Back Soon

I am taking off for Christmas. And have promised myself I will not blog over the break. I will spend all my time with my family and be available for the kids. In a non distracted fashion. So this blog is on ‘away’ mode for two weeks (atleast).

Meanwhile – go on take a look around

(Iceberg image ©Ralph A. Clevenger.  Any additional usage must be licensed)

I leave you with an image of the iceberg – not as a reminder of global warming. But as a nudge – that the bit that we see of society is just not very relevant. That the hidden stuff – the faint and marginal – is huge and powerful.

Merry Christmas.


Social Design it is

I have just come back from India. And from Presenting the School of Design vision. For now its all go – and that is really exciting. In short the vision argues for three new kinds of courses:

1. Social Innovation: Where the key focus is upon a people orientated project that uses methodologies more attuned to the social. The vision here is that the problems of the world cannot be solved by technical intervention at the tip of the pyramid only. And trickle down is often ineffectual as it dries up before it gets to the bottom.

2. Service Design: Where the key focus is upon changing existing services which are doing such a bad job of ensuring a decent quality of life for all – or of coming up with new service ideas.

3. Social Design: Where the undergraduate curriculum in design is proposed – as a social one. Where the discourse is post professional – where specializations ought to be seen as things of the past. For specializations were a feature of a technological society – as in compartments and efficient units. In a post industrial society the profession of design too changes and becomes disengaged from the material and technical.

The school vision acknowledges the existence of the two dominant/existing paradigms of design – as the art and design construct and the technical innovation construct – and proposes an additional paradigm the social. Which is a sense makes then the case for the existence of three meta discourses: the 1850s onwards dominated by the Art and Design rhetoric in the words of Ruskin-Morris, then Gropius and Muthesius; the 1950s onwards where the technical-industrial is privileged in the voice of Banham, with Pevsner sitting on the fence; the 1990s onwards where the third discourse emerges in the voice of Manzini and the post-sustainability texts.

Sustainability has a post attached to it as design was to leave the technical in sustainability to the labs, TU Delft and the clusters that went too far into LCA, the quantitative and the rhetoric that was then called eco-design. But as the suits moved in to sustainability discourse – the poetics got marginalised and the aesthtic in sustainability was relegated to the material manipulations. So the ‘save the planet’ brigade in design opted out and found social innovation.

This is succinct picture – just done to distance social innovation from sustainability. Where sustainability is about the dominant discourse and the social is the inclusive marginal.

In short there is a possibility that the discourse of design i about to get a fresh lease of life – atleast in India – in the guise of the social.


Word Spy – netroots

n. A grassroots movement that uses the Internet to communicate, organize, and raise money. Also: Netroots.

Example Citations:
Democratic congressional candidate Darcy Burner … followed her husband to Washington state in 1998 when he was hired at Microsoft; she landed a job there in 2000, working as a marketing manager dealing in network architecture for software developers. …

What has made Burner different from other political newcomers is her ability to attract campaign contributions (she’s outraised her opponent, a rarity for congressional challengers). And she owes a good part of her fundraising success to her links to the netroots.

“She’s one of us,” Seattle blogger David Goldstein, who has solicited contributions to Burner on his Web site,, said earlier this year. “Down deep, she’s a geek.”
—Gregory Roberts, “Darcy Burner’s interest in service started early,” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer,” October 29, 2008

What is the methodology for Base of the Pyramid Innovation?

I found this interesting blog – where the aim is to come up with a ‘practice’ and method for designing and developing products for the BoP. I will be watching this blog from now on.

I am very excited to embark on this new combined research and consultancy project about People Centred Innovation with Base of the Pyramid. For the next six months I will be exploring how we can create new products and business models to improve the life of the half of the world’s population who is getting by on less than 4 usd a day (in comparative purchasing power as if they were living in the US), and how we can put people first and include their needs and aspirations, and their knowledge and resources in this. The UN calls it Growing Inclusive Markets.

Design Education for the future

Now Imagine a Design School that offers courses at three levels: Bachelors, Graduate Certficate and Graduate Degree. The key focus of the courses is Design for Social Change. The primary context of practice is India – and the location of such a school if New Delhi. What this conjures up is design that focusses primarily upon social change as an outcome. Where the object and the profit is not what defines design.

Such a design school then offers design education along two lines: Service Design and Social Innovation.

