Tags: education, experience design, futures, general thoughts, interaction design, IxD, organizing IxD, Too Interesting!
I have had this idea in one shape or another for a few weeks now. It all started during the days of the heavy debates on the IAI and IxDA lists about the nature of our communities and the relevance if any to the term UX for me in particular and our total practice more generally. Where I landed is a very unstable place, but a place that has been getting constant shoring up by peers and circumstance.
I’ll just put on the plate the BIG DEAL.
Technology as a focus of attention of “design” is over.
What I mean by this is a lot broader interpretation of technology than meer computers and networks, but any medium: print, audio, structures, etc. One might even interpret “technology” to be “medium”. A strong statement, eh?
I believe that the Digital Age of the last period which is really the “Information Age” if not over, is waning. Wow! that’s a statement. As social networks are exploding and the application of technology to new situation seems endless, how can one make such a statement?
I am coming from 3 places:
- Not that technology can’t do great things.
- However, focusing on technology or medium’s will never lead to great solutions
- More will be done by applying existing technologies in new ways, or by transforming ourselves around existing technologies then any change created by wholly new technologies.
Some might think that I’m restating Robert Fabricant’s thesis from the Interaction 09 | Vancouver keynote he made where he made 2 bold statements:
Interaction Design is not about technology
The medium of Interaction Design is Behavior
But, in this half-baked blog post, I’m positing something more. I’m saying that “medium focused” design is flawed. That any design practice that defines itself first and foremost from its medium will always start in some way from the position of “what?” while in this day in age, the most important first question for designers should always be “why?”.
Are you asking “why?”
This notion also flies in the face of those who call themselves user centered designers who probably would say the first question would be “who?” I counter this charge on 2 levels. In this day and age where transformation against the “will” of the user is one of the primary missions of design’s largest challenges, “who” and “for whom” and even “why whom?” (motivations & goals) is secondary to the more dire goals of the planet, and society.
But putting that aside for a moment It is important to realize that there is something big going on. Industrial Design is changing. A design discipline who’s focus was on 3D form is now becoming THE design discipline focused on “why?”. It is the one next to IxD that is moving the Service Design, Sustainability, and Design Thinking elements in the design community more than anyone (just my opinion, but I’m stickin’ w/ it). It understands that “why?” is the only way to move these concerns forward. It’s not that there aren’t elements in other design disciplines taking on “why?” but I would argue with less vigor and total commitment. From IDSA, to Core77, to IDEO, frog design, etc. the very heart of ID practice and organization is focussing itself on issues of “why?”
Before this realization of mine, I was convinced that only IxD really dealt with designing for “why?” but even then too many of my co-practitioners are still way too interested in designing “what?” for “who?” But at the core of IxD is still the greatest message of “why?” I have seen in a single design discipline (if not practice).
At this point, this may be a bit disjointed, but I’m convinced more than ever that only through cross-disciplinary teams can “why?” ever truly be answered appropriately or well. Our pre-dispositions spoil us. We need to have reflection from other positions. Self-reflection is a trap, that is just a feedback loop. In the world of design this cuts in 2 different directions:
Verticals: Those who’s origins if not current practice focused on a specific medium. Graphic Design, Architecture, Industrial Design, Interactive Design, Fashion Design, etc.
Horizontals: Those disciplines that transcend all mediums and have been sussed out through the advent of networked computational technologies (that isn’t to say they are limited by it, but they were born from it). Information Architecture & Interaction Design
It is important that there are people strong in verticals. These people are necessary to be the craftspeople who can carve out the prototypes to model the solutions of tomorrow. It is equally important to have people strong in the horizontals who can guide the questions that are beyond mediums and answer the real questions of developing problem statements outside of technology and embedded in people.
So there are 2 parts of this half-baked thesis (Damn! I wish I had some 1/2 baked Ben & Jerry’s).
- We are in an inter-technology period where our biggest changes are going to come by applying existing technologies towards the goal of changing our organization: transformation
- Because of #1, we need to re-think the ways that design disciplines are organized both in academia and in practice.
It is this 2nd point that I’d like to tackle next:
I’d like to propose that all design schools change their organization (including my own). Due to the pervasiveness of technology, the tools and the solutions have led to a universal truism. No discipline of art or design is devoid of computational, networked technology. Ergo, having programs that focus on technology is meaningless for a design school. Technology should be considered foundational as much as color theory or art history to these programs. But also equally foundational is how to teach students to design from the “why?” Then, they can work on gaining practice in medium’s craft at higher levels.
I’d like to suggest 2 years of foundation where students learn traditional foundation, but then learn a new foundation:
- Research Methods: ethnography, evaluation, etc.
- Social Sciences: Sociology, Economics, Political Science, Psychology, Anthropology
- Business: Finance, Marketing
- Creative thinking
- Horizontal design: IA & IxD
- 3 Verticals: (Intros): Product, Communications, Interactive, Architecture
Then the next 3 years (yes, 3 years) of undergraduate education are a collection of studios that help a student either focus deeply on 1 vertical, or combine 2 to a level of relevant competency all the while applying horizontal design disciplines in either case.
Ok, this is as far as I can take this for now. I’m sorry for the hob-gobblin of ideas, but if I didn’t get this out of my head, I’d explode. Your help, insights, criticisms, etc. in helping me suss this out, would be appreciated. Be gentle though.