Monday, December 15, 2008

"Designs of the year" that ignore over 50% of the economy

This is a posting about categorisation. It concerns the seven categories created for the Designs of the Year award which are: Architecture, Fashion, Furniture, Graphics, Interactive, Product and Transport. There is no category for services, which constitute a significant part of developed and developing economies. "Services" is of course a problematic term, an artefact of economic categorization that is perhaps too big to be useful. And it can be tricky to distinguish between where a product ends and service begins when you look at something like a car or a plane, where the servicing of the object and financing of the purchase may turn out to be more significant economically or in the mind of the consumer. As some management academics have suggested, the services category is everything services are not and that doesn't get us far.

But despite the problems with the "services" category, I could not help wishing there was one when I looked at the designs proposed for awards. It's great to see the Design Museum shifting its awards from individuals to projects, bringing to public attention many interesting projects in diverse fields of activity. The list of nominees is now public. But the choice of categories, I would argue, matters because it shapes the conversation about how and where design matters. As Bowker and Star (1999) showed in "Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences", classification has important consequences for individuals and for society.

In Designs of the Year, service design consultancy Engine's work with Kent County Council on the Social Innovation Lab comes under graphic design, for example. Within the transport category, there are excellent, possibly world changing projects which include services wrapped around objects such as the San Francisco charge spot for electric cars. One of the entries (which I found in the booklet I picked up at the museum, but not on the website) - Streetcar - which was designed by consultancy live|work, does not mention them as its designers.

My objection to these categories is that they serve to privilege and continue the object-centred way of thinking about design. Yes, you could say it's still the way of thinking of design that dominates design education. But Richard Buchanan's ideas of design thinking (1992), Victor Margolin's product milieu, Elizabeth Shove et al's Practice-Oriented Product Design and Guy Julier's Design Culture all point to different ways to think about design.

Image from Designs of the Year website project by Engine (used without permission)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Designing for Services: What do service designers do?

A film I made about service design practice is now available online as a resource for teaching and research. The film was created as part of a multidisciplinary study entitled Designing for Services in Science and Technology-based Enterprises, led by me and Victor Seidel at Saïd Business School, and involving many of our colleagues as well as designers, science entrepreneurs and other academics from design and organization studies. A publication with contributions from many of these people and discussion of the project as a whole is available.

The film adopts a practice theory perspective to explore what is distinctive about the ways professional service designers go about designing or redesigning services. It follows in detail an encounter between London-based service innovation and design consultancy live|work, and g-Nostics, a company offering personalised medicine, which originates in science research from Oxford University.

The film observes the designers as they go through some of the steps their design process, and finds that service designers do three things that distinguish their work from that of others. Firstly, the designers looked at the human experience as a whole and in detail. Secondly, they made the service tangible and visible. Finally, they created service concepts.

This research was funded by the Designing for the 21st Century initiative funded jointly by the AHRC and EPSRC.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Steve Woolgar: Mundane Governance

Designers wary of social theories - imagining that intuition, or something like it, will produce good design - would benefit from being attentive to the work of sociologist Steve Woolgar. In his recent lecture on the occasion of winning the J. D. Bernal Prize by the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S), Steve produced a thoughtful demonstration of how it's hard to talk about "the social" without talking about objects and how they are involved in constituting it. Many designers, of course, have the opposite problem - they find it hard to talk about anything but objects and aren't interested in what "the social" might be.

Outside of social science, Steve is perhaps less well known than his close collaborator Bruno Latour, but he is an important figure. Their Laboratory Life (1979), is one of the most influential books in social studies of science published in the past 30 years. Steve enjoys telling people that his job title when hired at Saïd was professor of marketing. More recently - having along the way run whole events on the perplexing question of what Science and Technology Studies (STS) is doing in a business school - he has worked with Dan Neyland (now at Lancaster) on studying what they call mundane governance: looking in ethnographic detail at the now day-to-day, possibly boring objects that are involved in governance and accountability. Their examples include things like speed cameras, recycling boxes, and bottles of water. The latter, for example, are turned into weapons of terror once you pass from one zone into another in an airport. Key questions for Woolgar are who, which and what, is accountable to what, which and whom? Once governance is not just about the governance of people, but also about the governance of things, then the categories (and practices) that constitute mundane, ordinary life, should be considered.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Managing as Designing: Richard J Boland

One of the main contributors to contemporary debates about the role of design within management and academia, Richard J Boland of the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, gave a special lecture at Saïd Business School last week. Boland's workshop (2002), and later edited book "Managing as Designing" (2004), is the result of an ongoing dialogue with his colleague Fred Collopy, inspired by their experience of working with architect Frank Gehry as he and his team designed their new building (shown above).

