Welcome to ADI

The Advanced Design Institute (ADi) works to facilitate a deeper and broader understanding of design as activity and culture. Design activity is the way individuals and organizations continuously create our world. Design culture provides the societal context that supports design activity. In a time of dramatic change and of increased complexity, design culture is more timely and crucial than ever. The purpose of ADi is to advance design culture through public education.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs 1955 - 2011

It is with great sadness that we note the passing of one of the greatest designers to have lived and worked in recent memory. He changed our material world for the better and set standards for quality and innovation that will not soon be matched if ever. He is greatly missed. Our condolences to his family and friends. RIP Steve.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Everything Real is Not True

Decision makers want to be able to make good decisions. Decisions that will at the very least make the company money, the nonprofit effective, or the governmental agency politically popular. They want to make decisions that lead to better products, services, or organizational behavior. They also want to be seen as effective leaders worth the money, prestige and trust they desire or have invested in them. The problem is that good, let alone great, decisions seem harder and harder to come by.

Confidence in leaders or even the concept of leadership is very low at the moment—so low that a lot of public discussion deals with how to get along without the present crop of leaders. Professional literature deals with the availability of new prescriptive recipes which, when followed correctly, guarantee to bring certainty and success to decision making with or without good leadership. The market overflows with workshops and training sessions that promise to provide the right sequence of experiences that lead to painless, accessible, and cost effective problem solving abilities, which in turn promise to consistently provide solutions to complex problems embedded in confusing circumstances or better yet provide ready-made answers.

The desire for consistency and certainty has been part of the human condition for as long as we know. The earliest cosmologies and associated rites and rituals were all meant to give structure to chaos and mystery but there always seemed to be less predictability than desired and more unpredictability than tolerable. Ancient decision makers would go through great effort and cost to ask the Oracle at Delphi for a simple answer to their straight forward question only to be given responses that, by necessity, required deeper thinking on the questioner's side. The early Christians found that their leader spoke only in parables leaving centuries of interpretation of what the true answers were.

Despite the apparent popularity of these and other traditional means for accessing of wisdom, decision makers have continued to look for other less opaque methods of inquiry that would provide information that was more accessible, straight to the point, transparent, accurate, consistent and stable over time. In the Western tradition the right approach to coming up with accurate answers to questions seeking the basis for good decision making was soon identified as the outcome of rational thought using the protocols of the scientific method.  This approach worked so well for gaining a better understanding of the natural world and for the creation of sophisticated technology that it was only natural that managers, administrators and others in leadership roles would come to depend on the same design of inquiry for decisions that the scientists used.

However this scientized approach, with some exceptions, has not provided the kind of guarantee of good outcomes expected. This comes from what I believe is a confusion between what is true and what is real. Science can only determine that which is true but managers and others must deal with what is real as well.  I make the distinction between what is true and what is real in the following way. A painting by Cezanne is real, the atomic weight of copper is true. An experience is real, a scientific observation is true. An organization is real, a proven fact is true. An individual's perspective is real, a predictable event is true.

Determining what is true comes from accurate descriptions and explanations through controlled observation (William James' "tough-minded" empiricism). The true also comes from careful abstract reasoning and logic (William James' "tender-minded" rationalism). The real on the other hand is primarily revealed through actions taken by intention as formed by judgment. The real is complex, too complex to grasp in any comprehensive way. The real is unique and particular at any time and place. The real cannot be generalized and universalized unless abstracted into categories and patterns of qualities.

Good decisions and right actions do not and cannot arise from what is true alone. They must be grounded in the particularity of the real. Not recognizing this leads decision makers into analysis paralysis where focus on what’s true leads to unending branching. Decisions and actions must be based on what is real in addition to what is true. This is a symmetry however, not a polarity. That is, it is a unity rather than a compromise or conflict between the two. The binary relationship as shown below needs to be preserved in the process of good decision-making to assure that neither is negated or made dominate in relation to the other. It must also be recognized that both the true and the real are only the basis for decision making and not the means.


