Sunday, October 10, 2010

Design Thinking with Barry Katz at Stanford: Class 2

In the second How to Think Like a Designer class, we explored the origins of design thinking:

1. Design history is the history not just of objects, but of ideas.

Primatologist Sherwood Washburn believed people don't make things. Things make people. Primitive tools have shaped our evolution.

The Historical Trajectory of Objects:

19th Century - the stand alone object is analog, mechanically straightforward, and operated by hands. Ex: Olivetti Typewriter
20th century - the plug in object makes no sense unless it's connected to electricity, which is both a restraint and an opportunity. Ex: Television sets
21st Century - the networked object opened up new product categories and made predecessors obsolete almost instantly. Ex: iPhone

The Historical Trajectory of Design Thinking:

In the 1840's, Henry Cole pioneered government recognition of design. He lobbied the British government for support for his campaign to improve standards in industrial design. He was appointed the first General Superintendent of the Department of Practical Art, tasked with improving industrial art and design education in Britain. He was also the inventor of the postage stamp and the Christmas card.

In 1851, Joseph Paxton made an important contribution to biomimicry inspired design in the Crystal Palace for The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations - the first World's Fair. The Crystal Palace could be considered the world's first horizontal skyscraper - revolutionary in its modular, prefabricated design and use of glass in a patterns that mirrored the structure of a leaf. Not only did he consider the architecture, but its use by thousands of people a day. He designed the wooden floorboards with slight spaces between them so dirt could be easily swept into the spaces below the floor. He then hired a huge group of boys to sweep the floors every evening, but soon realized that the bottom of ladies' dresses were doing the job.

In 1861, William Morris founded one of the first design firms, Morris & Co. He was dedicated to textile art, wallpaper and designed two typefaces as well. He brought to the designer's mental toolkit a set of principles that lead to excellence: (1) unity of fine and applied arts and their mutual dependency, (2) simplicity of form, propriety of ornament, honesty of material (3) the idea that good design is both an ethic and an aesthetic.

In the 189o's, Louis Sullivan made great contributions to the creation of the modern skyscraper, and coined the phrase "form follows function". Sullivan was a principal influence on Frank Lloyd Wright, who came to embrace Sullivan's designs and principles as the inspiration for his own work.

In 1907, Peter Behrens, along with 10 other designers, founded the German Werkbund, an organization focused on improving the overall level of taste in Germany by improving the design of everyday objects and products, including electric appliances such the fan. He could be considered one of the first design consultants.

In 1919, Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus ("House of Building" or "Building School"). His contribution to design thinking was multidisciplinary team building and collective intelligence. His design approach was formal, rational, manufacturable as exemplified in his famous door handle design.

In the 1930's, Henry Dreyfuss brought credible methodology to design thinking. He felt an empathy and moralistic obligation to people who used the products he designed. The usability improvements he made to everyday products were not based on style but common sense and a scientific analysis. He made contributions to ergonomics, anthropometrics, and human factors that serve as foundations to these disciplines today. I'm absolutely fascinated with Dreyfuss' work and have been reading his classic book Designing for People.

2. What is Collective Intelligence?

All the students broke up into groups of six and for 10 minutes, talked about what makes us the same and different - our occupations, reasons for taking the class, what type of thinker we are, something interesting about us. Much like the Breakfast Club, we were a very mixed group which included 2 user experience designers (one from a technical background, one from visual), a mathematician, a psychologist, a technical writer and a curious mother. Each group was asked to come up with a name that represented their identity. My group was Formula for Creativity: 4x2 (4 visual thinkers, 2 analytical ones). Our tag line: Diverse in background, United by the back row (where we all sat).

Though there was great diversity across all the students, almost everyone was drawn to the class because they want to explore ways to change and improve themselves and the world. Diversity can be a strength or a hindrance. As each group moves forward, we must learn how to leverage that diversity to create something greater than any individual contribution. That is part of the challenge of building collective intelligence.

3. What is Design Thinking?

A very common answer to the question, "What is design thinking?" is "problem solving." This could be considered a limited viewpoint. Barry challenges his students to to anticipate the problems that the solutions create and solve those too. It's important to ask, "What happens if I succeed? Will it change the world in ways I've anticipated?" A good example of this is the mobile phone, which enables people to talk and text while driving, resulting in thousands of deaths each year.

This week's assignment is to find a problem that matters, a problem worth solving that a design thinker grapples with. My mind immediately went to safety, especially while driving, as I've been thinking about commuting for our big project. I've been hearing about cars that take control away from a driver in order to prevent an accident. I'm intrigued and skeptical. Ideally people would have focus, awareness and consideration behind the wheel that would keep safe driving top of mind all the time. Is it about changing the device or the mindset of the person operating it? I'm also thinking about ways in which people can connect their health with their habits in order make positive changes in both. Attitude, behavior and control are the threads. I need more thought and research on this.

1 comment:

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