There is hope - NZ centralises its healthcare system.

Well, hello again blog, it’s been a while.

For the past four years I’ve been happily working away as the communications designer at Southern DHB. It’s been fantastic. I get to work on numerous projects, from public health promotion to external and internal comms and service type things.

I’ve had a fair few design challenges along the way, but nothing to really blog about. Working in the healthcare sector is like one giant wicked problem, so you do what you can where you can, hoping that you are making a little difference.

Early in the game, I tried to visualise the space I was working in. It didn’t take long to realise that this was no easy task. The NZ health care system is a complex overly complicated, bureaucratic mess. A messy beast. A beast that seemed to be crippling itself. (This article is a simple explainer) Whenever I started with a simple problem it quickly became a massively multi-faceted mess. Not to mention the number of different lenses that could be applied (i.e. do we make this model patient centred, holistic, governed or mechanical?)

So I became complacent (like many others) by nibbling around the edges - doing what we could with limited time and resources. This general frustration felt by many in the healthcare sector is why, when the changes were announced this week to centralise our national healthcare system, many released a long sigh of relief (and even some whoops of joy)

There’s some hope again. Hope that we will improve patient outcomes, hope that we can action equity, hope that we can value our staff - our patients and their time. Hope that we can create a more seamless patient journey, hope that change can come quicker and easier, hope that we can work as one united system country wide.

But the changes needed require a lot more than a
change in system architecture. They require a change how in how we work. They need to design a system that acknowledges and removes past/current state bias so that we don’t continually make the same mistakes. They need to hear from a number of voices and actually co-design around all the good parts (and bad) parts. This change transition will be no easy task and should not be overlooked as it’ll largely determine the success of the final system state. 

So far we have not been given any information about the transition or how it’ll work. This is the real meat in the sandwich, and we as a society (and esp. as ‘local’ voices) need to be critical in the implementation of ‘Health Care NZ’ . We need to be included in the design phase, not only so that we are more likely to accept the outcome but so that we feel heard, because we haven’t been for so sooo long. A quote I heard has been stuck in my head all week "culture eats strategy for breakfast".

Images from the Health Reform White Paper below.

Quick thoughts from the Christchurch Design Lab.

Walking into the Design Lab, my first though was 'what the hell is this place?' which is an awesome first thought to have.

We were there to absorb what we could from the rebuild work of the Christchurch hospital, I was specifically interested in the design methods. It didn't take me long to realise it was an adapted mix of IDEO and lean methodologies - thumbs up!

I went in rather critical - often UCD is said to be at the forefront of these things, but rarely is. Luckily, my criticism was quickly nulled as time and time again it was proven that the lab and it's purpose was all about the user and integrating their feedback into the design outcome. Furthermore the user participation in this co-design process was just as valued in terms of delivering a successful outcome (that would ultimately be accepted and owned). This sense of fostering a community and building pride is ultra important for both staff and patients in creating future states.

The Design Lab team actively involved over 6000 people in the design process of the new hospital rebuild.

One of the projects I was particularly interested in was that of the 'patient journey' as it's something I've wanted to visualise since starting my job here (At the SDHB). With the recent Primary and Community Care Strategy this is something I hope to get the opportunity to do.

They had three basic questions that they wanted to answer.
1. What was the patient journey?
2. How did the patients feel throughout this journey?
3. What services were they offered throughout the way?

"You come in worrying about what you've let behind and leave worrying about yourself"

The ability to switch between a patient perspective and a whole systems POV is not an easy thing to do - but how these two connect is really where the pressing issues are at. How information is shared between this micro and macro level is where communications work. How do we frame and model these integral bits in between??

Psychology and behaviour:

I was impressed that a number of the activities were based on how and why staff and patients think the way they do and how we can better design the health system to value people over process. It's all quite simple really. Change is more likely to occur if people can maintain a level of familiarity - this is akin to accepting creative outcomes. So how do we expose people to new ideas and concepts? we involve them from the beginning, we value their time and input, and we empathise with them.

Extra take home points:

- The only currency in the health system that matters is 'time'. Money just buys time.

- Ageing demographic - let's view as an opportunity - "We are going to have the healthiest ageing population ever" older staff are going to be the future patients. This means a change of perspective from a 'illness' based system to a 'wellness' based system.

'Positive' Design

This is a quick and easy goodie with some very important facts that every designer should be aware of.

The increasing importance of Zoom

It seems to me that a lot of issues in Higher Education fester in the gap between theory and practice. Good research should amalgamate these dichotomies, fleshing out the problem space, creating bridges which often come in the form of models or frameworks. The scaffolding differs depending on the context. It's scaffolding none the less.

I am not convinced that theory and practice are mutually exclusive to begin with, I think there are more similarities than differences. We cannot talk about theory without practice and vice versa, yet setting them up as dichotomies forms a problem space to work in which is very convenient for us (if not self perpetuating)

Filtering happens all the time, the problem I feel lies here - in linguistics, semiotics, ontology, epistemology - in perception, sense making and communication. Often when I read academic lit. this is what sticks out to me like a sore thumb, it doesn't matter what the subject area. I hate that these things are skimmed over as a precursor to the argument - and not the argument itself.

Post modernism acknowledged the complexity associated with culture, truth making and judgement criteria. Modernism on the other hand offers a notion of truth that seems hard to resist, idealistically.