At a level of School Leavers the school will have a course labelled Social Design. Now Social Design is an accepted and widely used term – such as in the Social Design Network. A 4 year course the social design programme will be an integrated course which builds design thinking and the ability to do projects as a designer. The projects and themes of exploration would be aligned to the social change agenda – and thus have a flavour of service design and social innovation.

The designer is in this way charged with agency – and the intellectual discourse would privilege Sustainability and collective well being issues. Though the individual would constitute a potential focus of design exploration – this would not be in the domain of self image, consumption and gift giving.

If there were a design school offering such courses – now wouldn’t that be wonderful?

A New School for India

Imagine a country where by many estimates 70% of the population is rural – with poor access to work, services and the benefits of technology. Where life in a sense is a curious mix of the ancient ways-practices and contemporary in the mobile phone and shampoo sachet. This context has energised many different responses –

  1. William Morris asking for it to be locked away as pristine and perfect.
  2. The Indian state initiating a central planning strategy to obliterate the past.
  3. The social activists setting up NGOs in rural contexts to bring modern management practices to the hinterland.

Design joined in to focus upon the rural as a manufacturing locale and designed objects and tools to make money and prosperity flow to the rural.

To be fair all of this had some effect. In pockets. And much much more needs to be done. I find the ‘design for the other 90%’ deeply irritating, in the same way I found Papanek problematic – technology and more products will not materially change the situation. Neither is income generation projects in rural areas the total answer. All this has been attempted – and its just not enough. Something else is needed.

So I ask the question – can a design school be set up which lets go of its professional anchorings (in the art and design framework ) to focus all its energies upon this population of people?

Integrated Design

I have been looking at the Bachelors in Integrated Design offered by the Koln International School of Design. This means I have considered it from many angles and there are many things I like about it.

1. I know many designers who trained as one kind of designer and then went on to practice as another kind of designer. So in a sense traditional specializations are transmutable or convertible or – check this out – all the same.

2. The specialization in design is not at the level of design method, it is not at the level of aesthetics and it is not at the level of marke and branding. It is only in the knowledge and ability to work with technology. So textile designers learn a completely different technology to that learnt by other designers.

3. There is another level of specialization – that at the levl of skill, in that motor skill – so ceramic design in throwing pots, textile design in weaving and knitting. But the other disciplines are a bit removed from their material manipulation.

Now where Integrated design begins to make sense to me is in the absence of a charge or agency in the designer – in this I refer to the herding by schools of designers to channel them into sectorially defined professions. You are a product designer – and you will work in the manufacturing sector making appliances. There was probably and time and place for this – but that time is past. Some will disagree here  for that is the ‘real world’. But let us leave that aside – for there will continue to be enough design programs on this planet who will continue this kind of chanelling.

I am looking at a program where the ‘agency’ of the designer is to take on ‘intractable’ problems. A designer who does not feel compelled to go off and work in an office in a city or for a big multinational. One who is told in design school – that their role is to change the world and solve its problems.

Ranting is good

I was asked this monday and tuesday: ‘do you deliberately set out to provoke people’. I dont. It just all comes out when my dam of irritation breaks. I live and work in a pace where the conservative perspective dominates – or emerges repeatedly as a skill acquisition imperative. And to everyone I ask: ‘is university a place to acquire skills or emerge as the thinking individual’. I find that sould killing and have always belived this. About myself all I can say is: ‘Went to uni took risks’. And I want my students to do the same. I taught this way for 22 years. Isnt’ that enough to prove that this is what I do. And I dont do it as a provocation.  just do.

But then maybe what I do is a rant.

This is an awesome blog – for all of us who did systems thinking 20 years ago – this is good stuff. Bookmark this – take a feed and listen in.

A Ten Point Rant About Why Ranting Leads to Reality – or @)!@ |

1. A rant is defined in the dictionary as: to speak or shout out loud at length in a wild, impassioned way.

2. I would assert that ALL new thinking and doing starts with some kind of rant -and from that rant comes reality.

3. When Kennedy asserted on May 26th 1961 ‘……. “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth” – that was a considered by many as a rant – and a gross, unsubstantiated and self-opinionated rant at that, that caused mayhem, angst and uncertainty for even his true believers.

4. Rants can be very useful when intended to provoke, engage, align and even gain commitment to all sorts of ideas, from all sorts of people. Especially those ideas in their infancy, put to a diverse and multi-disciplined network of people to provide feedback, and move the idea toward its next stage of growth, or death.

GM wants 18 billion

If 18 billion is given to Better Place we will have genuine change. Is it time to ban private ownership of cars?
But I do like Megan’s tone.