The Managing as Designing project brought together many of the most interesting thinkers in contemporary management and design theory as well as people from design and the arts. That thinking has now lead them to rethink and redesign their MBA, with the involvement of Richard Buchanan, formerly head of the design school at Carnegie Mellon University. Insights from their work are described in Fred Collopy's blog on Fast Company.

In his talk, Boland introduced the fundamental ideas behind the "design attitude" which he and Collopy argue should be central to management practice. "In business school we teach the history of the recent past," he said. "Design gets us out of that and into the creation of something new." Drawing on the ideas of Herbert Simon and philosopher John Dewey, Boland argued that managers should be aware that they are creating artefacts - whether they are things we associate with designers, like sketches, or things like credit default swaps, that we don't.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference (EPIC) 2008

Designers observe, but anthropologists and sociologists trained in ethnography observe and pay a great deal of attention to the theories they use and develop while they do so. The EPIC conference, this year in its fourth iteration in Copenhagen, brings together those working in organizations for whom ethnography is central to their practice. They might be called designers, design anthropologists, ethnographers, or simply researchers. They might work in product development, in marketing, in strategy/futures, or in usability testing, depending on the organization, its industry practices and its maturity. EPIC brings these practitioners together with academics like me who are interested in the kinds of data that are gathered, or rather created, in the pursuit of organizational goals. As well as ethnographers from Intel, Microsoft and Yahoo, there were many from the (Danish) public sector and from design and research consultancies such as IDEO, live|work, and ReD Associates.

Conferences are hard work. Many are dull. The organizers of this one (this year chaired by Melissa Cefkin of IBM Research and Martha Cotton of gravitytank) paid a great deal of attention to the design of our experience as participants. There were not many sessions where we sat and listened to papers, though we did. There was a breakfast session at which we could go round to listen to people doing a show and tell of their artefacts. There was a future-facing session in which three influential people with visions of the future of ethnographic practice in organizations had their ideas acted out by the organizational theatre company Dacapo.

In my closing keynote Reassembling the Visual (PDF) I drew on Science and Technology Studies/Actor-Network-Theory to argue that ethnography should pay attention to the practices of contemporary artists and designers, who in my reading, assemble the social as described by Latour in Reassembling the Social (2005). I described projects by Anna Best (PHIL, 2002) and Chris Evans (Radical Loyalty, 2002-) and my own project Physical Bar Charts (2005-), a version of which was installed in the foyer at EPIC. I argued that these projects involve data gathering and organize people and objects into sets of relations, creating accounts of human experience in novel ways that social scientists should pay attention to.

In the Physical Bar Charts at EPIC, people could help themselves over the three days to badges as a way of answering the question 'How visible have you been this year?' (the conference theme being (in)visibility). The badge that was most popular was 'I made mistakes' - one important way of being visible, that it appears quite a good number of EPIC participants can tolerate being public about. The other badges were: 'I acted then thought'; 'I thought then acted'; and then 'I used Powerpoint'. The fifth badge - 'I saw the big picture' - was least taken/popular/visible, obviously not something people want to make claims about, this year anyway.

Here's the flickr site with participants photos.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Digital Economies

Multidisciplinary research projects being in fashion with academic funders, I was able to spend a couple of days at a project incubator workshop organized by one of the clusters supported through the Digital Economies initiative led by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. This brought together computer and social scientists, art and design practitioners and academics, and people from companies that design and make digital technologies to develop projects together that are concerned with health, transport and the creative industries. I took part in a number of conversations, in particular one concerned with researching the idea of a digital nexus for a post-car future, drawing on work by John Urry. Initiated by Monika Buscher, Daniela Sangiorgi and other colleagues from Lancaster University, this is an ambitious idea that seeks to develop and test product and service ideas, and policies, that are a preferable scenario for the future of a digital media economy enabling mobility.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What price creativity?

For those paying attention while around us, markets crash and companies fail, much of London has been busy with groovy-looking people assembling at events, workshops and exhibitions. The London Design Festival (which just finished) and London Fashion Week make September in London visually and intellectually stimulating and provide evidence that the creative economy is still highly dependent on social capital, not to mention the other sort.