The invention of 'Zoom' allows us to explore both these frameworks, their relationship with a single lens simultaneously. We need to start conceptualising and communicating in layers, whilst keeping the complex clear by utilising the device of zoom. Zoom can be seen as a tool which can help us communicate micro, miso and macro levels of information with ease, because, really, everyone wants to see different pictures of the same bigger picture.

ecological queer thinking?


It has been a while since I have posted. Life has been full, I've been working away - designing odd jobs, setting myself up for the year ahead, growing tomatoes, dealing with anxiety, soaking up the sun, listening to the new Beck, Bjork, Sleater-Kinney and Father John Misty albums (all great by the way).

I was wondering what it would take for me to write another post...

The recent happenings at Auckland Pride. 

What occurred is important in a global context and more important in a national one. I'm not going to attempt to describe it all here, I'd probably just add to a secondary or tertiary misrepresentation (I wasn't there). I feel like my pals comic sums it up.

On a much broader level, I try to identify the problem. The problem space is something I've always grappled with, and never really found a term for. Aspects of sociobiology have helped me visualise the problem space. Linguistically, words which come to mind seem to be framed by the relationship between concepts/ideologies on one end of the spectrum and their 'opposing' force on the other end.


inclusion < > exclusion
majority < > minority
in < > out
individual < > community
rich < > poor
and so on.

The 'evolutionary' ideas offered largely by Dawkins, in particular, I think are politically apt at this time for Aeoteroa. For example, the recent 'right' to marry can be seen as a cultural meme within the above problem space. How does this 'gene' affect our .. queer webbing ? how do we react to it as cultural capital? and how does that in turn affect the way we see ourselves? 

Likely, I need to read more queer theory, political stuffs and social theory to find the terminology I am seeking. But it seems that I am not alone in trying to make sense of our shifting. It's almost like the queer community in NZ is a tectonic plate.

I even react to writing 'the queer community of NZ' as there seems to be multiple fractures within the plate itself. This isn't necessarily a bad thing (I don't believe that a 'fracture' is negative) But when 'Pride' take place, and aims to front itself as a unified thing of 'yayness'.. and those fractures aren't recognised/respected/seen allowed then they are gonna rumble.

And rumbling is what we have. I say, thank you!! it seems without this kind of existential/ activist approach to things we wouldn't be pre-empted into even having these conversations or reflections. This kind of  'she'll be right, we're all good' mentality is the type of shit kiwis seem to be quite keen on. It's docile. It's myth supported, it's unrealistic, traditional, deluded and often enforced by those in power - the privileged.

Well fuck that.

Activism is an integral part of our his/hers/trans/tories. It helps move us. It assists our place in this evolutionary organic and complex space.

Dunedin is lucky to have Ryan Conrad visiting, he will be creating discussions around Equality - Liberating the queer political imagination.  You can see the detes of Against Equality on the Facebook page.  Perhaps he will offer some insights into all this. Ryan asks "What is equality? are we seeking to be equal to the way the straight world does things? Why would I seek to be equal to systems, traditions and institutions that historically and presently oppress people? Why would you want to be equal to that?"

There's lots of reasons why, but where do those reasons really come from?

As an organiser of Dunedin Pride, I feel a huge responsibility to create space/s that allow dialectical oppositions - but also feel safe enough. This is a privileged position. We must never forget that this stuff is very personal and emotionally triggering. We must react to and nurture our horrible statistics. As with anything, our space is in constant flux, and growing. Let's build from bottom up, together. So. let's take pride in this - In our work, in our creative selves and all those before and after us.  Viva la queer revolution. 

Design Thinking.

There are many interpretations and approaches towards DT. It's actually ridiculous. Collectively, DT is a term that can incorporate anything you want in it. The more I look into it - the more I think it's just another attempt to explain the old age question of 'well.. what is design' ?

Why am I blogging about this? because I want to be able to articulate an appropriate reply when people ask me what 'Design Thinking' is, instead of just rolling my eyes.

Firstly, the origins of the term (in it's most widely used/POPular instance)

DT's origins spring from IDEO and is geared towards bringing design into business. We can thank Tim Brown for the buzzword (which some now claim is a meme)

From a distance one could say it's about big corporations incorporating 'creativity' into their 'mindset'. At closer inspection it is about enhancing value creation and response time (innovation), so that business' can adapt to changing user needs and trends. One of the advantages DT brings in an emphasis on the user, a humanness - and a fairly analytical way of incorporating this element.

It comes down to value. and values. "To respond to external change is to innovate. To innovate, businesses must have the capacity to design. The vision of DT is to fuse design internally within the organization to create a culture that fosters creative thinking and actions with design methods and tools designers use." (J. Tjendra)

Now I don't know too much about value creation. But in shifting the role of design in business from noun to verb businesses hope to gain a competitive advantage that will impact bottom line and drive growth. Design thinking is meant to compliment existing value management capability.
Apparently design thinking is 'special' in it's capacity to be "able to produce new values in ambiguity where there was never a concrete set of predictable process." (Tjendra)

This leads to my biggest criticism of IDEO's  DT and why it ultimately does not and will not work or be easily adopted. Design is not linear, clean or purely analytical. It cannot be taught in a hour, a day, a week, or a year, and the thinking behind it certainly cannot.

Even if you come up with a generalised best practice model that includes iteration, there is no one universal method that will suit every context.  Changing the variables based on context effects the overall design framework, furthermore this happens during the design process, and the designer must have the skill to react to this, constantly changing the way they work.