The pressure on educators of decision-makers and the educated decision-makers themselves to locate their work in the scientific tradition has led to the deformation of what is real into the pretense of that which is true—not bothering to stop at even the level of compromise. Formal educational curriculum, professional development programs and training methods supporting decision-making and leadership roles have been well developed in the realm of that which is true but not enough has been done in the development of similar areas of support in the realm of that which is real. There is a clear difference between what business, civil and governmental organizations need from educational programs and what academic programs provide for instance.  An example of the contrasting divergent needs of education and business is represented by Foreman1 as a relationship between academic orientation and business requirements (neither being systemic which is another issue in itself). This is an instance of the split between what is ‘simply’ true and what is ‘really’ true:

In an article in the Harvard Business Review2 the professional intellect of an organization is said to operate on four levels of increasing importance:  1) cognitive knowledge, 2) advanced skills, 3)systems understanding, 4) self-motivated creativity. Only the first deals with what is ‘simply’ true. The others are in the realm of that which is ‘really’ true—i.e. both real and true.

Decision-making and leadership need to be grounded in the tradition of science and logic but not to the exclusion of judgment and reality. Design is an emerging field of inquiry for action that blends the distinction between what is true and what is real into a balanced systemic relationship.

1. Foreman, David C. 1995. "The Use of Multimedia Technology
    for Training in Business and Industry." Multimedia Monitor 13(7):  22-27
2. Quinn, James Brain, Philip Anderson, and Sydney Finkelstein. 1996 "Managing
    Professional Intellect" Harvard Business Review, March-April;  71-80

Monday, September 5, 2011

What's the Trick?

The recent spate of articles on Steve Job’s resignation at Apple (too often sounding disturbingly like obituaries) have focused on the mystery of Job’s approach to his work. They are representative of the ongoing quest to find the recipe or secret sauce that made Apple’s products so dominant in the market place. The focus on design is always mentioned as Apples core competence. Job’s character is often critiqued but mostly the center of attention is on trying to discern his—i.e. Apple’s—design methods and materials. ‘Design thinking’ has become the normative category to use when referring to these or anyone’s methods or approaches to designing.

‘Design thinking’ in fact has become the highly recommended approach for businesses and governments to take. ‘Design thinking’ is being touted in text and video as the next best thing for solving complex dynamic problems faced by business and governmental agencies in today’s admittedly complex and rapidly changing world. However ‘design thinking’ is not the same thing as design inquiry, or design action—i.e. design—and the confusion has serious consequences. ‘Design thinking’ is being sold as a commodity, a branded recipe or set of steps that is supposed to guarantee successful outcomes by revealing the right answers  in response to whatever problem descriptions are fed into clever algorithms. Design is not primarily about solving problems however. It is about something different.

When taking a problem focused approach to design, leaders, decision makers and stakeholders can constantly skirt taking responsibility and accountability for their decisions and actions by focusing on methods—by avoiding the courageous and grasping for the certain. Rollo May’s classic The Courage to Create and Joseph Campbell’s Hero of a Thousand Faces are examples of an alternative perspective of what it means to be courageous and willing to take risks and why. Courage is not the same as the aggressiveness acted out in office politics and political governance. A focus on courage provides an alternative perspective of the heroic individual. It is dramatically different from the kind of ‘in charge’ hero of popular culture that is the anathema of those touting the importance of the group over the individual and in the process diminishing both. Both May and Campbell provide a view of the systemic interdependency of courageous individuals and their essential connection to the well being of collective lives.

Few business or governmental leaders are representative of the second type of heroic figure and it seems their constituency like it that way. Most everyone colludes in demanding a risk free environment, no worry decisions, and no accountabilities or responsibilities. People in charge are happy to collect their rewards for following prescribed steps, accepted routines and approved procedures—arriving at the right answers, just like we were all taught to do in school.

As Russ Ackoff points out <http://www.acasa.upenn.edu/p19.pdf>, panaceas are ever in demand in business, governmental agencies and other social organizations. One look at a typical Harvard Business Review’s table of contents reveals that the dominant focus is on numbering—numbered steps, numbered categories, numbered everything. We all like the safe feeling of limits set by solid numbers. A methodological certainty that saves us from having to take responsibility for our making sense of the chaos we face daily and making difficult judgments about what actions we ought to take in any situation—all without having guarantors in place to protect us from failures and unintended consequences.

