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.

Monday, December 17, 2012

call for papers: Designing Design Education in India

A call for papers has gone out for a conference in Pune India this Spring called Designing Design Education in India. India has taken leadership in championing design in recent years and this should be an exciting conference.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Design's expanding domains

Recently an excellent article by Tom Fisher, the Dean of the School of Design at the U. Minnesota, titled Design's Invisible Century, provided an exceptional frame for understanding the evolving nature of design. The article makes a contrast with science's 'invisible' century, the 20th Century, when scientist thought they had 'seen' everything and suddenly the sciences of the 'unseen' realms of physics, chemistry, and psychology et. al. exploded into 'view' resulting in a scientific renaissance. The case is made in the article that design is now facing the same sort of renaissance in the 21st Century, in the realms of the 'invisible', as did science in the last century.

Most formalized design fields are defined by their domains of 'visibility' but design is expanding into more 'invisible' domains. An example is design's expansion into other professions such as management. A seminal conference was hosted at Case Western's business school titled 'Managing as Designing' which resulted in the publication of a book by the same name published by Stanford University Press. Another example is the Rotman School of Business in the U. Toronto, which has made a serious commitment to design. Around the world there are university programs combining business and design in the planning or implementation stages.

Design is moving into the domains of public policy, business and military strategy, and other 'invisible' domains of human activity. New forms of designing and new types of designers are emerging as well. Some designers from the 'visible' traditions of design are forming up to 'design behavior' or other interventions into 'unseen' worlds but that of course is dangerous without them making changes in their design practices and character. Ones that are a better fit for the task of making the 'invisible' 'visible'.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Design Way at SHOT Conference


The Design Way made an appearance at the SHOT (Society for History of Technology) conference a few days ago in Denmark. The photo was posted to Erik Stolterman's Facebook page.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Friday, September 14, 2012

systemics — the logic of design

I will be presenting a talk: Systemics - The Logic of Design, at an invited gathering of design scholars and practitioners hosted by the Systems Oriented Design program at AHO (architecture and design) University in Oslo Norway the 1st week of October. I will make the case that rather than looking at a conjunction between 'systems thinking' and 'design thinking' we should look at design and systemics as inseparable from one another: i.e. systemics as the logic of design.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Unifying the Practical & Theoretical


A recent blog on the third alternative to the usual argument concerning the primacy or preference between expert and generalist brings to mind another all too common dualism expressed consistently by the general public in the U.S.—particularly in organizational settings. This is the constant gripe that something is too abstract, too theoretical, too unrealistic or too pie-in-the-sky and not practical enough for the real world (This is a different gripe from the one stating that something is too hard to understand.). So what exactly do people (including students who are intent on getting employed in the real world) mean by ‘practical’ and why is it always expressed as a polar opposite to theory or reflective thought?

The dominant approach to teaching in formal and informal educational programs is one of training rather than education. Training is felt to be practical, something that can be taken from the class room or workshop into the work place immediately and put to good use. Training is a process of matching input to output—what you are shown is what you demonstrate you can do. Students are tested to make sure the expected outcome is what they demonstrate to the instructor given the instructor’s input.

The consequence is that people do things without understanding or reflecting on why they are doing what they are doing and the way they are doing it. Worse, they too often show little interest in becoming more reflective and thoughtful about why they do what they do in any particular situation. In a manner of speaking, they take pride in taking ‘thoughtless’ acts, in being ‘men(sic) of action’ rather than giving time and energy over to ‘naval gazing’ or some other obvious waste of serious effort.

“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”
Martin Luther King, Jr


The pejorative spin put on reflective thought or thinking by those championing a totalizing focus on ‘practical’ action reflects a cultural norm in too many organizations and institutions. The split between thinking and action is an old polarization in the Western tradition. This split however is not something that should be celebrated and protected going into the future.

A recent article in the New York Times is an example of people beginning to realize that the split is not only unnecessary but a bad idea in ‘reality’. Knowing what direction your going in is as important as taking the first step. Skills, tools and technology are without productive value unless used for the right reason, in the right places, for the right people at the right time—all of which takes caretaking, deliberation, reflection and consideration. The habit of taking ‘sound shots’ (When hunters fire at sounds they hear in the woods rather than at animals they see.) in the real world is demonstratively unsustainable.