It's like trying to fit a fat kid into a small suit. One size does not fit all. The Design method must be based on and reactive to your content (this is why there are so many different methods people!) The process may be bottom up or top down or a combination of both. There's an interplay between top and bottom, they inform each other. IDEOs DT is largely bottom up, and doesn't include the complex flexibility necessary in allowing the top structure to be realised.

IDEO'S DT reflects a larger issue within modernism and the concept of a universal design, it seems like since FOREVER design has wanted to 'design design' from the Bauhaus to IDEO. The idea of a pure process which is free or error and subjectivity - is bullshit. Why do we feel like we have to legitimise our existence?

Design is no quick fix.

"Interest within business schools in how designers 'go about' engaging with problems pre-dates the economic crisis (eg Boland and Collopy 2004) but rests on the idea that established ways of thinking about managing and organizing are not adequate to dealing with a fluid business environment (Tsoukas and Chia 2002), let alone any number of global challenges from climate change, to resource inequality, to peak oil." (Kimbell) I can recognise the quest for innovation by the adoption of a creative class who have a privileged place within contemporary capitalism, additionally I am critical of this quest.

I agree with Stefanie when she blogs "There is money to be made off design thinking right now, and many are trying to cash in on the fad. I use the word ‘fad’ here because design thinking, throughout this recent wave, has been supported purely by hype than strong empirical evidence. It is safe to say that we can thank IDEO for popularising, or rather, realising and advertising the potential in this new form of development. Since IDEO pushed design thinking into the forefront of innovation, practitioners, academics, scholars, professors and designers have all crawled out of the woodwork to claim their piece of the design thinking pie. It has resulted in a royal mess, with arguments thrown about by every tom, dick and his dog as to why design thinking is or is not associated with design." (S. Russo)

More than IDEO? How designers design. Exploring the etymology of DT.

There is a lot of research on how designers deisging. What began as the design methods movement (Jones 1970; Buchanan and Margolin 1995) gradually shifted towards investigations in design thinking (Cross 1982);  researchers sought to understand the processes and methods by which (successful) designers went about design activity.  This exploration also lead them to study the nature of design problems in more depth. Kimbell and others suggest that "to understand how design thinking emerged, we need to understand how design is understood in different stages of history".

Sorry to all you design nerds out there but I am going to actively avoid giving you a history on design methods. Because it would take too long, and also because I'm not convinced it holds much connection to how DT is understood today. This is because I sense that people are looking back in order to justify or give meaning to the term.

There's something in this mode of thinking that just doesn't gell with me... The way DT arose I'd argue is not inclusive of history in the first place. Just sayin'. Prove me wrong.

I did however, come across a thought provoking blog site by a PHD student at Swinbourne who is studying DT. I do respect how she owns her own historical approach to the topic (always historicize design!) I recommend that you read her brief history of design thinking. More than defining where the recent 'DT' term comes from per se (and debating it's semantics) Stefanie instead uses the term as a framework (or lens) mapping and correlating through time, up to today.
I can't say I agree with her approach but it is helpful, more than anything, in highlighting the historical struggle and meaning making of design practice.

The etymology of DT is fragmented, it includes: 'the history of design', 'thinking', 'how designers think' and 'thinking about design'  - geeze -  People have focussed on one, or have conveniently conflated these aspects. As Rylander (2009) points out, it’s hard enough understanding design and thinking, let alone design thinking.

It is said that other than IDEO the term became popular in the 1980s at institutions like Stanford and MIT, others highlight the 1960s claiming it began to evolve from participatory design (where the user's needs are an integral part of the design process itself, not an afterthought).

So, below is a bit on DT as understood within the design field.

On what designers do:

  • 1971 Christopher Alexander argues that design is about giving form, organization and order to physical things.
  • Herbert Simon - “design” of human action in the realm of the artificial. “what ought to be” contrasted with the sciences which are concerned with “what is”. Focus on problem solving.
  • 1970 Jones -  Changing how a problem was thought about in order to develop a new solution.
  • Donald Schön introduced the idea of framing and making moves when problem-solving during professionals’ reflection-in-action (Schön 1983).
  • Peter Rowe’s Design Thinking, (1987) “procedural aspects of design thinking,” including descriptions of the design process, and then introducing generalized principles. 1) Design professionals have an episodic way of approaching their work; they rely on hunches and presuppositions, not just facts. 2) The nature of the problem-solving process itself shapes the solution.
  • Nigel Cross, “designerly ways of knowing.” Design as solution-focused  (1982; 2006). Problems and solutions co-evolve. Abductive reasoning.
  • Dorst (2006) understanding of a problem shifts during a design process, designers should construct designs that transcend or connect paradoxes.
  • Burnette (2009) describes different kinds of thinking within a design process. One focus has been to discern different levels of expertise among designers, from novices to visionaries (Lawson and Dorst 2009).

"In short, while there has been a sustained effort to understand and describe what professional designers do in their design work, this has not yet generated a definitive or historically-informed account of design thinking, nor any explanation for why they might have a particular cognitive style." (Kimbell) (I'm quoting Kimbell a lot as it's one of the only half decent critical articles on DT I found)

Defining design:

  • Buchanan’s (1992) paper “Wicked Problems in Design Thinking” is seminal. He shifted design theory from craft and industrial production towards a more diffused “design thinking.” The concept was that DT could be applied to nearly anything, object or system. "Drawing on Pragmatist philosopher John Dewey, Buchanan sees design as a liberal art, uniquely well-placed to serve the needs of a technological culture in which many kinds of things are designed, and human problems are complex. For Buchanan the designer brings a unique way of looking at problems and finding solutions. Design practitioners tend to work on: signs, things, actions, and thoughts. This version of design thinking is less concerned with individual designers and how they design, but rather seeks to define design’s role in the world." (Kimbell)
  • Rylander (2009) is also pragmatic, concluding that Dewey’s work on aesthetic experience is a way to explore designers’ skills in detail.