Design is about courage and not about guaranteed outcomes. It is about competency, skill, ability, and character, brought into the service of others—clients, stakeholders, society and the greater good. It is a ‘conspiracy’—a breathing together—of people who understand the true nature of the challenge and the necessity of taking it head on without a bag full of ‘tricks’. There are plenty of people with bags of ‘tricks for treats’ that feed the need in organizations and institutions for easy, accessible and certain approaches to overwhelmingly complex challenges. One of my favorite political cartoons by Danziger published in the Christian Science Monitor several years ago, caught the spirit of our political and business leaders’ habit of always looking for ‘the trick’ rather than looking to themselves for the courage and competence to become designers of the real world.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Two thoughts about science in relationship to design.

Two thoughts about the relationships between design and science. First, most scientist have essentially become design critics. Second, many scientists have become design consultants without acknowledging they have done so.

In reference to the first point, scientists have begun to refer to the present day era as the Anthropocene era < http://www.economist.com/node/18741749> —the age of man (sic). It seems that the earth is no longer predominantly natural. It is more and more a manifestation of the unforeseen consequences of human activity; an entanglement of intention and accident. Scientists describing and explaining the world are observing systems that have been effected by and changed through human agency—they are critiquing the effects of designs more than the consequences of natural processes. Understanding design behavior—intentional change—would seem to be something that needs to be put high on the priority list along with advancing science and improving technology.

The second point deals with the growing complaint that scientists and science have become politicized. Witness the recent acrimonious debates on global warming. The conflict arises because facts may be based on good science but description and explanation do not—cannot—prescribe action. Also prediction and promises of control (the domain of technology) do not justify action. Action and agency emerge from the domain that design occupies.

When scientist call for specific actions based on their clear and accurate scientific descriptions and explanations they have taken on the role of design consultants. Designers are by definition agents of change, responding to the needs and desires of clients and stakeholders. Designers are not considered inappropriately political when they prescribe certain courses of action based on the intentions and purposes expressed by those they serve. When scientists cross the line between science and design by advocating for specific actions, without acknowledging they have done so, they become the focus of criticism in part because, unlike designers, scientists do not contract with others to serve their (the clients et al) interests. Science is based on good, disciplined processes of observation and reasoning not on achieving good, desirable outcomes.

This does not mean that scientists cannot act as designers. It means they need to acknowledge when they have taken on the role of designer and left the role of objective observer and scientific expert behind. They then need to enter into service contracts with clients and stakeholders, as any professional designer is obliged to do.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Death of Design Thinking...

Lately there have been some writers arguing that "design thinking" is over, maybe even dead. For instance, Bruce Nussbaum recently wrote "The decade of Design Thinking is ending and I, for one, am moving on to another conceptual framework: Creative Intelligence, or CQ". Helen Walters discusses this position in her column and makes some interesting observations. As someone who has been dealing with design theory for about 30 years, it is both amusing and sad to see the way the question of the status of design thinking is being approached. The intellectual development around design as a special human approach to inquiry and action has been around much longer than the "last decade" and is a deep and profound attempt to understand a particular kind of human activity that for a long time was not appropriately understood.

Looking back through history it is obvious that some human approaches, such as art and science, have attracted centuries of intellectual interest. People have tried to grasp what they are, what their purpose is, what they can deliver, what they can't deliver, when they are appropriate, and how they relate to each other. To me "design" is a human approach to intentional change at the same level of importance and stature as art and science.

Over the last 40 years we have come a long way in developing an understanding of design as an approach in its own right. But it is still a new project and we are only taking the first steps. There are serious questions still to explore, for instance, why was design not recognized as an approach worthy of intellectual investigation until recently? What are some of the best ways to define design, how can it best be taught, what are the philosophical foundations best suited to explain design, how does design relate to art and science, etc?

It is however not, as many state, difficult to define design. At least, it is not more difficult than defining what science or art is. As we all know, there is no precise and generally agreed upon definition of either of them, but that does not really make anyone argue that neither of them exist or that it is not important to continue to study them, trying to understand them, and of course to improve them.

