Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

Thinking about ‘Design Thinking’

An article by Dan Saffer at Adaptive Path got me thinking about design thinking, which led to a series of posts on the subject. This post was first published on March 7, 2007.

design thinking and Adaptive PathI subscribe to the feed from Adaptive Path’s blog because, as they say here in Boston, the people who work there are “wicked smaht.” As a result, and thanks to the magic of RSS feedings, I spotted this impassioned plea from one of the Adaptive Pathers, Dan Saffer, for design schools to start teaching design again.

Saffer’s main complaint is that design schools have moved towards a curriculum centered around “design thinking” and away from a well-rounded, practical education focused on “thinking and making and doing.” In his view, the real work of design consists in the process of moving from concept to realization; stopping at the idea stage means you’ve only done the easy part. He writes, “Some notes on a whiteboard and a pretty concept movie or storyboard pales in comparison to the messy world of prototyping, development, and manufacturing,” and then puts a finer point on it by adding, “It’s harder to execute an idea than to have one…”

Having encountered this lament in one form or another many times – “No one understands good typography anymore;” “People try to design when they can’t even draw,” “They think the computer’s going to do it all for them,” etc. – that aspect of his argument wasn’t new. Rather, what drew my attention was the phrase “design thinking” and his characterization of it as “just thinking.”

Since I was pretty sure that it meant more than that, I did a little research and found a Business Week article from last October called, “The Talent Hunt,” which describes Mozilla turning to the folks at Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (aka, the “D-School”) in search of a strategy for expanding the adoption of Firefox. In light of Saffer’s comments, I was struck by the following sentences: “Business school students would have developed a single new product to sell. The D-schoolers aimed at creating a prototype with possible features that might appeal to consumers.” Likewise, in a lecture at MIT entitled “Innovation Through Design Thinking,” IDEO’s Tim Brown talks about the process they follow often involving “a hundred prototypes created quickly, both to test the design and to create stakeholders in the process.”

As I understand it, the “thought leaders” behind “design thinking” (you can find a good overview of them and their thoughts here on Luke Wroblewski’s site) advocate the application of design methods to problems of business strategy precisely because it places a heavy emphasis on prototyping and real-world pragmatics. If Saffer is correct that “design thinking” as taught in design schools is primarily about thinking, and not about making things and seeing if they work, then I would say the real problem is that they are not actually teaching “design thinking.”

But then again, I never attended design school. If you have, do you think that Saffer’s criticism rings true?

Image Courtesy of dsevilla.

Is 4-D the New 3-D? Thinking about Photosynth

One thing that irks me about the 3-D world is that it’s hard to find things in it. I’ve often been looking for my keys or a book or a CD and wished that I could just open up a search box, type in the object of my fruitless and frustrating search, and instantly locate the darn thing. The fact that 3-D spaces can be difficult to search visually is one thing that stands in the way of the the 3-D desktop metaphor, IMHO.

Then I remembered Photosynth, a software that allows you to make 3-D models of places from 2-D images which, thanks to the magic of tagging, come replete with a conveniently searchable 4th dimension (raising the question: Is information, and not time, the 4th dimension?).

I first wrote about Photosynth on Aquent’s Talent Blog in 2007. Here’s the original post:

Visual Information, Design, and the Future

photosynthjp.jpgA friend of mine passed this link along to me. It is a video of a software demo at the TED Conference back in March. The speaker is Blaise Aguera y Arcas who was demoing two software packages – Seadragon, which is used to browse large amounts of visual data, and Photosynth, which organizes pictures into navigable, 3-D spaces.

This stuff really has to be seen to be believed. It represents the future of how we will interact with visual data and also highlights that we are already creating virtual models of the world we live in by uploading content to websites like Flickr. There is also a cool example of an explorable, high resolution advertisement for Honda. Imagine if a picture in a magazine contained the richness of data you could find on an entire website. Mind-boggling.

Microsoft acquired Seadragon back in February. Aguera y Arcas makes a funny comment about that when people start clapping at the amazing things he’s showing them. Have you ever attended a software demo where people burst into spontaneous applause?

Image Courtesy of Live Labs.

Not a Day Without a Line

As an undergraduate I took a class on Russian literature. One of the books we read was Envy by Yury Olesha. As I recall, the professor, whose name I cannot recall, though I do recall her telling me that she was not a feminist, told us that Olesha’s motto was, “Not a day without a line.”

Is it better to do things because circumstances demand it, or because we impose on ourselves a certain discipline? My current motto is, “Do whatever the circumstances demand.” This is my attempt to enact an ideal of freedom conceived not as “do what thou wilt,” but as “do what is right” – “rightness” being defined as “what is most appropriate to the situation.”

Can one be a “fundamentalist” when it comes to relativism? If so, that’s what I am. More or less.