As Stefanie states on her blog "Design Thinking and all that it stands for today did not directly come out of the simply proves that design thinking has a history. " (If you choose to define DT that way)

or things we all need to work through.

Generalisation simplification and myth making (a narrow funnel):

  • Design thinking is western and privileged.  What of india, japan..lower socio economic solutions? This is where a lot of innovation actually occurs - for example, disaster zones. 
  • What influence does culture have? The idea of a generalized design thinking ignores the diversity of designers’ practices and institutions which are historically situated.
  • What philosophy are we taking? are we thinking nominally, universally are are we design realists?What do we believe about design, and what are our beliefs based on? Design as a universal must acknowledge its awkward position. "The problem of universals is itself a universal, the universal problem of accounting for the relationships between mind, language, and reality"
  • Taught DT can, paradoxically, lead to a predictable and less creative outcome.
  • The hyped expectations and assumptions of DT are simplified and therefor unrealistic.
  • The history of design is not linear and cannot be neatly bundled into 'stages'. Design is complex to grasp, springing from multiple histories rather than from a single track - design history is iterative and socially constructed.
  • The Paradox of structure has not been considered. (Whatever its nature, any structure is both enabling and limiting at the same time) what would the structure of DT as a phenomenon look like?
  • DT implies a 'quick fix', this is not the reality especially with Wicked problems.
  • How does failure actually fit into DT ? if DT is continually made out to be a saviour, how are people going to react - say if it doesn't work? how can we be honest as designers in respect to failure when we hardly ever highlight it ourselves in our own practice?
  • Statements like this: "The most successful businesses in the years to come will balance analytic mastery and intuitive originality in a dynamic interplay ... called design thinking" from the book, The Design of Business, by Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto
  • "Organisations initially cannot comprehend the nature of creatives. Designer's creative process and mindset are too ambiguous, messy and unpredictable for businesses to follow and embed as part of their organisational process" (J. Tjendra).
  • From the moment we start to 'define' creativity it seems to loose it's spark.

Design Ego:

  • If we restrict DT to only the design field then we are neglecting the true interdisciplinary nature of design.
  • What is designer-centricity and how can we attribute it to our understanding of DT?
  • We need to be sure we are not just duplicating what has already been written about in other subject areas. For example, Applied Creativity has its own history beginning in the modern age around 1940. 
  • How can we objectively evaluate ourselves?
  • Design thinking rests on theories of design that privilege the designer as the main agent in designing. This is arguable and has implications especially in co-creation. 

DT as apolotical:

  • DT threatens to turn design into a ford-esque mindset. Concern with design’s place in the world and thus with larger social or political questions is lost when design is mobilised within a managerialist framework. As Sam Ladner (2009) puts it: “Design is attractive to management because it is a de-politicised version of the well known socio-cultural critique of managerial practices.” Let's not pretend - design is political. design is not objective.

Lack of evidence:

  • The biggest problem I see (that is conveniently unaddressed) is the lack of evidence for design thinking. Or what design thinking is not.
  • How is DT (cognitively) different from other forms of thinking? Perhaps DT is simply critical thinking within a design framework. If so, let's call it that. Some studies, for example, suggest that medics exhibit qualities associated with design thinking (Kimbell) Such assertions implicitly undermine design’s claim to uniqueness (Cross 2010).
  • "Researchers who focus on the individual designer and his or her cognitive style rarely study the world within which the designer works (cf Bourdieu 1977). Such researchers usually cultivate objective rather than subjective knowledge; moreover, their research assumes there are clear boundaries between the designer and the world s/he is in; further, the researcher is construed as remaining outside this world. These studies describe what designers do and trace how their thinking develops in the course of a project, but they often ignore key aspects of the designer’s world. For example, several studies of design thinking as a cognitive style rely on protocol analysis based on recording and then analysing what designers say about what they are doing.  This is usually monitored during an artificial exercise in which the designers are given a problem to solve. While these studies may produce interesting findings, this approach sometimes presents a version of design thinking as a simple form of information processing with inputs and outputs (eg Badke-Schaub et al 2010)"(Kimbell)
  • "Design thinking can be presented as a process that is supposedly applied to an organisation (eg Brown 2009), though this approach never clarifies how easy it is to import it from one context to another"(Kimbell)
  • We need research and evidence on what it is, in fact, that makes design thinking ‘successful’.
  • Creativity, no matter what pseduo-research is out there, cannot be measured observed or verified as a 'particular' phenomenon. I am increasingly thinking that what we know as creativity is actually more of a socio-cultural practice more-so than a cognitive one.  The neuro-centricity is narrowing academias pursuit towards truth. 
  • Design is spoken about as a process. So what exactly is this process and how is it designerly or not? Right now, we are fighting between using designers logic to express this process and the general logic of man (which is essentially hard to define). We have to point to a source and say: ‘that is what design is about’ and this is where all other disciplines have a say. (S. Russo)

Experience, time, embodiment and constructivism:

  • The design method is fluid and learnt through experience. We learn by going through a design process over and over and over again. It is professional practice. This, simply, cannot be passed over in a model for business to adopt. The higher order thinking that a designer works on takes a lifetime on to learn. DT is developed over time, this becomes intuitive as a designer becomes more experienced and confident in their practice and risk. Design Thinking is an embodied skill.
  • We need to look at  designers’ ways of working over previous decades, and even within their lifetime. How does expertise shape DT?
  • Explaining DT is tricky with limp empirical support (data) it's hard to justify a shift in process which ultimately can effect an organisational culture. Additionally, without an effective primer for what people are getting themselves in for there can be all sorts of teamwork issues and anti-design patterns in play. 
  • On what principles is it based? How different is it to other kinds of professional knowledge? Do all designers exhibit it? What are its effects within the worlds where design takes place? How can it be taught? What of DT and pedagogy? 