GM goes nuclear – Megan McArdle

So GM wants $18 billion just for itself. Words fail. Or rather, I don’t think I can print the words that immediately come to mind. This is a family blog.

Diabetes and Interaction Design

I saw charmr (you can say Charmr on youtube to watch the video) by Adaptive Path and was quite intrigued. I have students doing similar projects. This is ‘gadgets that help’.

I am in diabetes for a different reason – I want to change health outcomes for the, say, 40 million Indians and further 40 million chinese. In India and China health outcomes are really bad and amputation is routine. So I have been developing an alternative service model – alternative to the government’s health service model – that marginalizes the doctor and makes a nurse practitioner the primary carer. Then both India and China spend very little money on health care – so the model is user pays. In this sits the need for technology that has very low operating costs. This is the technology agenda.

I describe the above just to check – is anyone interested in this project?

Schon Lecture

Donald Schon, AERA 1987, “Educating the Reflective Practitoner”

And so the separation of research and practice. And the consequence of this is, I believe, that if you find yourself in university, you find yourself in an institution built around an epistemology–technical rationality–which construes professional knowledge to consist in the application of science to the adjustment of means to ends, which leaves no room for artistry and no room for the kind of competence that the second boy displayed in my example of giving the kids reason, or that a reflective teacher displays when she responds to the puzzling things that kids say and do in the classroom. No room for these indeterminate zones of practice–uncertainty, situations of confusion and messiness where you don’t know what the problem is. No room for problem-setting which cannot be a technical problem because it’s required in order to solve a technical problem. No room for the unique case which doesn’t fit the books. No room for the conflicted case where the ends and values in what you’re doing are conflicted with one another. And so you can’t see the problem as one of adjusting means to ends because the ends conflict.

How do you program a VCR?

Its 1991. I am sitting on the grass at the Katsuta factory of Hitachi. It a factory that makes TVs. And I am sitting with factory workers – one of them says he goes home late so that his son can record a TV program. Because he dosnt know how to program the VCR. We all have a laugh. Zannen!

Not many know how to record on a VCR. But kids do!

Transforming Grounds: Grand Challenge for HCI: Growing Ecologies of Interactive Artifacts

“Some 48% of technology users usually need help from others to set up new devices or to show them how they function. Many tech users encounter problems with their cell phones, internet connections, and other gadgets. This, in turn, often leads to impatience and frustration as they try to get them fixed.”

There are other interesting numbers in this report, numbers that should make all interaction designers around the world embarrassed. Numbers that show that there are a lot of angry and tired “users” out there. This is a sign of something we could label as a Grand Challenge for HCI and interaction design.

Be Nice to the Countries That Lend You Money

This is a gorgeous piece. Okay I am in love with China – and cry for its faults. But I have to admit I smile every time I hear a bit of muscle flexing – and so very graciously done. Very cat to the American mouse. Come on I say to my Indian counterparts – start lending money to the Americans – and gently push them around. This is a multi-polar world after all.

“Be Nice to the Countries That Lend You Money” – The Atlantic (December 2008)

I grew up during the Cultural Revolution, when people really treated other people like enemies. I grew up in an environment where our friends, our relatives, people I called Uncle or Auntie, could turn around and put a nasty face to me as a small child. One time, Vladimir Lenin told Gorky, after reading Gorky’s autobiography, “Oh my god! You could have become a very nasty person!” Those are exactly the words one of my dear professors told me after hearing what I went through.

But over the years, I believe I learned to be humble. To treat other people nicely. I learned that, from a social point of view, no matter how lowly statured a person you are talking to, as a person, they are the same human being as you are. You have to respect them. You have to apologize if you inadvertently hurt them. And often you have to go out of your way to be nice to them, because they will not like you simply because of the difference in social structure.

Americans are not sensitive in that regard. I mean, as a whole. The simple truth today is that your economy is built on the global economy. And it’s built on the support, the gratuitous support, of a lot of countries. So why don’t you come over and … I won’t say kowtow [with a laugh], but at least, be nice to the countries that lend you money.

Smart Phone or RFID embedded?

Is this making GPS outdated? The location mapping is terrestrial.

Scobleizer: Google’s Plan for Mobile Domination | Fast Company

Maps, Mail, Calendar, and Reader work in some form on a large number of handsets, but they can do so much more on a smartphone. With Maps, I love that you can get turn-by-turn driving directions and traffic info without having to enter where you are, because Google can figure it out even without GPS, by triangulating your position using Wi-Fi and cell towers.

