roger Martin, dean of the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, referring to the shift from object design to focusing on organizational processes. "They concluded that the same principles can be applied to the design of, say, emergency-room procedures as a shopping cart.”

Like Arnold's view, Design Thinking represents a serious challenge to the status quo at more traditional companies, particularly those where engineering or marketing dominate the process. Patrick Whitney, Dean of the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) sends many of his graduates off to IDEO and says he sees this resistance all the time. "A lot of my students have MBAs and engineering degrees. They're taught to identify the opportunity set, deal with whatever numbers you can find to give you certainty, then optimize.”

It took David Kelley a while to appreciate the power of stepping back before forging ahead. In the mid-1980s, while at Hovey Kelley, he used to write proposals with the phases of the process he'd learned at Stanford — understanding, observation, brainstorming, prototyping — all priced separately. Clients invariably would say, "Don't do that early fooling around. Start with phase three." Kelley realized that the early phases were where the big ideas came from — and what separated Hovey Kelley from other management consultants.

"That moment was really big for me," he says. "After that, I'd say, 'No way, I won't take the job if you scrap those phases. That's where the value is.’ "

How much value? Procter & Gamble's CEO A.G. Lafley sent the company's entire 40-member Global Leadership Council to IDEO headquarters twice for a total immersion in the process. "Our senior management was blown away," says Claudia Kotchka, former vice president for design innovation and strategy. "They learned that design is more than aesthetics, and that there are different ways of solving problems than the analytical methods that most disciplines teach.”

Still, despite the enthusiasm in Palo Alto, once the P&G Global Leadership Team got back to Cincinnati, ideas created in the design process kept getting stuck as they ran into the commercial side of the business. This frustrated Kotchka, who called Kelley, Rotman business school dean Roger Martin, and IIT's Patrick Whitney to help find a way to break the deadlock. Over the summer and fall of 2005, the three came up with a prototype of an integrated approach that took a product team through the design process all the way through the impact on strategy. What's more, they trained the P&G employees to facilitate such programs on their own.

The way Kelley sees it, a polyglot team gives an extraordinary advantage in generating truly creative ideas. That idea was one of the animating forces behind the — a place that would help typically analytical Stanford students become more creative thinkers. The school would draw from business, law, education, medicine, engineering — the more diversity, the better.

Kelley is still a bit astonished at what he has been able to pull off. "I've been here 30 years, and nobody paid any attention to me at all," he says. "At one point, they were trying to reduce the size of my office — which was 78 square feet. Now I'm sitting in meetings with the president, with him asking if I want another building and talking about making creative confidence a requirement at Stanford, just like a foreign language."

The most mature form of the process turns up the gain on the artistic/feeling leg of the art/science/business problem solving triad. Participants in the's seminars start their journey by empathically interviewing strangers, looking for emotional hot buttons, in an effort to discover hidden problems to solve. It's a long way from the top-down, buttoned-up world of Mil-Aerospace inspired methods where everything is carefully planned out in advance. but its a lot more creative and Kelly would testify that it's also a lot more fun.

John Arnold would be pleased.

Monday, October 24, 2016

How to Deal with Negative People

This article is based on one by Raj Raghunathan, PH.D, published in the March 19th 2013, issue of Psychology Today.  As usual, you can read the full article and view all the advertisements by clicking on the link.

Staying positive is a key element of the Design Thinking Process. As both team members and facilitators, knowing when and where criticism fits and works is a powerful skill.

A Fistful of Fears

A practical approach to dealing with pessimists is to start by understanding the reasons for their negativity. Almost all negativity has its roots in one of three deep-seated fears. Being aware of them can make a big difference in your approach.

  • Being disrespected by others
  • Not being loved by others
  • “Bad things” are going to happen (to them)

These fears feed off each other to fuel the belief that the world is a dangerous place and people are generally mean, but on a deeper level they are basically self-focused. From the perspective of someone who feels afraid, it makes sense to question the wisdom of pursuing dreams and be adverse to taking risks. Negative people also find it difficult to trust others or follow others' plans.