Philosophy / mixing subjectivity with objectivity:

  • Is DT external or internal? If internal, we cannot distinguish the result of 'design thinking' rather than just 'thinking' itself. The internal and external are not a dichotomy, they are interrelated their interaction is accountable to years of research into perception, constructivism, social theory and mind/body philosophies to mention a few. though interrelated, Internal thinking and external process are not interchangeable terms. Yet from what I have read on DT these two ARE being used interchangeably, with an assumption that thinking and doing are the same thing.
  • Many accounts on DT seem to rely on this dualism between thinking and knowing, and acting in the world. We are currently stuck at the cross road of defining design thinking as a designerly logic possessed by designers, or as a fundamental process towards desired goals. There are important differences in the underlying ways the world is understood and what can be known about it.

There are a diversity of approaches and no clear description of design thinking.  Just what design thinking is supposed to be is not well understood, either by the public or those who claim to practice it.

From my limited foray into the subject, these are the numerous definitions I have gleaned, which I've categorised into 4 areas. This is my attempt at dissecting the messy polysemy that is DT. And yes these views do compete with each other. And yes it is a mess.

1) The thinking which drives the design process:

  • How designers think or the cognitive style of designers during the design process.
  • Pivot thinking (switching between divergent and convergent thinking ' the neuroscience of design') (Scharr).
  • The combination of divergent and convergent thinking- creative cognition.
  • Higher order thinking (Buchanan).
  • Systems thinking, Holistic thinking, Critical thinking.

2) A way to make sense and unify design discourse in the 21st C: 

  • A framework to analyse the history of design discourse (based on practice).
  • An umbrella term to unify design methods and movements.
  • A term to encompass 'user-centred', 'service' and 'human-centred' design.
  • An attempt to bind art, science and design (design as an interdisciplinary glue)
  • An approach rather than a description of a set of methods. (A way of describing what design is) - A theory.
  • The study on innovation and strategy (models, schematics, exercises and frameworks)
  • The iterative process of Observation, Ideation, Prototype, and Testing.
  • A description of the application of well-tried design process to new challenges and opportunities, used by people from both design and non-design backgrounds
  • 'Outside-in' approaches to design.
  • A reaction to co-created design practice.

3) The wider democratisation of design as a 'mindset' and transferable skill set:
(or aka the managerial discourse)

  • Design process methods that are developed to improve and extend design to other areas of practice.
  • The application of a design process towards a system, environment or complex problem.
  • A sharable staged design process for business.
  • Problem solving (especially 'Wicked') (Buchanan, Rittel).
  • The act of teaching and applying a design method to a lay person, group or organisation.
  • A business and marketing strategy (A way to package, market and sell 'design')
  • A popular fad.
  • Prioritising the iterative (prototyping and failure)
  • Aims for a 'breakthrough'
  • IDEO practices "We’ve collected … success stories …(and) linked these organisational achievements to specific methodologies and tools you can use to bring innovation into your own organisation” (Kelley).
  • “A methodology that imbues the full spectrum of innovation activities with a human‐ centred design ethos.” (Brown).
  • A way for managers managers to “get” design (thinking about how design works).

4) Design self reflexivity:

  • A self reflection tool for designers.
  • A way of differentiating 'designerly' ways from other ways of doing things.
  • Academic construction of the professional designer’s practice.
  • Theoretical reflections on how to interpret and characterise the designer’s practice (Schon 1983:78‐79).
  • "Community amounts to a self‐reflective reproduction of the design profession.” (Krippendorf).
  • A 'mindset' (A way of reasoning/making sense of things (Bryan Lawson/ Nigel Cross)
  • Thinking about how we enact design method/s.

Gala says: Let's look at DT, critically,
as a reflection on the state of design today.

So, I ask myself after reflecting a bit on design history, Where is design at now? Designers from all walks of life as a community are asking this question, just as I am now, in order to situate who we are and what we do. Why? because design is and always has been a non-linear inter-disciplinary practice, an in an increasingly connected world, it's becoming more common practice. Design should not and does not exist on its own. The thing is, describing the workings of inter-disciplinary practice is challenging - especially if that's what you are, actually, designing.

What is new, is what we are designing for. We are increasingly designing systems and experiences, narratives and journeys. Way finding. Sense making. Services as well as things. Sure, this has always been happening, but it used to be more of a by-product of design rather than the central focus.

As we shift into a more complex, connected and knowledge driven economy driven by the so-called Creative Class and the “New Spirit” of Capitalism we shift from hierarchies to networks and from bureaucratic discipline to team-work and multi-skilling (Kimbell) (Apparently) capitalism is absorbing its critiques and remaking itself  -  The introduction of DT is part of this, whether it's a marketing facade (think of 'green' strategies) or a genuine attempt to care about people - creating sustainable and positive social change, is arguable on a case by case basis.