Sketching was the new black

adaptive path » the joy of sketch : explorations in hand-crafted visuals

About two years ago, Adaptive Path experienced an upwelling of analog approaches. We started using design tools that jumped out of the screen and into the real world. We started using our hands to make things. Alongside our computers there appeared slabs of blank paper. Rather than reaching for a mouse, we started reaching for a Sharpie. Large rolls of paper and drafting dots became part of the lingua franca of client working sessions. Sketching was the new black.

And we saw the impact of these approaches in many ways: more visibility for design solutions. More engagement in collaborative working sessions with clients. More design artifacts co-created in real-time. Our design solutions got faster and stronger.

There’s a lot of research to support the idea that visual thinking activates different parts of our brains than language thinking. Pictures allow a holistic view of something. “Seeing is believing” holds especially true when working with a diverse group of people.

Graphic elements create stronger memory and recognition points; it’s easier to remember an image than a page of text. Illustrations communicate ideas faster than descriptions, because processing pictures requires less “translation” than written language. This means more meaning in less time. In addition, there is a tactile pleasure to hand sketching that is rich and engaging.

The Table in Context

This is interesting and different from the studio as the location of design. But still valid as the consultant preoccupation. What may also be interesting is to focus upon what we do not speak about because we believe mistakenly that what we believe in as the ‘right way’ is ubiquitous or that our way of thinking is ‘value free’. Designers are actually an ‘agency’ and their practice is a campaign (see the web address of this blog) – and this is why designers become outdated so easily.

adaptive path » blog » Dan Saffer » Smash The Table!

Being outside allows designers to be advocates: lobbyists for what is the right thing to do for the users, the integrity of product itself, and even in some cases for what is best for the business.


As Dreyfuss knew, sometimes it benefits us to be more like artists than scientists. Design is, after all, a combination of science and art, and it is often art’s job to shine a light on what is uncomfortable or hard to do: the strange and unusual. The Truth with a capital T (which also means Trouble). We just need to draw on that legacy more often. Telling a CEO her vision of the product is the wrong one is not easy. It requires two things: courage and allies.

You may already practice service design

Service design is old – and many different people do it. But the time has come to move from ‘need’ driven initiatives – which are also called social innovations – to a more ‘systematic approach’. For social innovations and disruptive innovations dislodge the dominant industry – and companies today looking to build resilience need the ‘method’. We also need method to educate more designers who will focus away from material outcomes towards – making the world a better place.

I track jamin thru an RSS feed – and find his gentle way of discussing topics very refreshing. I always post in a hurry – and actually dash off – to chuck another over in the backyard or  coffee at ‘workshop’ (but of course I dont drink coffee – its the principle of the thing – though I love the taste of coffee) – and every post of mine looks shockingly rough. But I console myself – that I blog for myself – its my assemblage, my herbarium.

So go check out Jamin. Its a Good blog to watch.

Service Design: What’s Next? |

Does this mean service design requires a different process or skills? Yes and no. As I said, if you practice interaction design in its broadest sense, know the design process well, and take a user-centered approach, service design will not be a huge leap. You may already practice service design. However, as Shelley Evenson said during the conference, additional skills she would look for in service designers are business and systems skills: the latter because services often rely on other services.

I do not think service design is a distinct discipline of design. The term is important for helping to bring design into new territory. But I view service design as a practice of design. I’m sure there are some who will disagree, and I’d love to hear their views.

The IxDA is pleased to announce its second annual conference-Interaction’09|vancouver.

Would love to go to this event.

IxDA Interaction 09 | Vancouver > Main

Interaction’09|vancouver will be held from February 5-8, 2009 in stunning Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in conjunction with Simon Fraser University’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology. Join several hundred Interaction Designers from around the world as we address the design of interactive systems of all types: applications (web and desktop), mobile, consumer electronics, digitally enhanced environments, and more. Start your year off with stimulating talk, fun parties, and smart discussions about our growing field.

Interaction 09 will feature three days of inspirational and tactical sessions geared at anyone who practices Interaction Design, as well as a day of pre-conference workshops.

Conference registration will open on October 6 and will include the full announcement of the conference program.

