Sunday, October 7, 2012

Research Revisited: Design Elevation

It has been a long time since my last post and the following will begin a series of post from my sabbatical here in Chicago, IL. I am using this year to follow up on research that I have wanted to return to and have neglected for program direction and teaching. The start of this series will be to document my discovery and renewed enthusiasm I have for design theory and some to the more important methods and processes I have missed or dismissed over my career for one reason or another.

The importance of these theories will primarily be to shape my own thoughts on design but will ultimately influence my teaching and approaches to design research. My current literary research includes four notable writings, which I will describe and add to in the commentary I have set out here. Starting with Charles Owens' Structured Planning, followed by Horst Rittel and Werner Kunz's theory of Issues-Based Information Systems or IBIS to identify case studies that follow methods laid out in the writings. The others I am working on through prototypes, employing the Repertory Grid technique and followed up by the Design Principles described by Schermann, Kremar, Gehlert, and Pohl from the Munich University of Technology, and the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany respectively.

Structured Planning, developed by Charles Owen who is a professor emeritus at the Illinois Institute of Technology extends the idea of user centered design practice to formalize the design planning or what he calls 'metaplanning' using design factors, a document that states, "information about the problem detected (opportunity)" and, " information about what might be done about it (action)". Owen goes on to describe his process of documenting the information under observations, extensions, design strategies, speculation, structuring, and synthesis operations. One of the more important aspect of this theoretical framework is the value in the resource itself. Few designers approach the process of design in this manner and even fewer document their work with such meticulous detail for two main reasons. First, designers feel they have little time to formulate such documents because of time they feel is wasted on a process that has been internalized and now naturally follows from their experience. This is short sighted in its inability to recognize the value in a documented process. Using structured planning helps to clarify ideas and connect conceptual thinking with practical responses and identifies opportunities for clients (an invaluable skill), and demonstrates a deliberate methodology for tackling projects of a larger scale also making designers more valuable. The second reason designers fail to see the value in documentation and deliberate methodology is the notion that they will loose their 'mystic' quality as an unpredictable artistic genius. A sentiment that has all been lost on the business community and discounted by the technology industry. It is no secret that I have little admiration for 'creatives' that believe their value lay in the aesthetic qualities that veil intellectual gems for the trained observer, and for the untrained you get a cool looking cereal box. What is also important is the early implications of this theory to lay the ground work for service design and experiential design practice. Its approach is inclusive and particulates complex problems establishing relationships of all people and issues involved. What service design and experience design have in common is the scope and complexity of design problems each face. Structured Planning is particularly suited for these types of problems giving designers tools to demonstrate their particular ability and expand the practice of design to include strategic planning and systematic approaches to handle complex problems.

To read a detailed description of Owens work and examples of a design factor document see: