An accidental vagrant is a traveler who intentionally strays from their habituated place or culturally defined space. Accidental vagrants stray into new territories of thought as easily as they stray into new domains of experience. They cross-pollinate the fruits of creativity and innovation.
As Yogi Berra said: “When you come to a fork in the road
Design is at at least one fork in the road: how designers think and Design Thinking (the brand).
— Design Thinking (the brand) is not a description of how
designers think, it is steps creative problem solvers take—as first developed
mid last century and now repackaged for the 21st Century. It is a
good approach to problem solving.
— Our understanding of how designers think and act is
constantly evolving through collaborative experience and shared dialogue.
Designing is how our desired futures are made real. It is a good approach when
problem solving is not enough.
The Design Way; Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World
As a scholar practitioner advising people in businesses,
governmental agencies and even universities, it is too often the case that the
refrain: “this is too abstract”, “this is too academic”, “this is too complicated”,
“this is too hard”…is heard when the reality of what is required to actually
change complex systems by design begins to sink in. The implied judgment
is that 'thinking' gets in the way of practical 'doing' and doing should be simple
and easy—i.e. ‘keep it simple stupid’. People want to claim the competencies of
change agents but they hope to gain that competence through ‘edutainment’ or by
learning the ‘tricks of the trade” or some other minimally demanding means.
The famous pragmatic nature of Americans has led to the rise
and nurture of prideful anti-intellectualism, which has reinforced the historic
split between thinking and doing inherited from centuries of Western tradition.
However the best designers have learned how to reintegrate thinking and
acting—to be aware of why they do what they do and how best to do what they
want done for those they wish to serve. They have learned that it is indeed
‘rocket science’ and avoiding the commitment and investment of time and energy
required to become a true master of the craft does not work.
Even science has not escaped the common belief that significant new ideas can occur almost magically—that great science occurs through
sudden painless insights. The truth is that significant scientific
breakthroughs occur over extended periods of preparation and commitment. Good science is the result of hard work over extended periods of time.
The same is true of creative insights associated with
design. Ah ha breakthrough insights come after long periods of intense
commitment skillfully guided through immersive and divergent exploration of a
focused question of intention. Good designing takes hard work over extended
periods of time. Learning to be a good designer takes hard work and commitment
over time—whether as a professional or a student.
The real world is complex, unpredictable and dangerous.
Acting as if things were simple, straightforward and easy to deal with does not
mean that the world will obligingly change to accommodate those beliefs. The
desire or necessity to change reality requires a set of skills, a mind set and
a depth of knowledge that can match the challenge. Failure to meet the
challenge can have serious consequences or, at minimum, result in a swarm of irritating compromises.
Change can be triggered by impulsive, impatient or
simplistic actions but there is more to the challenge of change than simply
causing change. Change can occur by accident or necessity. Change can occur as
a result of actions that are neither skillful nor prudent. However, desired
change with concomitant desired outcomes demands thoughtfulness, skill, and
prudence in order to be successfully realized. The level of competence required
is not easily or quickly achieved. It is rocket science. Learning how to become a design 'rocket scientist' is the intension of The Design Flight School and The Advanced Design Institute.
The design process is a learning process. Learning is the
result of inquiry and experience. There are many designs of inquiry created for
different purposes with different expected outcomes. Among them, design inquiry is a composite form of inquiry
that includes scientific inquiry which, is necessary but not sufficient for adequate design inquiry. Scientific inquiry—research—is designed
to determine what can be accepted as true and real. However, even the determination of
what is true and real is more involved than objective forms of inquiry, such as the scientific method, would imply. Describing and
explaining things as true and real is
much more complex and challenging than many design academics and professionals appreciate. That is a problem in todays complex world.
Designers need to know what is real and what is true about
the real-world design situations they are thrown into. Inquiry into the nature of things and
events has been approached in two different ways traditionally—the Western
tradition and the Eastern tradition. In the normative domains of design
education and design practice, the Western tradition has dominated so far. However the
Eastern tradition is becoming more influential—for example disguised as systems
thinking. Systems science—a form of systems thinking—is an example of the Eastern tradition influencing
the dominant Western tradition of disciplined inquiry—i.e. objective, rational and reductive. However even systems science
does not sweep in the rich complexity of approaches to inquiry that make up a more prudent form of design inquiry—i.e. inquiry for wise action.
To explain these approaches to inquiry—learning about what is true and real in the world—I will use the example of explaining and describing a horse. I was raised in the American West around horses. I know a little, but not everything by any stretch of the imagination, about horses. I have had the opportunity to ask often "what is a horse?" without ever coming up with a final, comprehensive answer. If I had to describe and explain to someone who had never been around or even seen horses what a horse was, I would use traditional approaches to inquiry—Western and Eastern—augmented with some nontraditional approaches. I will demonstrate what these are in greater detail in future posts.
Design inquiry is distinct from other forms of inquiry in
that it is ‘inquiry for action’—not merely description, explanation,
prediction,or control. At the beginning
of design inquiry it is essential to make a reality check—an ‘assessment’—of the
situation at hand. What constitutes the nature of the reality that designers
find themselves in when they begin designing?
This assessment is too often framed as a process of ‘analysis’.
When someone is directed to learn more about a situation, an organization, a
person, an event or anything in the real world, the assumption is made
immediately that what is needed is an ‘analysis’. Analysis is a process of
breaking something into its constituent elements, which allows for a certain
level of understanding and people excel at this. However, it has become clear
that in order to really understand something it is important to know how the
constituent elements interact as a whole—a ‘synthesis’—as well.
It turns out that it is difficult to give a name to a synthesis
of elements unless it is merely a functional assembly that can be understood by
what it does. For example when making an assessment of an organization
everyone—student or professional—has difficulty saying what the nature,
character or essence of the organization as a whole is when all the
departments, divisions, staff and behaviors are taken together. Usually
metaphors or analogies are used to convey what the organization as a whole is
like because we don’t know how to do that directly.
A recent article in Aeon makes the case that we design metaphors to help us see things differently using words. But, when something is
too full or rich for words we use images if we have the skills to do so. Unfortunately the
use of images to see and understand the essential nature of a thing—encountered
or created—is not as common as is the use of words. Nor is
creating or reading images very well understood except for the truncated
versions found in the world of computers.
It is even more difficult to convey the nature of a whole
thing when designing it—when elements are linked and connected together
intentionally in such a way as to create desired synergies and emergent
qualities—not merely functional assemblies—in particular or ultimate particular
designs. The use of images to convey the nature of what has been created is
necessary. The use of images to help us understand the value of what has been
created is essential.