During the London Design Festival, a panel discussion entitled "Can you teach it?" organized by the Financial Times brought together people involved in different ways in education and creativity: Michael Craig-Martin (artist and former tutor in fine art at Goldsmiths College), Ilse Crawford, interior designer and professor at the Design Academy in Eindhovern, Mat Hunter of IDEO, and Nick Leon, director of Design London. The event was chaired by Peter Aspden, arts correspondent at the FT, whose opening remarks pointed out the coincidence of Damien Hirst's paradigm-shifting sale of artworks by auction (raising £111m) during the same week that major financial institutions such as Lehman Brothers were failing.

The speakers, despite their differing backgrounds and working contexts, seemed to agree with each other on many of the points they discussed. These were (in no particular order) that:
- you can't teach 'creativity' as such but you can create possibilities for creativity to be freed
- the possibilities for creativity are linked to early years and secondary education
- changes in UK education resulting in an emphasis on assessment may stifle creativity in students
- creativity is a social process
- creativity requires constraints.
Nick Leon helpfully drew distinctions between some of the terms being used - creativity, design and innovation. His argument that what are needed now are Renaissance teams, not Renaissance individuals, makes sense to anyone who sees design as a multi-disciplinary effort.

But creativity is hard to think about out of context. The focus in this event, during this particular festival, was about the creativity, especially visual creativity, we associate with artists and designers, and the commercial and social value we give it. We should not forget the creativity involved in creating novel forms of financial instrument that make it almost impossible for financial regulators, or even managers in the same industry, to work out how much an asset is worth. That creativity - shorn from an ethical set of practices - is one that is going to shape the world for the next few years at least.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

MBA Design Leadership elective - session 8

Managing as designing

The final class of the elective drew on recent work in organization studies which takes the metaphor of management as being a kind of design practice. Boland and Collopy's conference and book Managing as Designing brought together leading academics and practitioners to explore this idea. More recently Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management has advocated integrative thinking and design thinking, arguing that executives should be aware they are involved in the design of business. A recent issue of the Journal of Business Strategy co-edited by Martin with strategy professor Jeanne Liedtka presented different approaches to thinking about this.

Borrowing a tool from the world of scenarios, students then created future news articles five years into the future which told stories of their (real) organizations. They were asked to imagine what could happen if the design-led approaches discussed in the elective were used in their organization. Finishing the elective in this way emphasized the importance of the imagination: a critical and possibly neglected approach to envisioning the future in contrast to the analytics of strategy.

Image by

MBA Design Leadership elective - session 7

Design-led innovation

Our guest speaker for this class was Andrew McGrath, head of design and usability at Orange Global. Andrew's presentation drew together ideas from other sessions including how the design team is integrated into a large and complex international company like Orange and its role in developing new products and services. Like the previous week's speaker, he emphasized the importance of design being integrated into a company's operations - a challenge for individual designers who through education or personality retain the idea of the designers as creative genius. His team work closely with the branding and market research teams. Their activities include consultancy for Orange's operations in different countries, the creation of style guides for products and services delivered by mobile networks, broadband and TV and benchmarking of customer experiences. "Good design can flourish in a corporation," he said but warned "this takes masses of effort and cunning to put it into practice."

The reading for this class included Hargadon's ideas of design leadership using design principles and practices; Hatchuel's concept of design-oriented organisations which develop a learning culture in order to exploit new knowledge and new concepts; and Verganti's research into innovation inspired by networks of designers and their creation of new product languages.

MBA Design Leadership elective - session 6

Humans v users

This class looked in detail at user-centred and human-centred design. Most of it was taken up with a practical exercise, using experential learning to examine how assumptions about end users of designs are built into them. A development of the idea of 'lead users' (von Hippel), the design method that involves following extreme users is a way to bring into focus the needs and desires of users whose activities might stress or break a design, or who know it inside out through their repeated use of it.

The class were given some props: a wheelchair; a pair of crutches; ear plugs; and modified sunglasses. I also asked the class to imagine being someone who could not speak English nor read the Roman alphabet. The students' task was to find out train times and ticket information (using the web, phone service or in person) and then buy a ticket and board a train. The point was not to examine just the needs of users with recognised disabilities (where design is often governed by legislation) but to consider also users whose use of a design is hampered by reduced vision or a hearing impairment. The photos show some of the MBAs playing their roles using their props, while others filmed, took photos and notes. (Our thanks to the staff at Oxford train station for their patience!)

