Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Designing services in science and technology-based enterprises: first event

On Monday and Tuesday, around 30 people from different contexts - all involved in researching, designing or operating services - gathered in Oxford for our first interdisciplinary project workshop in this one-year research project, funded by the AHRC and EPSRC' Designing for the 21st Century initiative. They included senior team members from science and technology-based enterprises, service design consultancies, and academics from different disciplines including strategy, innovation studies, operations management, science and technology studies, computer science and design. The project asks - and will try to answer - how members of these communities understand the designing of services in science and technology-based enterprises. It's therefore a project concerned with sense-making and sharing of understandings. With my colleagues Victor Seidel and James Tansey, I have designed the project to make use of both design research and social science research methods. In a way, the research itself is a process of designing. While we have a goal, intentions, constraints, and a process to get there, but we do know what exactly we are going to produce - what sense we will be able to make across our different domains of knowledge and practice.

In any interdisciplinary group, finding a way to communicate is a key challenge, especially in an area which has seen relatively little academic research (compared, for example, to studies of innovation in products). Our outputs include a document that will propose a vocabulary (glossary, terminology) and possible primer or guide for practitioners. But another - possibly more significant output - will be a group of people who will have been through a sense-making journey together with implications for future question-making, future research and future practice.

We've now set up a project blog so please look there for posts by project participants on both the research process and findings.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Pride, prejudice and design

Re-reading Pride and Prejudice(1813) I'm reminded of the origins of the English word design. In her book Design Management, Brigitte Borja de Mozota draws attention to its origins in the Latin designare: ‘to designate’ and ‘to draw’ and concludes "DESIGN = INTENTION + DRAWING" (Borja de Mozota, 2003, p3). In contemporary English usage, of course, we also still have the usage of the noun connected to plots, treachery or intrigue as in:

"He had designs on someone's property" (see the full listing).

But even being familiar with this I still found myself noticing Jane Austen's extensive usage of both noun and verb forms. Here, for example, is the protagonist Elizabeth's uncle discussing the intentions of Wickham towards her younger sister who has run off with the officer.

"..It appears to me so very unlikely, that any young man should form such a design against a girl, who is by no means unprotected or friendless, and who was actually staying in his colonel's family, that I am strongly inclinced to hope the best." (Odhams Press, London, no date, p267) And similarly Elizabeth's elder sister - heavily in denial - talking of her admirer Mr. Bingley, says she is "perfectly satisfied from what his manners now are, that he never had any design of engaging my affection." (p327)

This is consistent with contemporary (although uncommon) usage. But elsewhere Austen uses the verb form of design in a way that I would be surprised to hear today:

"Mrs. Bennet had designed to keep the two Netherfield gentlemen to supper; but their carriage was unluckily ordered before any of the others, and she had no opportunity of detaining them." (p326)

Reading this novel, in which designs and designing are so entangled with intrigue and seduction reminds me of the role of rhetoric in design. A design (sketch, model, prototype, or proposal) or a designer presents, proposes and seduces. Design activities plan and fashion possible outcomes but they do not always do this honestly. Designing and designs stimulate desire, and with desire comes treachery.

But pray excuse me. I will detain you no longer, dear Reader. I must go and order my carriage.

Friday, December 01, 2006

MBA Design Leadership elective 2006-7

I'm in the process of (re)designing the MBA elective I'll be teaching in the third term of this academic year ("Trinity term" in Oxford speak). Like last year, this will include a three-week project working with MA design students from the Royal College of Art, London. To discuss this I met up with Tony Dunne, professor and head of the Design Interactions department, and tutor Nina Pope, with whom I used to lead a unit (or "platform", in design school speak) in the same department. (Anyone interested in taking that MA might want to attend their open day next week - see the poster on the side.) We'll also be working again with tutor Noam Toran and MA Design Products students. I'm grateful for some feedback from some of last year's MBA students who have helped me understand their goals in taking the elective.

In terms of the formalized bodies of knowledge taught within the MBA, Design Leadership is perhaps best thought of as a boundary-spanning way of thinking that connects with the business disciplines of strategy; operations management; marketing; and innovation studies; and necessarily must also relate to finance and accounting. Last year, students taking my elective also took some of the specialist Marketing, Culture and Society electives offered by Doug Holt and colleagues, Victor Seidel's elective in Entrepreneurship and Technology Ventures; and Victor and Marc Ventresca's Technology and Innovation Strategy elective, and Charlie Leadbeater's elective in Social Entrepreneurship.

Key to my elective are these ideas: the differences between design management and design leadership; understanding non-designers' impact on design in organizations - what is known as "silent design"; and knowledge and understanding of design practices, design methods and what is often called "design thinking". These ideas are underpinned by a pedagogical approach which involves project-based learning as well as more traditional lectures and seminars, and in particular the experience of learning by working directly with designers. It also explores the need for entrepeneurs and managers to tolerate ambiguity, develop visual literacy, and learn through practice about the power of prototyping and other visualizations.

The elective is, as the name suggests, chosen by students (from among 35 offered), and the class size is limited. But luckily all 225 MBAs get to encounter some of this material on the Operations Mangement core course.