Wisdom is the reconstitution of thinking and action, of theory and practicality. Wisdom is 'reflective' action.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The web site for the 2nd Edition of The Design Way has gone live:


The Design Way site

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Coming soon!




The Design Way
Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World
Second Edition, MIT Press (2012)
Harold G. Nelson and Erik Stolterman

Humans did not discover fire--they designed it. Design is not defined by software programs, blueprints, or font choice. When we create new things--technologies, organizations, processes, systems, environments, ways of thinking--we engage in design. With this expansive view of design as their premise, in The Design Way, Harold Nelson and Erik Stolterman make the case for design as its own culture of inquiry and action. They offer not a recipe for design practice or theorizing but a formulation of design culture’s fundamental core of ideas. These ideas--which form “the design way”--are applicable to an infinite variety of design domains, from such traditional fields as architecture and graphic design to such nontraditional design areas as organizational, educational, interaction and healthcare design.
     Nelson and Stolterman present design culture in terms of foundations (first principles), fundamentals (core concepts), and metaphysics, and then discuss these issues from both learner’s and practitioner’s perspectives. The text of this second edition is accompanied by new detailed images, “schemas” that visualize, conceptualize, and structure the authors’ understanding of design inquiry. This text itself has been revised and expanded throughout, in part in response to reader feedback.

Harold G. Nelson was 2009–2010 Distinguished Professor of Design at Carnegie Mellon University and is currently Senior Instructor in the Graduate School of Business and Public Policy at the Naval Postgraduate School and President of Advanced Design Institute. Erik Stolterman is Professor of Informatics and Dept. Chair in the School of Informatics and computing at Indiana University Bloomington

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The reclamation of endangered or abandoned ideas

Claims by idea assassins that systems thinking is dead, design thinking is dead, innovation is dead, are attempts to claim credit for hits never consummated. In addition, some consultants are famous for taking good ideas and turning them into fads. Businesses and governmental agencies are famous for taking fads and turning them into bad ideas that are then abandoned by both when the oversimplified or misshaped concepts fail to deliver cheap or easy solutions. Whether declared dead or abandoned the ideas remain viable in the right environments in interaction with the right people.

For example the term innovation is used in ways that make it difficult to discern what someone actually means when they are championing it or abandoning it. Is it creativity, is it implementation, is it market share, is it....? When innovation is declared dead what actually is being declared to be no longer among us?

Innovation has been assumed up to the present to be a positive thing (where alive and well). If we assume the term means (as I do) bringing something into the world and making it part of people’s lives there follows concerns for why that would be automatically assumed to be positive. Crack cocaine is one of the most successful innovations in American history. It is found everywhere at every level of society. Even though it can be declared a successful innovation it is not necessarily a 'good' innovation.

Discerning the assumptions behind the term innovation as it is popularly used is a challenge. Innovation is not the same thing as creativity. If democracy (a very old idea) becomes a real part of the governance of a people who have only been under some form of dictatorial rule (tribal, political, religious etc.) it can be considered an innovation in their lives but certainly not a novel, new or creative form of governance in human affairs.

Implementation and innovation are often interchanged as terms. Implementation is an executive function. It is the activity of making something happen or putting something into effect. Implementation occurs on behalf of someone—while innovation is usually treated as a sales function. It is an activity that attempts to influence people to buy, consume, behave, adapt, etc.

The distinction between implementation and innovation is not a judgmental call. Innovation often leads to happy outcomes as in the case of Apple. Paraphrasing Steve Jobs—consumers don’t know what they want until they are shown it. Of course changing people’s behavior through innovation (the new fad among some designers) rather than serving them through implementation raises a number of concerns.

The reasons for innovation can be very different depending on the intention and purposes of the innovators (the same is true for implementation and implementers). It can lead to reformation  (change of means) or transformation (change of ends) in a social system as pointed out by Russell Ackoff. Innovation and implementation are subset activities of designing. Designing is also the strategy used in formation—the implementation of a desired new form of reality.

Innovation is an example of a vital and viable idea that needs to be more clearly developed and understood through an ongoing dialogue rather than being cut off in its prime by assassination attempts or abandonment.