The approaches called universal design (advocated by companies like Oxo whose Good Grips brand has created a new category of highly desirable home products easily used by older people) or inclusive design make an argument about designing to include people who may not fit the obvious marketing categories. This is can be an ethical argument, but it can also be seen as an opportunity for innovation.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

MBA Design Leadership elective - session 5

Design management: using design to add value

The first week of the elective looked in detail at the design process, design methods, the ways we think about 'good' and 'bad' design and introduced some of the newer design disciplines. This session looked at the way that design can be managed to add value within organizations. The field of design management has articulated some of the different ways real organizations do this: differentiating organizations through a powerful and consistent brand and through the styling of products; coordinating the development of products and services in multidisciplinary teams; or possibly playing a more transformational role, helping ask questions about the future and having a key role in innovation (Borja de Mozta). We considered the question of how to organize to make best use of design: as an internal function, or using external consultants? Hargadon's research into IDEO's role as technology brokers provided an important argument about the benefits of the cross-pollination of ideas from industry to industry.

For managers, a key question is how to assess the effectiveness of design, broadly conceived, or a design department. There's no standard framework for this. We looked at research by the Design Council that found a positive correlation between companies that were recognised as achieving good design, and stock market performance. We also discussed how awards can sometimes mark out organizations for whom the role of design is key.

During this class students had an opportunity to reflect on the role of design in their own organizations. Did they find evidence of silent design, or design management in which design helps differentiated products through styling or having a key role in new product development; or did they think that design played a role in asking strategic questions for the organization? Not surprisingly, few of the MBAs knew of an organization that had a 'Chief Design Officer' at board level. But several wanted to find ways to think about how they might implement some of the elective's ideas in their own firm - potentially becoming design leaders themselves.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

MBA Design Leadership elective - session 4

What do designers do (II)?

This class focussed on design methods. Complementing the earlier class on process, this class looked in more detail at the tools and techniques designers use in their work. In particular we looked at ideation (eg brainstorming, as described by Tom Kelley and researched by Sutton and Hargadon), and the ways designers visualize ideas. Sketches and prototypes function as boundary objects, having an important role in organizations. Different kinds of designers and engineers mean different things by these terms so it's important to understand how these artefacts can be used within the design process, sometimes to open up questions and sometimes to specify design features. We also considered the challenges of creating prototypes of experiences (rather than of products). Finally we considered the service blueprint (or customer journey): a visual narrative of the interactions with touchpoints and staff that a customer goes through within a service, which together impact on his or her experience. Originally proposed by Shostack (1984) in services marketing, this method has been further developed in the practices of service design consultancies.

The practical exercise involved groups of MBA students creating a service blueprint/customer journey diagram for parts of an experience we had all shared: air travel. One group tackled check-in (online, kerbside, at a desk); another looked at luggage; another at waiting for the flight; another at the gate; and a fifth group looked at (in-bound) immigration. The value of this design method was clear: creating a visual representation that focussed on the human experience of the service, manifested through engagements with touchpoints or front-stage customer service representatives. The approach contrasts with the sorts of diagrams produced within operations management which tend to focus on flows and efficiency, but pay less attention to usability and desirability. This design method enables the various parts of the organization to come together to look at a visual representation that makes visible the customer experience, but shows how the different functions (marketing, operations, IT, and partner organizations) come together to deliver it - and where the failure points are.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

MBA Design Leadership elective - session 3

Emerging design disciplines - interaction design, service design, and design for sustainability

Image credit: D'Arcy Norman

If the 20th century was about industrial and product design, this century is likely to be one in which the emerging disciplines of interaction, service and experience design stabilise, and in which the challenges brought about by climate change lead to new ways of doing design. This class introduced students to current thinking and practice.

One resource we used was Bill Moggridge's website Designing Interactions, which has short videos featuring some of the leading names involved in the development of human-computer interaction. Things like drop-down menus and the computer mouse - which are now mundane, everyday devices - required a great deal of design effort. Interaction design today is not just about computers and screens but about engagements with objects in which there is embedded, networked intelligence. In service design, the design challenge is how to offer stakeholders a meaningful and consistent experience across different touchpoints arranged in time and space, with the organizational resources aligned to deliver it. People involved in thinking about the role of design in sustainability have moved from the well-established arguments that we should reduce, re-use and recycle to think of designing products and services that are nutrients (McDonough and Braungart) or attempt to manufacture objects which we can have emotionally durable connections with, so we don't throw them away so quickly (Chapman).

