Seeing Things

Peter Jones Dialogic Design, Innovation, Transformation Design

After about a month of dialogue with Bob Goodman and Eric Reiss, facilitated artfully by GK VanPatter, the NextD Journal publishes our ramblings as “Things you See.” A “brief” excerpt gives you a flavor for my bits:

Looking at the evolution of practices which we play into, I see several converging trends that originated from quite different inspirations: Information Architecture, Design 3.0, Innovation management, and organizational transformation. These are not inherently related trends, but have become interconnected now from the conversations WE have about these issues. Our communities of practice have brought these trends together, not businesses or authors in the research literature. We are creating new design ecologies within our own practices turning the focus of design from the product or service both to the user and back into the organization itself. As GK implies, this is not about creating a new design focus, a new What. Good design practice has always been about evolving the tools or How to’s, as an extension of interdisciplinary design thinking.

Design practice should also embrace and reach mastery of other thinking, research, and creative skills that are not being touched upon in d-schools or Boxes and Arrows. We should be learning and skillfully applying complementaries: organizational design, decision-making, dialogue, strategic scenario planning, work domain analysis, and other macro tools – but we risk losing credibility and leadership if we merely add practices to the portfolio.

Organizations and people’s work practices have their own life cycle and dynamics and are not “designed” by a small team making sketches on the whiteboard or in prototypes. It changes your design role, perhaps forever, to do these complementary design activities well. But to try but not do them well hazards risk to project and client. As with other related competencies, such as field research or project management, we must develop a sense of the environment, and know when to extend the team with deep competencies, and not just extend ourselves as post-disciplinarians (like ourselves perhaps?) As we would not accept a weak designer on a project team, we might not accept a good designer as a strategic analyst. We still need strong competencies, especially as interdisciplinary practitioners.

Design practice evolved in the tradition of following the lead of a defined desirable state, whether structured from a brief, a client proposal, or a value proposition emerging from a prior context such as a product line or user need. I say all design IS redesign, of something. True human needs are very enduring – it is difficult to conceive of a design proposition not derived from a related prior need, something currently supported by other means. We should be very good at this by now.

But we are facing the prospect of removing the imposed frame, designing in uncertainty, and creating better frames that better serve the need. This opens a huge new set of opportunities for future practice, but requires us to innovate collectively, not individually – uncertainty calls for the participation and design thinking of all stakeholders in the space. Not just collaboration or participatory design for a better product/service, but in the collective re-envisioning of the very need for a given artifact, its structure and form, the needs we believe to exist in the world, or the installed base or prior artifacts.