The 5 habits of highly effective project teams

Cooper Journal: The 5 habits of highly effective project teams

Establish structure and discipline

At the start of a project, it’s common for managers and participants to be certain only of the impending release date – everything else is anyone’s guess. While this date is sometimes arbitrary and malleable, more often than not it is tied to a critical business driver and can’t (or won’t) be moved. When resources are scarce, project scope becomes the only fungible element, and typically suffers multiple revisions over the course of a project. With an aggressive deadline, shifting scope, and no clear plan for success, folks will naturally conclude that the project is doomed and assume a “death march” posture. In this environment, the focus switches from getting things done to simply getting through the day, which inevitably requires frequent puppy breaks.

To instill confidence in the project from the start (as well as in times of change), successful project managers consistently provide a clear path:

* When developing or revising a detailed project plan, always put a short-term work plan in place to guide the team’s efforts in the interim.
* Require team members to set firm commitments for task completion, and hold them accountable for meeting those deadlines.
* Be disciplined about changes in scope and keep them to a minimum. If scope cuts are needed, move quickly to identify what’s in and what’s out, and be clear about which plan (old or new) the team should be operating under while changes are being evaluated.

What kind of people work in service design

Some people with a design background work in service design. I have posted the engine ‘people’ page here to give a slice of profession specializations – Product Design and Graphic design in particular.

Engine Service Design | About us

Engine people are a multi-disciplinary team of service specialists, and a network of experienced associates.

Service Design on film « Redjotter’s Weblog

A simple and easy video introduction to service design.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

start tackling problems and pushing through ideas together

Emergence 2007 » Blog Archive » What People Are Saying About the Emergence Conference

One of the big pushes coming out of the conference was to start continuing the conversations we’ve had over the past three days so that we don’t just convene every once in a while to talk about what we’ve done and instead start tackling problems and pushing through ideas together. —Carrie Chan

I hope we’re nearing the end of the product design mindset

Emergence 2007 » Blog Archive » What People Are Saying About the Emergence Conference

Todd Wilkens from Adaptive Path’s talk–”The End of Products”–was near to our hearts. Building the argument for ecosystems rather than products, he talked about the need for less service design than a “service mindset,” concluding with the admonition: “I hope we’re nearing the end of the product design mindset.” —Allan

the most exciting and promising research opportunities for the future

Quasi-nerds only: interesting little compare and contrast – James Fallows

Two of America’s tech powers — IBM and Microsoft — have given glimpses of what they consider the most exciting and promising research opportunities for the future. Their lists are fascinating in their own right but also in a comparative sense, for what they show about the two companies.

There will be more to say about specific items later on. For now, you can see IBM’s list of “Five Innovations That Will Change Our Lives in the Next Five Years” here, and a Network World report on 10 hot projects from Microsoft’s research center here. I think much about both companies is revealed by the comparison — not to mention the implications for all of us if these visions are fulfilled.*

I can do my take on Design Today

I make a proposition that Industrial Design is at a place where graphic design was in the 90s and photography was at the time of the digital camera. The line between the professional and the amateur is blurred. The amateur often explains better – and in the early days of the explainer these people were Historians (Penny Sparke) and later Management people – and this community has among them some very prolific people like the Sociologist Liz Sanders. Another things that happened in the 90s was that the STS (science technology and society) wallahs moved in to study ‘how designers design’. In the celebrated example (or atleast a example I am fond of citing – so I don’t really know if it is celebrated – and by whom, maybe by the social science people) of the Aramis study Latour does an amazing job of mapping the discourses of the various stakeholders. I teach my students to do Actor Network Mapping if only for them to understand the perspectives of the different stakeholders.

More specifically the study of the ‘design process’ ( as a step by step process/ activity plan used by designers in a fuzzy way) was an initiative of the corporation and motivated by – the goal – the desire to study the activity (activity analysis) to make it more systematic and amenable to management practices. (note whether the good product can only emerge from a rigorous ‘process’ is still an open question – but as an enterprise option it is the only way to go).

I am interested at this point – in giving voice to the designers lament that ‘oh we have been overrun by the outsiders’. But I don’t wish to go down the path of maintaining the purity of the discipline – like my colleagues – but am quite happy to be eclectic and engaged with the social science discourse. I in fact did my PhD in social science – so I have a particular stake in seeing the social science perspective come to the fore and dominate articulations.

To quickly capture the point I am making – I propose two provocations:
1.    Are the products made today ‘unique’? That is could they have emerged from traditional design approaches or projects constructed in the ‘old’/ traditional way.
2.    Are products today consistently successful. Is the lowering of “Risk” – by making design systematic – paying off.

(This is the project perspective – a note to myself)