However, if we take on a highly simplistic view of design--if we see it as a management "tool", a straightforward recipe to reach innovative new products, or a way of "thinking" that will drastically improve our capacities in certain ways-- then it will of course lead to failure. But if we see design as an always present human approach aimed at the creation of the not-yet-existing then the challenge and its potential contribution becomes different in size and scope.

In the last 30 years there have been a tremendous change in the understanding of design. We have seen educations, professions, and ideas of competence change. There is a slowly growing understanding of design that has real consequences in real human activities and projects. These consequences can of course be seen as a result of a "fad" that will soon go away and be replaced by something else (like Nussbaum's attempt to launch CQ). But this is not what is going on. What we are witnessing is a broad and deep, but slow, recognition of the fact that there is a form of human approach to intentional change that is not appropriately captured by our more developed traditions. And as humans, we need to find ways to talk about what that is. We need a language and we can't just borrow that from other traditions. Design is not a form of art, not a form of science, and not a form of management. Design is not applied art, not applied science, and not the same as business practice. It is not the same as invention or creativity in general. Design is not a simple change in practical step-by-step procedures or the use of particular tools. Design is the activity we humans engage in when we are not satisfied with our reality and we decide to intentionally change it. It is an approach that deals with overwhelming complexity, that rely on judgment as its logic, and that is focused on the creation of the ultimate particular.

Design as an approach or as a form of "thinking" is not dead. At the same time, it is not yet alive as a fully developed intellectual and philosophical tradition. A lot of people are doing a great job today trying to develop such an understanding, but it will probably take another century to reach a situation where design as an approach is recognized at the same level and in the same intellectual and intuitive sense as art and science.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Interesting dissertation on design judgment

Recently I had the pleasure of being at the defense of a PhD dissertation. I was on the committee and have followed the work for some time. The dissertation title is "How is development of design judgment addressed in instructional design education". The dissertation is written by Nilufer Korkmaz and done at the Department of Instructional Systems Technology, Indiana University, Bloomington.

Korkmaz does a serious and ambitious job in exploring different definitions and understandings of design judgment. She does not shy away form quite delicate and detailed definitional issues. At the same time, she tries to develop her understanding in a way that makes the concept possible to study empirically. Korkmaz draws a lot of our book "The Design Way" which is exciting to see, but she also uses many other interesting sources.

The dissertation is a good example of something that is quite difficult, that is, to take a complex concept that is mainly treated in the abstract and in theoretical contexts and to use that in empirical studies. Korkmaz does a good job in examining if and how people do recognize design judgment as an important concept in design and especially in design education. She also tries to find how design judgement is taught and trained in practical educational settings.

This is how Korkmaz argues for the purpose of her research:

"Even though judgment is stated to be a very essential skill, it is rarely a part of formal education (Nelson & Stolterman, 2003). In addition, although a number of scholars have written about design judgment and its significance in design, there is not any empirical study about the extent to which design educators value the development of good design judgment and how it is addressed in the education of design students. If design can be taught and learned and “training and motivation can contribute to the development of a good designer” (Nelson & Stolterman, 2003, p. 292) design judgment must be a skill that can be taught or at least a skill that can be developed when opportunities are provided. With this understanding, the aim of this study is to examine how instructional design educators view and value development of design judgment and what they report in regard to how they help develop good design judgment skills in their students." (page 5 of the dissertation)

We need more research where design theoretical concepts and schemas are examined in empirically in real contexts.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Interviews of Russ Ackoff - ideal design and systems

Russ Ackoff was an exceptional champion of design in greater depth and breadth than is the norm in design circles. He understood design from a systems perspective that has still to make an impact in academia, business and government in the way that it should. The first site listed below is for the blog site of the Ackoff Center—established at U. Penn. to further Russ's ideas. A pdf of an interview of Russ and Deming is listed on that site. I highly recommend it as an overview of many of Russ's seminal ideas on systems and design.

Ackoff interviews

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Who has agency in design?

An article I just read <http://www.fastcodesign.com/1663220/user-led-innovation-cant-create-breakthroughs-just-ask-apple-and-ikea> reminded me of an ongoing conversation I have had with myself over the past few years concerning the relationship between designers and those who are most directly effected by the products or outcomes of design activity. Creative ideas and new innovations are the focus of attention now days. They are touted as the engines that drive the economic machine and are treated as the primary if not sole source of improvement in the human condition.