These fears manifest themselves in a variety of ways, including:

  • Sensitivity - Taking umbrage at others’ innocent comments; e.g., “You look good today” is interpreted as, “You mean, I didn’t look good yesterday?”
  • Judgmental - The tendency to impute negative motivations to others’ actions. Guests who don’t compliment a meal are judged as “uncouth brutes who don’t deserve future invitations.”
  • Ambivalence - A sense of helplessness about one’s ability to deal with life’s challenges, leading to anxiety and to shame or guilt when the challenges are not overcome.
  • Demanding - Although negative people are diffident about their own abilities, they nevertheless put pressure on close-others to succeed and “make me proud” and “not let me down”.
  • Pessimism - Belief that the future is bleak; Negative people can more readily think of ways in which an important sales call will go badly than well.
  • Aversion to Risk - especially in social settings. This leads to reluctance to divulge any information that could be “used against me,” leading, ultimately, to boring conversations and superficial relationships.
  • Need for control - especially in close relationships. Negative people have strong preferences on what and how their children and spouses should eat, what type of car the should drive, what clothes to wear, etc.
Remember - No idea is perfect, failure is not fatal and it's about other's needs.

It might seem paradoxical that negative people can simultaneously express shyness and modesty about about themselves and feel entitled to others’ respect and love. Similarly, it may seem paradoxical that negative people feel pessimistic about their own future and yet need to goad others to succeed. It’s precisely because negative people don’t feel respected and loved enough and don’t feel sufficiently in control of their own life that they demand others’ respect and love, seeking to control them. From that perspective, negativity is a poorly disguised cry for help.

In short, negative people need help, but have difficulty expressing it.

The simplest way of responding to negative people might seem to be giving them the respect, love, and control they crave. However, by fulfilling their desires, you are also rewarding their negativity.

Three Keys to Success

The most tenable option for dealing with negative people involves three elements:
  • Developing and expressing compassion for the negative person (Listen)
  • Taking responsibility for your own happiness.  Don't own the criticism. 
  • Maturity in how you interact with the negative person.
The compassionate element involves not advising the negative person about changing their behavior. It also involves never lecturing or preaching to them about the sources of their negativity.

Most of us already struggle with critical feedback. Negative people are already particularly resistant to it. It may be difficult for you to not react in some way to the negative person,before you do, remember, that while you have to deal with the negative person in doses, they have to deal with themselves all the time! This realization will hopefully help you feel some compassion towards them.

Taking personal responsibility for your own attitude requires doing what it takes to protect your own happiness. If you cannot maintain your outlook and composure you can't be much help to anyone else.

Act to preserve your set of positive attitudes; You may have to take time away on a regular basis to maintain your composure. At the same time, you don’t want to simultaneously trigger their fear of abandonment.

The Simple Truth of the Matter

The most reliable way to steer the negative person towards being more positive is to be positive yourself. While this seems simple and obvious, and has been the best advice for thousands of years; "Let your light so shine..." The best way to do that is act like someone who is respected and loved by others, being in control of the important aspects of their own life.

Pursue dreams, take healthy risks, and trust. (Yes, that sounds a lot like Faith, Trust and Pixie Dust.) Authentically, spontaneously, act in a positive and trusting manner. If a negative person makes skeptical or cynical comments you will have a confident base to respond from.

If the negator warns you of the futility of pursuing your dreams, let him know that you feel differently about your chances. Calmly explain that you would rather than take the chance and fail than not try at all. Likewise, if the negative person warns you of the dire consequences of taking what you think is a healthy risk, tell him calmly, “We'll see what happens.” This is easier in the context of a DT session, because as a Facilitator you can set the rules - No criticism in this phase, we'll do that later.

Over time, the negative person will recognize that, while your tolerance for taking risks may be higher than theirs, you are reliable and trustworthy.

Finally, if the negative person chastises you for trusting people too much, consider asking them (calmly) to recount instances in which you have been taken advantage of on account of your trusting nature. You could also point out that research shows trust is the foundation of strong teams and meaningful relationships and those contribute to greater success.

People like being around positive people, so the negative person will, even if only grudgingly, have to appreciate your positive outlook and attitudes. People also like feeling positive themselves. So, as the negative person experiences your positive influence they will like themselves better. This hopefully will lead to a virtuous cycle of greater trust in others and optimism about the future.

A Closing Look in the Mirror

Finally, dealing with negative people takes humility. If you find it difficult to deal with others’ negativity there is probably at least a seed of negativity in you. If you didn’t feel constricted or deflated by others’ negativity and were fully secure in how you view yourself you probably wouldn’t find the company of negative people to be adverse.

Realizing that you probably have to work on fixing your own negativity even as you are helping another person deal with their negativity will help you gain the compassion, optimism, and maturity that is needed for this tricky, but ultimately satisfying, endeavor.