Our guest speaker was Chris Downs, co-founder and director of live|work, a service innovation and design consultancy of 26 people with offices in London and Oslo. When Chris did a Google search on "service design" in 2001, there were no search results. His company is one of the leading consultancies in this fast-growing field. Coming from a product design background, Chris talked us through the realizations that got him to the point that he and his co-founders concluded that products don't work economically, environmentally and socially. His company's goal is to enable a shift from products to services which are more financially, socially and environmentally sustainable; to promote use over consumption; and to make more with less. Using examples of services live|work has designed for organizations such as Norwich Union, Experian and the public sector, Chris provided a provocative narrative of the opportunities - and frustrations - of design-led innovation in services.

In product manufacturing, the designer's job might well be done once the specification is complete. But service designers have to work closely with the organization to help it turn prototypes and specifications into live services. With their inherent variability, services are harder to standardize, especially if they involve people, which means the design of the service must also involve the design of the service system - so designers (of the customer experience through their engagement with touchpoints) need to work closely with managers and service providers (who need to organize everything required to deliver the touchpoints). Service designers are challenging not just established ideas about the scope of design, but also their clients' understandings about service innovation too.

MBA Design Leadership elective - session 2

What do designers do?

Having considered design as outcome, in this second class we looked at design as process. We looked at the situated practices of professional designers, what some people call "design thinking". Picking up some ideas that have become important in theories about design, we considered the idea of wicked problems (Rittel and Webber), which Buchanan has argued are the sorts of problems designers face. To explore this further, Nigel Cross's work on designerly ways of knowing helped show some of the ways that designers frame problems, develop strategies to get to solutions and generate solutions. This was followed by looking at Schon's ideas of reflection in practice and knowing in practice - ways that professionals other than designers go about problem framing and reframing.

Other helpful readings included Bill Buxton's Sketching User Experiences with its discussion on the differences between getting the design right and getting the right design. We looked at the idea of convergent and divergent thinking during design processes and the place of ambiguity and uncertainty along the way. The well-known IDEO shopping cart video made by ABC TV provided data for the class to analyse to see what happened in that design process.

The practical exercises involved taking some of the design problems at the school identified in the previous session, determining criteria for creating a better design outcome and then designing a process to redesign them. This provided useful data to compare and contrast the ways designers frame and solve problems and the ways others do so. One group tackled the sockets problem (see the previous post): they pretty quickly generated a prototype which - which it effectively visualized a solution - illustrated the attachment designers sometimes have to their own ideas, in ways which close down the problem space.

MBA Design Leadership elective - session 1

What do we mean by design?

This first session introduces the MBA students to fundamental ideas about design - what it is, why it matters, and how we make judgements about good or bad design outcomes. Many people feel they want definitions before they start talking about something. Much of the session was based around a group "crit" (or critique) of designs at Said Business School. The students come from a range of countries, professions and backgrounds - some (on the executive part-time MBA) had just flown in from South Africa and Hawaii. What they all share, however, is the experience of the school, its architecture, its processes and systems, its website and intranet, its marketing collateral and events, its catering, and of course its learning experience. I asked students to bring examples of two things at the school they think are well-designed and two that are badly designed, based on their own criteria. One of the things that came up several times as badly designed was the power sockets built into the floors of the lecture theatres and seminar rooms (pictured). They can present a trip hazard and are hard to clean - and for people like many of our students who are using non-UK adaptors, they are inconvenient to use. Good design examples included the architecture and the new intranet. As examples were presented, this built up the realization of that all the things around us have been designed by someone- not necessarily by a designer ("silent design"). The exercise also emphasized the difficulty of articulating criteria for successful design, and led to a discussion about who is responsible for design in organizations. The architect we can name - but we don't know who designed many of the processes, for example.

We went through some of the terminology often associated with design and made the important distinction between design as outcome and design as process. We considered the claim that design is about balancing form and function and updated this with Heskett's terms utility and significance and Krippendorff's calls for a human-centred design that focuses on the meanings created by stakeholders. We also looked at the criteria "useful, usable and desirable" as ways of evaluating design outcomes (from Cagan and Vogel, Creating Breakthrough Products). But Vitruvius' three criteria on which this seems to be based- some two thousand years old - are still robust enough to be used.

This class had two main aims - getting students to see the designed artefacts all around us, including the ones that haven't been designed by a professional designer; and developing a critical language that informs the success of design outcomes.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

MBA Design Leadership elective 2008: manifesto

Tomorrow we start my MBA elective in Design Leadership, in its third iteration. This year 30 students are taking the class, the majority of whom are from the school's executive MBA, with a few joining from the one-year full time programme. Crammed into just two weeks, the elective aims to give students knowledge, understanding and skills so that they can appreciate the value of design and what some people call 'design thinking' in organizational life and implement these ideas in their own organizations. What I'm calling a manifesto for the class is available here as one-page PDF.