The growth of new products, technologies or entertaining experiences are being treated as the measure of our ‘way of life’— which, in reality, is primarily an increase in our ‘standard of life’. Material designers, politicians and others are typically not as focused on the development of our ‘quality of life’ as they are on the growth of our ‘standard of life’ — a measure of worth more than value. We are becoming ever more cynical it seems; using the definition of ‘cynic’ by Oscar Wilde  “The cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

My ongoing conversation revolves around the question: “who has the right or the responsibility to determine what ought to become a part of some one else’s life?” Who should be concerned with, responsible for and accountable for, improving anyone’s ‘quality of life’ as well as ‘standard of life’? Should we depend on designers to imagine for others what can be successfully marketed to consumers as a part of the process of improving their ‘standard of life’ — conflated with their ‘quality of life’ — or do we depend on people to request the something — the design — that they believe will improve their ‘standard of life’ and/or ‘quality of life’?

The issue of sustainability — a ‘standard of life’ issue — relies on who is best qualified to determine what designs will contribute most to the reduction of waste and improvement in efficiency in day-to-day activity. The concern for ‘quality of life’ — issues such as human wellbeing, dignity, equity and progress — is contingent on who has the right to determine what designs will best help fulfill our human potential.

Concepts like ‘user design’ or ‘human centered design’ are becoming more common and represent a healthy shift for professionals working in material design. But my wondering is about the larger question concerning the relationship between those who invent, design or plan the artifacts that effect people’s lives and those who are most effected by these designs — positively or negatively.

In the case of some professional design fields there is a formal relationship between the design professional and the client—a contract. In design fields that are more related to mercantile interests this is not the case. Most often marketing replaces contracting. What is the best way for design to play out its role— contract or rhetoric?

Do designer who contract with people to design what they say they need, or desire, trump the designers who presuppose they can imagine things that people can be convinced, needs to become a part of their lives? Is there a distinction between designs that are primarily commodities, and designs that contribute to human well-being, in determining who ought to have the right or authority to give direction to design activity?

For example, Apple has been successful at communicating the values behind their products, which seem to be accepted as stand-ins for the values any would-be client or consumer might hold, making the individual more than happy to forgo their voice in determining what they want. Other companies rely on focus groups, end user interviews etc. to give direction to their design projects. In each instance there is a dominant authority — either the designers or the consumers, end users et. al.

I am wondering if the best locus of authority doesn’t resides in a complex interplay between these two groups and all the other stakeholders involved. Determining what is desirable, sustainable, beneficial etc. is much larger than any one group can competently deal with or take responsibility for. Everyone needs to be a part of determining what will add to their own quality of life or standard of life but there is a need for expertise as well. How is this to be best accomplished? Just asking.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

What do we do when the power goes out?

Let's start 2011 out with a horrible thought. Just for fun, of course; what if the power went off? I mean really went off! A major grid meltdown so we had no way to use any of our electronic or electrical stuff. Forget about starving, freezing, being stranded somewhere and being inconvienced. Let's talk about what would we do; you and me? You know nothing. You can't use your phone, tv, i-pod, i-phone, i-pad, laptop, and neither can anyone else. No input, no output. No facebook, no e-mail, no sports, no stock quotes, no news, no lights, no information from whoever is supposed to take care of these things. The only way you can proceed is to make contact with another human...face to face. But they don't know any more than you do or anybody else does. The electrical system has failed, but you know nothing. The communication system embedded within the electrical system is useless because even if you have a generator, there is no bandwidth because there is no electricity with which to broadcast.

The system that you are so dependent upon and that you have so much trust in (but so little knowledge of) has one huge design flaw. All the fantastic innovation that attracts us to the cyber world is now without meaning. Innovation is nothing because it doesn't have a whole systems design approach integral to it. Adding more innovations to a fundamentally flawed design is a dangerous endeavor. Maybe 2011 is a good year to be thinking more about systems and design. But the buzz is all about "innovation." Dare we complicate the issue with unintended consequences?