I agree with Stephanie in her latest conclusions in her blog "Design thinking shapes multidisciplinary design practice, and is also shaped by practice (See Gumienny et al. 2010, p.246). This adds more weight to the ideology that the characteristics of design thinking may be transitory and that the designerly approach evolves with new and emerging areas of human concern"

Academically there appears to be a movement to rethink design thinking (I know right, could this whole thing get anymore confusing?) Kimbell (2011) suggests "attending to the situated, embodied routines of designers and others offers a useful way to rethink design thinking" Hang on a minute, isn't this a backwards step? I see what Kimbell is getting at though, the concept of DT has become so conceptual that people are seeking a more grounded approach.,I'm just not convinced if looking at designers themselves is the right way to go about it.

It seems DT is destined to get caught in great reflective circle. I am drawn towards DT and then repelled from it. Like a moth to a flame. The academic in me recognises the popularity of DT and therefore something I should know about - but the pragmatist in me recoils - seeing it's a self reflective, vain attempt of the field of design to somehow verify itself and its importance.

My prediction is that we will start seeing a lot of case studies using the DT term rather than 'design methods', and that these papers will be published in various disciplines rather than just design studies. "Design thinking has captured the imagination of practitioners and educators in a range of fields; this widespread interest leads to a discussion of design based more on anecdotes and claims than theoretically or empirically robust arguments" This is OK, but now we need to improve. Interdisciplinary research is rad, let's properly acknowledge other fields. Design has matured, it's time we step out of our shell and accept that design is an ecology. We absorb like sponges, and that this is in fact more than OK, it is fabulous, it makes design diverse, holistic and empathetic and tangible.

Main Refs:
Rethinking design thinking Part I, Lucy Kimbell.
I think therefore I design, Stefanie Di Russo.
The Origins of Design Thinking, Jeffrey Tjendra.


So, I am taking 3 MOOCs at the moment.
One of which is 'Creativity, Innovation and Change'.
The discussion threads have proved thought provoking, fluffy and borderline absurd - all the things you'd expect on a course on creativity..

The paradox goes something like:
1: Hey! here's an undefined concept
2: this is what I think, what do you think?
3. Mazes, laterals, semantics, messy balls, personal experiences ~ attempts at answers
4. Hey! what about cognition..
5. Back to number 1.

Quite fun circular narratives going on.

It's interesting that the discussion forums are reflecting the course subject. I would say, compared to other forums they are more creative in nature. My observation is merely based on the divergency of topics and willingness it seems for people to speak up and not be judged.
Growth from the content seed - this is what I think makes a MOOC successful.

It seems we are attempting to discuss aspects of phenomenology and cognitive science without having prior knowledge of the subject or language.

One thing we all seem to agree upon is that creativity is a process, which involves problem solving and a mix of convergent and divergent thinking to come up with a solution.

Beyond that there is no agreed upon definition. Sometimes I wonder if creativity is even a thing. It seems likely that the term only exists socio-culturally and not as something that we (our 'our brains' ((ew so brain-centric)) enact. Is creativity not just life?

(Though I did recently read this article which convinced me of a bit more of the neuro aspect).

Words and definitions are frustrating, cos words are just concepts existing logically. So then, we ask, what are the signifiers of 'creativity'? and agin, I say everything. What is not creative? well...pah.

Everyone is creative. Interestingly, after completing the KAI test I found that I am on the Adaptive end of the spectrum (below) (I attempted to answer the questions truthfully but honestly I hate these things as i usually don't agree with any of the options)

This pretty much means that I prefer working around and with structure. Which makes sense for me on lots of levels.

Really, in situ, I see myself as continually switching in some sort of quantum way between/ all over/ up and around the entire spectrum. Thinking, as we know - activates ALL parts of the brain in complex ways. I believe when you incorporate even a few factors like pressure, time, mood and coffee the diagram would be more like a fractal chaos network then this bell curve thing.

Come on! When are we going to stop using 2D euclidean representations! Perhaps they could come up with an algorithm for creativity and then feed it into Mandelbulb ;)

FLOW. One of the posts was on FLOW. and being in 'the zone' you know when you're really into your work - and time flys? that's creativity. When you are riding the wave and things are connecting into place. A 'jam'.

That's what every artist I know lives for.

That's life.

Use whatever words or language you need in order to make sense to your self.

And then, believe in it.

Information Design and a bit of reflection.

Recently I gave a few workshops on InfoViz an introduction to infographics.
It proved popular which is great, there is defiantly an interest in 'making data pop'.

Being the first time I'd delivered such a workshop, there is a lot to work on. The evaluations I received from participants were expected, they wanted something more hands on with less theory.

This, unfortunately, I feel, is simply impossible in an hour and a half. All I can really do is cover some basics and help to inspire people. I focus on coding and then de-coding design principals so that they can start analysing how parts work together to make a gestalt whole. I guess my workshops are in-between a seminar and a workshop, focusing on group crits. Basically it's 'best practice' and I then offer routes for people to discover more.

Design, as a verb is a learnt practice. Design is a science. No one would teach chemistry in an hour. Teaching how-to is tricky due to technical constraints (i.e. learning the software) and time (there's no quick fix to making sense and communicating information) and design thinking (which is, in action - the design process (difficult to translate).

(when working through a design process with people and their data, often workshops are 2-3 days long - e.g. Francesco Franchi's Infographic Thinking workshop) which is one of the best I've seen.