"I'm not trying to turn you into designers...but I do want you to become a bit more designerly."

Because of the time of year, we are not able to do a joint project with MA students which was a key part of the learning experience in the previous two iterations. Instead, what I have designed into the elective is a number of practical exercises for the students to have a taste of some of the methods designers use. For example students will be creating blueprints of services, developing scenarios, and doing a crit of design of artefacts at the school. We'll even be leaving the safety of the building and venturing out into the streets to look at the idea of 'extreme users' as a design method. In addition we'll be hearing from guest speakers who will share their experiences of managing design in fast-changing organizational contexts: Andrew McGrath, Director of Design and Usability, Orange Global; and Chris Downs, director and co-founder, live|work service design and innovation. Students will also be given opportunities to consider the way design is managed in their own organizations and the issues around organizing for design-led innovation.

Design and design management are rarely part of the core curriculum on MBA programmes. But given developments at many universities such as at the Rotman School in Toronto, the d-school at Stanford, and at Design London (Imperial College - Tanaka Business School - Royal College of Art) this is beginning to change. What I think is distinctive about our approach is how the elective pays attention academic research in science, technology, and society (STS) and to the importance of students developing their design literacy. So I'll be posting summaries of the class on this blog to contribute to current discussions about the role of design and design thinking in organizations and how these ideas can be taught and learned. Comments from other academics, students and professionals are welcome.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Imagining Business: workshop and exhibition, Oxford

As the STS ontology crowd sipped their wine or water (see previous post), the reception blurred into another event, with about 10 people attending both. The first workshop on Imagining Business: Reflecting on the Visual Power of Management, Organising and Governing Practices brought together about 80 people, some from social sciences including schools of management but some also working in techology studies and design. Organised by my colleague Paolo Quattrone together with François-Régis Puyou and Chris McLean, the two-day workshop had keynotes and sessions that threw together people drawing on diverse, and sometimes contradictory intellectual resources including STS, semiotics and more standard social science approaches. Keynote speakers were Nigel Thrift (Warwick) on glamour and aesthetics; Donald MacKenzie (Edinburgh) on the materiality of the carbon trading markets; and Paolo Fabbri, (Venice) on semiotics and "diagrammology".

Daniel Beunza (Columbia) has done a nice summary on his blog so I won't add much about the event, other than to discuss my involvement, as the organiser with Nina Wakeford (Goldsmiths) and Alex Hodby (Platform Projetcts), of an exhibition entitled "Imagining Business" conceived of as integral to the workshop. There are brief details in an earlier post which I will not repeat now.

What it makes sense to include here is a brief account of how we conceived of the exhibition as part of the workshop. If this was to be a meaningful event in which materiality and aesthetics were discussed, to my mind it could not take itself seriously without having artifacts by artists and designers present as their own arguments.

The exhibition includes work by two visual artists (Chris Evans - Radical Loyalty, above; Carey Young) who show something about organisations and how they organise; two design consultancies (livework and Wolff Olins) who are directly involved with creating visualisations and ideas for organisations; and two interdisciplinary artist-researchers (myself, above; and Nina Wakeford) who use visual forms to show how organisational knowledge practices are enacted. Having these works present during Imagining Business was intended to give participants a chance to consider in some detail how these practitioners are operating as they assemble aspects of organisations and in so doing, imagine them. Images of some of the installed works are shown here (others cannot be shown because of conflicts with company confidentiality).

Academics are accustomed to the rituals and the grammar of conferences and workshops, but they may not be so fluent in reading art and design artifacts in an exhibition. So we attempted to deal with this by programming in a guided walk-through of the exhibition, accompanied by three of the exhibiting artists, with a discussant, Noortje Marres of Goldsmiths College, making comments and raising questions at each stopping point. As the organiser and host, I asked the 40+ workshop participants who joined us to consider this walk-through as a paper at the workshop and they generously seemed to go with this.

As organisers, we thought of this exhibition as a kind of public experiment. Bringing visual artifacts into a space in which there is to be a conversation about visual artifacts seemed an obvious move. Bringing together work from different perspectives - the visual arts and design - alongside works created to engage with academic communities about the nature of knowledge production, was trickier. It's probably too early to say what the effects are but some participants at least found the presence of these works to be an important part of the workshop. Others, however, seemed to ignore it - which itself is data. One senior scholar told me he thought the tubes and badges piece (my Physical Bar Charts) was just like a questionnaire, really, a lack of paying attention that gloriously reveals the way academics steeped in social sciences are unable to read or even see things that aren't text (except when they are doing fieldwork. Surely the field is everywhere!

