–Engage

“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

What is it about digital design? What happened to us?

I admit it. I’m on a crusade to keep “Design” in “interaction design”. I think more than anything else this is why I want IxDG to succeed. I think “Design” (some call it “big D design”) is one of the most wonderful legacies and processes that we can keep alive in the world. The old design schools of Europe and the contemporary movements in architecture, furniture, fashion, interiors, visual, etc. are ours for the taking.

What’s interesting is that this week, 2 separate dialogs with separate bloggers made it clear to me that digital design is somehow not following the other disciplines of design in some ways. Kevin Cheng of OK-Cancel and I had a back and forth IM about his latest guest blogger, Don Norman. Luke Wroblewski of Functioning Form has now 2 pieces (I think the 2nd is inspired off of our e-mail discussion. Luke?) that discuss the state of digital design and maybe we need to balance our discussion about organization with a cross-functional collaborative discourse around philosophical movements. Then this very weekend, there is a heated discussion on my very own IxDG Discussion List.


Enough with the background info … I believe the issue at hand is that digital design is not a design disicpline born from design, but rather born or at least sired partly by engineering and science. This is both a polemic and an opportunity, but before we are able to look at that opportunity we need to better understand the polemic of this cross-bread discipline.

How do we combine two diaposed systems into a single discipline? What is this dichotomy that I’m declaring? What effect has it, does it have?

Simply put engineering is a constructive discipline, where creation is done as a means of create and test, create and test. The creation process itself is just based off of one-off ideas, and in and of itself is derivitive in nature, or just spawned off of independent inspiration. Design on the otherhand due to its connection to the arts, has a creative process that is quite deconstructive. What is a deconstructive process? It is one that takes a point of intersection, a question, a statement, a theory and then ideates off of that idea without reflection (quite yet). Then the ideas are evaluated and then the evaluation is used to ideate again, and so a cycle is created where in each spin of that cycle the ideation process is limited more and more by the previous evaluations so that you aren’t always starting from scratch.

The deconstructive process also starts from a different position than constructive. It assumes that the initial initiation point is never the real problem definition. This to me is a huge differentiation point from traditional engineering perspectives and is at the heart of why design processes do better at leading towards innovation as opposed to renovtation.

Where I think we have arrived is that design in digital design spheres (especially in the in-house and work for hire community) is that we are being “forced” to work like engineers. Design departments are additions to most technology companies and the management has not done the due diligence necessary for assimilating design into their enterprises in an effective truly cross-pollenating way. It’s been more of a prostesthis of an appendage that wasn’t there before.

The process of deconstruction has another component to it that is in opposition to that of construction. Namely deconstruction almost requires collaboration to be most effective. The reason this is the case is that for ideation to truly work there needs to be multiple points of view at work. This is how it gets deconstructed. One viewpoint ideates and another with different sets of experiences and contexts to build off of processes the idea (not judgementally) and expands, contracts, twists, contorts, flips, cooks, or otherwise transforms the original idea.

This part of the design process has led to a very communal atmosphere within more traditional design communities. Don’t get me wrong. There is no Nirvana there. Stark competitive forces are still alive and well. However, in this competition is still a home where designers come to think, create, and expand. Why hasn’t digital design joined in this? Luke’s most recent article (I think inspired by our e-mail conversation; Luke can I take credit?) speaks more directly to this. Can it? Should it? I believe that it will have to if it is to actually remain a design discipline and not just subsumed by engineering.

I realize that for this article I’m putting engineering in opposition to design. That is not the end goal here. As I said before, there is an opportunity to be had by this union. I think that Industrial Design has made better strides in this regard, especially in the non-complex modeling. But I think digital design has a long way to go before we can be integrated with engineering in a partnership. We sorta need an “affirmative action” in the overall community. What is necessary to do this work?

There are a conferences I can think of where a really good mix of people are brought together. Many are too expensive or too exclusive:

TED – Technology, Entertainment, Design – The brain child of Richard Saul Wurman, the inventor of “Information Architecture”. Annually in Monterey, CA usually in February and usually costs over $4k.

GEL – Good Experience Live – Just in its coming 3rd year, this is a cross-functional conference that discusses what makes a good customer-experience. This is put in by Mark Hurst of Creative Good.

Please let me know of other venues where this happens.

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