My challenge as a teacher is to do the best I can, teach something practical and meaningful to people with no previous design knowledge. And to do this without it spiralling out into a design degree. I feel this will come with practice and working with feedback.

An ongoing challenge which seems to come up often, is what design is, and why it matters. On countless occasions when I explain my job to people they either a) stare blankly, b) assume I'm a fashion designer or c) ask what a Graphic Designer actually does. When I teach, the audience arrive with predispositions on what they think design is (often they think of it as purely aesthetic) and consequently believe it's something they can easily learn and master..I kinda feel like if you don't deliver on that belief then they inevitably feel let down.

The design discourse has always had issues communicating with a wider discourse, which is ironic (can we not just embrace inter/trans discipline approaches already?) Largely, I think it's driven by the audience experiencing the final solution without seeing the process of how that was arrived at. Also, the notion that great design is transparent in nature, invisible - means that the wider public, literally, cannot see the space design holds.

Being a designer is like being a magician. We play with perception, we play with experience.


"When ten thousand things are viewed in their oneness,
we return to the Origin and remain where we have always been."
Sen T'sen.

"The tongue cannot ultimately taste the tongue"
Alan Watts

"Ask yourself - In focusing so intensely on your subject,have you neglected your negative space?"
Janes art teacher on Daria

"That which is unspeakable becomes unthinkable"

"Total control can be the death of a work"
Andy Goldsworthy

"Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else."
Leonardo da Vinci


"Circles are strong. They do things you wouldn't expect."

The three points of the Bechdel-Wallace Rule:
(aka the Mo Movie Measure aka Bechdel test):

Does the film have -
1. at least two women in it, who
2. talk to each other, about
3. something besides a man?

“Feminism doesn’t mean female corporate power or a woman President;
it means no corporate power and no Presidents…
Challenging sexism means challenging all hierarchy
— economic, political, and personal.
And that means an anarcha-feminist revolution.”
Peggy Kornegger

"I’d be satisfied with having suggested thatthere is more than meets the eye." 
Dorothea Tanning

“I have walked through many lives/some of them my own.”
Stanley Kunitz

“New forms of life emerge on the margins, away from the deadening effects of the centre.”

"God is in the details"
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

"Those who were seen dancing were thought insane by those who could not hear the music."
Friedrich Nietzsche

"I embrace my desire to feel the rhythm,
to feel connected enough to step aside and weep like a widow,
to feel inspired to fathom the power,
to witness the beauty,
to bathe in the fountain,
to swing on the spiral of our divinity and still be a human."
Maynard Keenan

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells.”
Dr. Seuss

"The universe has us surrounded. Might as well surrender."

“What is interesting is always interconnection.
Not the primacy of this over that, which has never any meaning.”
Michel Foucault

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree,
it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”Albert Einstein

"Man is defined as a human being and woman as a female – whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the male." .... "In itself, homosexuality is as limiting as heterosexuality: the ideal should be to be capable of loving a woman or a man; either, a human being, without feeling fear, restraint, or obligation."
Simone de Beauvoir

“There are things known and there are things unknown,
and in between are the Doors of Perception.”
Aldous Huxley

"Only those who attempt the absurd will

achieve the impossible. I think it’s in my basement…
let me go upstairs and check."
M.C. Escher

"Feminism is the radical notion that women are people"
Rebecca West

"The true delight is in the finding out rather than in the knowing"

Semi-Permanent 2014 review

I had the pleasure of heading up to Auckland for the Semi-Permanent Design Festival 2014.

The Aeotea centre is a cool venue, in the centre of a hustling city, plenty of yummy food around, beggars, musos and hipsters, places to smoke ciggs and drink java.

Initially I didn't really know what to expect, this wan't an academic conference, which is the type I've become used to. Indeed, there were trendy people everywhere, and lots of young people which is a bit weird as I'm now starting to realize that I'm one of the 'older ones' (since when did 27 become old AHHH!)

Lining up, I got a bag a free shit - well not shit, but you know promo stuffs, which I lugged around all day. (I always feel shy and awkward at these things). Luckily it was mainly good stuff, including two books filled with illustrations, and free coffee, yum.

These types of 'books' amaze me. They are pretty, and inspiring and all, but have little to do with design. I don't know why they don't actually fill the books with process work, interviews of design thinking - something relevant that people can actually learn from.

The conference pretty much lead on from that sort of aesthetic vibe. A lot of the presentations were basically a 'show and tell' of work, offering nothing more than what one could get from a google image search. M/M (Paris) literally went through the pages of his book on screen (Which was sad cos i love the work he's done for Bjork). I find it superficial and boring, and actually disrespectful that people can be flown from the other side of the world and not even value their audience. I find it surprising that as designers they didn't think of the design of the presentation itself. I find it shocking that the audience laps it up, I wanted more.

Luckily there were some gems...

Ian Wharton spoke of what he calls 'youthful thinking' which he defined as 1) embrace the ridiculous 2) creativity is transferable 3) learn forever and play 4) dare to fail. Surprisingly he didn't seem to reference hundreds of years worth of work on creativity, so there was nothing new here for me, but I really dug the idea that we are always in development of ourselves and that the learning never ends and one ever 'gets there'. This was comforting. He also highlighted the value in asking 'why not?' and how play equals innovation and trust. He spoke of failure and how we need to reframe it ((see my previous post on failure)) and used Google Wave as an example of how they learnt and iterated from that fail to put the ideas into Google Plus.