List of images shown here, from top
Chris Evans - Signage for the future site of Radical Loyalty, 2007
Carey Young - Installation view of 'Everything You've Heard is Wrong', video, 1999
Lucy Kinbell - Close up of badges from Physical Bar Charts, 2005-8
Nina Wakeford - Here Comes Experience!, audio installation, 2008

Click here for a 2-page PDF with a short summary about each work.

Catalogue: A catalogue is available with essays by Paolo Quattrone, François-Régis Puyou and Christine Mclean; Jon Wood; and an interview by Noortje Marres with Lucy Kimbell and Nina Wakeford. Catalogue intro by Alex Hodby, Lucy Kimbell and Nina Wakeford.

Those who are interested in knowing more can buy the catalogue by contacting Platform Projects. Thanks to the artists and designers who participated, and to the funders for their support.
Photo credit: Britt Hatzius

Photos of my Physical Bar Charts over 3 weeks by Christian Toennesen on flickr

Sunday, July 06, 2008

A turn to ontology

A couple of weeks ago, some of the more well-known, and some of the newer names in the field of Science, Technology and Society (or Science and Technology Studies; STS) gathered in Oxford to consider the current turn to ontology in STS. The speakers' names and their papers are gathered here. Organised by my colleagues in the James Martin Institute, the workshop sought to consider whether there is a turn to ontology in science studies and what, if anything, this might signify.

Attending as an occasional traveller/hanger-on/collaborator with STS scholars, I was struck how some of the discussions in the room seemed to be almost an internal conversation...STS was once radical...Has it lost its edge? ... What does it mean to be radical anyway? ... What does STS and its focus on the materiality of objects and their traces in social relations have to offer as compared to other approaches? And so on. Listening to Noortje Marres (Goldsmiths) present some of her work looking at the blogs of people undertaking green living experiments and the materialities they are entangled with raised useful questions about climate change and action.

Often when I read or listen to STS perspectives I am struck by the parallels with critical (or perhaps better termed reflexive) practices in art and design. It's already there in some of the STS literature. In Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (2005) Latour, for example, makes clear the similarities between ANT and activities in fields such as art: the making of an installation is a work of construction or assembly. Artists and designers are educated to pay serious and detailed attention to artifacts. Part of their practice is to assembling things and often their methods involve questioning the nature of things, whether they are designing a chair, or making a performance. We might say the work of some artists and designers can be seen as creating accounts of the traces of actors (in the ANT terminology). And that they are knowingly, iteratively, reflexively going about doing this. But this idea is not usually present in meetings such as this (see the next post....).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Power League shortlisted for New Statesman award

An online citizenship project I helped develop and design has been shortlisted for a new media award by the New Statesman magazine. Developed in 2005 in collaboration with Barby Asante, George Grinsted and Rachel Collinson, the World Power League was conceived of as a tool for young people to play with ideas of leadership: who has power, who does not and why. Using what I call a "throwaway" interaction rather like the website amihotornot, the website offers an apparently simple choice between two types of leader with possibly different types of power - say, Nelson Mandela and Madonna. The user picks the one who in his or her opinion should have more power. The aggregrated results from all users are shown in a visual table - the power league - which can be used to organise conversations in school about power and responsibility.

Artist Barby Asante and I originally worked with Year 10 students from a school in northwest London to develop insights into how young people understand democracy and leadership. Then together with software developer George Grinsted and interface designer Rachel Collinson of Rechord, we conceived of the World Power League as a playful but also serious way of engaging with issues of power. This project, from concept to prototype, was supported by what was then called NESTA Futurelab. The World Power League has since been further invested in and developed by Futurelab as Powerleague since the original team did not have the resources to take it forward at the time.

The winners are announced next week.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Imagining Business exhibition opens

A new perspective on the significance of visual representations in business activities

Exhibition 6-29 June
Saïd Business School, University of Oxford

EIASM workshop on Imagining Business, 26-27 June: find out more here organised by Paolo Quattrone (Saïd Business School), François-Régis Puyou (Audencia. Nantes School of Management & CSO) and Christine Mclean (Manchester)

This exhibition might be seen as a form of public experiment. Organised to accompany the first workshop on "Imagining Business: Reflecting on the Visual Power of Management, Organising and Governing Practices" (see link above), the exhibition provides another way to explore the complexities of visuality in organisations, as well as the specific and localised activity of visualisation.

