Sunday, October 17, 2010

Design Thinking with Barry Katz at Stanford: Class 3

In the third How to Think Like a Designer class, Barry started by sharing a story about an inspirational visit to a cutting edge recycling plant called Green Waste in Palo Alto, CA. He asked the class to guess what the #1 working hazard was. Breathing/lung issues? Carpal tunnel? No. 95% of all the injuries are needle sticks. Even though the workers wear needle resistant gloves, it's not possible at this time to completely avoid needle sticks. This ignited an impromptu brainstorming - use magnets to pull the needles from the piles, put RFID tags in needles so they can be scanned and seen, create more stick resistant gloves, provide needle repositories on public recycling bins, and more. The ideas ranged from changing the needles, to changing how they're identified, to changing the way they are discarded in the first place.

How far up the chain do we go when we look for a solution? It depends on the careful defining in the brief. Design solutions can behavioral, technical, social or legislative. Defining a brief is an art. The client often comes to the designer with "This is my problem." The designer needs to say, "No. You think that’s your problem. This is the real problem." Guiding a client to the proper posing of the issue in the first place is often the most difficult part of the process.

Barry talked about the 7 year itch phenomenon in the industry. First people were all about design methods, then design management, now it’s design thinking. It’s a sign of a profession that is continually renewing itself.

We then resumed where we left off last week on the origins of design thinking:
In the 1940s, Charles and Ray Eames brought high quality, thoughtful, methodical design to popular consumption locations like airports and dentist offices. Some of Charles' most timeless and resonant observations include:
- "Recognizing the need is the primary condition for design."
- "To whom does design address itself: to the greatest number, to the specialist of an enlightened matter, to a privileged social class? Design addresses itself to the need." 
- "Eventually everything connects - people, ideas, objects. The quality of the connections is the key to quality per se."
- "The details are not the details. They make the design."
In post WW2 Italy, Ettore Sottsass, contributed the idea that design is about postulations, projecting your thinking forward not just to a product that doesn’t exist, but a world that doesn’t exist – an exercise in imagination. Sottsass was an intellectually compelling designer and essayist who started his career as design director as Olivetti. His work with the Memphis Group reflected his fascination American culture. It was a rebuke to the Italian design establishment. The Memphis work sparked an interesting discussion:

What is the boundary between design and art? Some answers included:
-       If you have to have a boundary, put it anywhere you want.
-       Art is the maker’s perspecive, design is about the perspective of the user.
-       Art has no boundaries, design has constraints.
-       Art is a function of expression, design is an expression of function.
-       Depends on the maker’s intention and user’s perception.

Eames said there is no design without constraints. Three main design contraints are time, budget, technology. Time is most powerful constraint. The product cycle is short and competition to execute new ideas is strong.

The single most important question in design - how do you choose problems that matter?

In the 1970s, Victor Papanek wrote the book Design for the Real Word. His contribution was opening the discussion of design practice outward to create more socially conscious work. He traveled to third world countries and observed people creating solutions based on the materials that were available to them, such as a stove made of used license plates in Mexico. He also advocated that the design talents of the first world should apply themselves to third world issues.

Later Charles Eames was instrumental in crafting the Ahmedabad Declaration on Industrial Design Development:
1.     Define individual quality of life within cultural parameters.
2.     Find local answers to local needs using local materials and local skills.
3.     Encourage selective application of high technology.

Flash forward to 2010. A recent exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt in NYC titled Design for the other 90% showcased a broad variety of brilliant ideas solving immediate problems of local people.

Barry concluded with a story of an IDEO project he was involved in. Martin Fisher, a PhD in mechanical engineering Stanford, observed that what people in developing countries need is money in order to particiate in a global cash economy. His aim was to help turn a dependent slum dweller into an owner of a family farm that produces surplus that can be sold at market. To make this happen, water needed to be more readily available to sustain the crops. The solution had to be manufacturable and sellable for $150, transferrable by bike, and repairable locally. The solution came in a device named “The moneymaker”, a pressure irrigation pump which achieved this within the design constraints.

Next week an anthropologist at Facebook will be guest lecturing on how to conduct field observations. Stay tuned for more!


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