Golan Levin was the most relevant speaker for me. He is working in a lab in an educative space with code and visualization - mixing art/desi/sci. He talked of the marriage between the critical and the poetic which is a neat way to see the art/science relationship. "Computer art today still seams like a demo than a poem" He spoke of video entering an altogether different plastic medium with the use of 3d recording techniques. This space is rad, and the tools developed are surely going to aid the visualisation of big data and education in general. Golan spoke of interoperability and reverse engineering. He spoke of being open (openfit, opensource framework) and the archeology of media. Golan was a fresh and intelligent addition to the conference, working on the cutting edge in a fun, light hearted and social manner.

Daito Manabe electronic artist and programmer (though he would fall into a million other categories too) is also working in experimental ways with contemporary technology. He hooked himself and another up to some wires and converted radio signals into electrical signals (pic below) played some music as we watched their faces twitch in union. I don't really know what the point of this was but it was cool none the less, even if the other person said it "felt like being raped" (eeeeeeeek!) He uses motion capture tracking (an example of this is Radioheads 'House of cards') and embraces the development of tools via Github and Openframeworks - what a dude.

Surprisingly, two speakers talked about working with dancers.

Dance + Design is an amazing space and one I want to continue working in. Abott Miller spoke of the 'idea' being the driving force of anything. He has developed some interesting apps in which he approaches designing a dance experience in line with what the medium itself can offer as opposed the old transfer/transmit M.O.O. we see happen so much. Some examples are 'fifth wall' where the Ipad is treated as the stage. DOT DOT DOT and passe-partout (released in May '14). Nice to see how Miller started with dance magazines (dance ink and 2wice (with Cuningham!) and then progressed into this type of interactive medium.

 Mizrahi is from a theatre background and now runs Inside Out productions, he brings an expressive element to his projects "always perform with one foot in the audience..let the tension build, it's a conversation" I think the same philosophy should run for all communication - he reminded me of Milton Glaser - who's key is also 'holding things back'. I feel that designers often forget that, and make everything too obvious so that there no 'working out' for the reader, no magic, little interpretation. Mike told us that once he met Pina Bousch "everything made sense" - Here I got really jealous but also started to admire him, he was easy to admire. "There is simply so much more in you" "dig deeper" Mikes message was to aim for the amazing and more - for the sake of your audience and your own artistic drive.

Ashley Gilbertson photo journalist for the New York Times was also another crowd favorite. Jesus H. Christ that guy has been on a journey!! The sheer raw power, the humanity of the inhumanity of war, and his experience photographing it - was off the wall emotional. Why the hell does anyone ever go to war? Just wow.

Niki Caro finally filled a void in the conference, by representing women in the creative industry, community and culture. Maori culture specifically. Thank God! After all the talk of NZ being "a new country" and how somehow that should equal "innovation" (twitter #spakl) I was starting to get very angry about the lack of representation of anything critical. (Hey NZ was a country with people before it got colonized by some white honkys ya kno) The lack of people outing (or even realising) their pakeha privilege is something my friends and I constantly struggle with. So it was inspiring to see how Caro tackles this, by working in collaboration and partnership with the community, coming in as a listener and earning respect through being gentle, by being her true self. Being gentle is a strength, it's a hard thing to do.

There was defiantly an Auckland daze vibe going on that I didn't really 'get' (being from down south). When Nat Cheshire spoke from Cheshire Architects the crowd went bizerk as he poetically but rationally detailed his journey of envisioning an Auckland for and into the future.

Overall, #spakl was exhausting, yet edible, like having a whole box of chocolates to yourself, even if you don't like the peppermint ones. Sure, I didn't really learn anything from Semi-Permenant. The only advice given was 'Say YES to everything' 'drink all the time!' and 'work your ass off' these three things are what make designers mad, that's nothing new. But it was cool to get some inspiration, and reinforce that yes, anything and everything, is possible - and is happening all the time. There is no end point to our selves as designers, only progression - a constant development - design as akin to life itself.

Semantic thoughts

Why do people say "Oh that's just semantics" as if semantics are a negative thing?

Semantics, the study of meaning - or concern of meaning is surely, one of the most valuable assets to academia?

I notice that people use "It's a matter of semantics" as a way to close down a conversation, implying that meaning is constituted purely on a subjective level, up for interpretation - so there's little point in a wider dialogue - as we can't agree upon 'one single truth'. Of course this has SO many problems, yet people say it instinctually.

This infuriates me - should semantics not be a doorway to open up possibility and conversation? Do people generally misunderstand semantics? Why does semantics have such negativity attached to it?

What does it mean when someone says someone is "Just being semantic"?

Semantic = relating to meaning in language and logic.

My pre-disposition towards semantics in a general sense, I think is "Playing with words" As if some academics use language as a cloak of intelligence, as a gateway to keep out 'lesser' peoples understanding their meaning (aka academic wankery)

Yet in philosophy especially, words are everything, especially say if you are philosophizing about language itself. One is speaking in a history, a dialogue that get's higher and higher, building on itself, this is semantic in nature.

People use semantics as a criticism because they do not understand - they have been left out - the author didn't give two hoots about inclusiveness, many can't do Kant.

This is why I love visual literacy. There is more than one way to tell a story.

We can get through the problem with semantics by employing more than one type of language. Semiotics exists beyond linguistics - semiosis is largely achieved through visualization, a large part of our brain is for processing visual data.

Design has the power to break down and expand our notion of semantics.
The work of Nick Sousanis is a divine example of such.

Viva la semantics.