A series of questions animate both the exhibition and the workshop. How do visualisations constitute organisations? How might our understanding of business change if we thought of the artefacts of business as themselves performing? Do we need to develop dedicated theoretical orientations towards the power of the visual as enacted in day-to-day organisational life? What are the potentials for the artefact, whether diagram, object or some other form entirely, to disrupt the normative ways in which business operates?

The exhibition is therefore propositional, but also provocative. It brings together three orientations towards imagining and the visual with works by:
- visual artists Chris Evans and Carey Young
- design consultancies Wolff Olins (branding and brand-led innovation) and live|work (service design and innovation)
- artists/researchers Nina Wakeford (Goldsmiths College) and myself Lucy Kimbell in my art mode

A catalogue is available with essays by Paolo Quattrone, François-Régis Puyou and Christine Mclean; Jon Wood; and an interview by Noortje Marres with Lucy Kimbell and Nina Wakeford. Catalogue intro by Alex Hodby, Lucy Kimbell and Nina Wakeford.

Photos of my Physical Bar Charts over three weeks by Christian Toennesen on flickr

For more information please contact curator Alex Hodby at Platform Projects. Funded by Goldsmiths College, the University of Oxford, ESRC, Oxford University Press John Fell Fund and supported by the European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management (EIASM).

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

In The Semantic Turn: A New Foundation for Design Klaus Krippendorf mentions Karl Marx as an important philosopher for design ..."asserting that 'The philosophers have only interpreted the world in different ways; the point is to change it.'" (p21). This indeed, says Krippendorf, is the point of design.

I thought it time, therefore, to wander over to Highgate Cemetery close to where I live in north London to pay my respects to this proto-design theorist, who is buried there. And inscribed along the bottom of the extremely large plinth was the phrase itself.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

China design now + and later on?

In this Olympic year, while much attention has been focussed on the geopolitical journey of the flame from country to country, there have also been other kinds of engagement with China, some exploring its history and some its contemporary realities. The China Design Now exhibition at the V&A in London (March-July 2008) brings together Chinese designers with some Western practitioners working in China and explores the role(s) of design in China today.

Organised into three areas, the exhibition moves the visitor from considering graphic design in Shenzhen in the 1980s, to the consumption-led product design of Shanghai to the architecture transforming Beijing in the years leading up to 2008. The traditions of calligraphy have resulted in a graphic design culture which is at once clearly Chinese and very accessible to non-Chinese people. In Shanghai, for many years a meeting place between those from China and other countries, the rapidly developing culture of consumerism still leaves some spaces for questioning. In the capital, the firms currently working there are some of the most famous names in architecture - Foster + Partners, Herzog & de Meuron and OMA. But also shown were Chinese architectural practices whose work was as distinctive, combining traditional and hypercontemporary aesthetics.

By paying attention to the range of people living in China, from the recent immmigrants to cities as well as the new middle class - the exhibition raised questions who is involved in designing today's China - businesses, the state, consumers, agricultural workers, designers? From within China or from elsewhere? With China's higher education institutions turning out thousands of design students annually (see Business Week on this), it will be fascinating to see how quickly their ways of going about design will impact on design discourse globally.

Attending with my four-month old daughter I could not but think of China's economic, political and cultural impact on her life. I'd better sign her up for language lessons right away.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Designing public services: I choose navigation

Having recently been the guest of two National Health Service hospitals for several weeks, my thoughts have turned to a current issue in design and design management. To what extent can explicit design processes and methods help managers, practitioners and users improve public services? An article in the current print issue of the Royal Society of Arts Journal (online version here) argues that trained designers can play a key role in service improvement and innovation, describing a project by consultancy Think Public.

The Labour government's recent emphasis on choice as being apparently what NHS users want does not ring true for me. I mildly appreciated a choice of food while in hospital (low salt, low fat, vegetarian, Halal, kosher...) and that I was able to choose which hospital to go to. But once in there, I did not really want a choice of consultants: I did not know enough to choose between them. What I did want was clearer navigation through the complexity of hospital treatments, procedures, vocabularies. I wanted clearer wayfinding, better information design, improved visualization of processes. 'Choice' between options was not meaningful for me without help navigating through the situations I was facing.

Now - thanks to high levels of emergency care in the NHS - I am recovering and my baby daughter (who arrived five weeks early) is doing extremely well. As a result of her arrival I won't be posting much in the next few months, most likely until my maternity leave ends in June.