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Subject:

Creativity vs. Visualisation

From:

"Prof. M P Ranjan" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Prof. M P Ranjan

Date:

Sat, 20 Sep 2003 13:15:26 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (345 lines)

Creativity vs Design Visualisation: Looking Inside vs. Looking Outside

Prof. M P Ranjan - 20 September 2003 (A very long post: Not for the light-
hearted))

Creativity for me has been a very ambiguous target and much of the published
references having raised more questions than helped provide answers to many
pressing questions that come to ones mind. However there is such a large
body of literature on the subject and it is interesting to see that there
are as many sceptics as there are the believers in search of the final truth
in this matter.

I have all but stopped using the term “creativity” because of the numerous
myths that surround the term in the domains of art, music and literature and
nowadays in a large section of management writings and in science break-
through as well. However I am as yet unable to find a simple, compelling and
fitting explanation of the phenomenon of creativity that is not prescriptive
or aimed at the uninitiated others in search of that “elusive leap of
imagination” or “flight of fantasy” that I can use with my students
effectively.

From a design education perspective I have found it to be far more fruitful
to focus on the external models created by a profession, particularly in
those tangible traces of external manifestations that are used by designers
when grappling with a solution for a complex design problem, at the macro
level of the total system or at the micro level of part detailing, that are
being attempted in the process of design synthesis. For me It has been more
interesting to try and watch the process of design synthesis through these
external manifestations and to try and discover the very fuzzy initial
processes through the evidence provided by the external traces of early
models (external) that led to the comprehension of some major new pattern or
breakthrough in the course of the design exploration and iteration. This may
be a more fruitful course of investigation in the understanding of the
phenomenon of innovation and creativity and perhaps the field of Cognitive
Psychology will provide some of the answers that we seek in the years ahead.

Several years ago I therefore abandoned the search for a description of
creativity processes while dealing with my students in the design
methodology class (now called “Design Concepts and Concerns”) and I shifted
my attention to the series of external models that are generated by various
professionals from a number of fields of art and design. To make my views on
the subject available to my students I offered a set of class notes and
created a lecture with supporting visuals from the works of great architects
and artists. Unfortunately pre-cognitive images are not easily available for
the works of designers and if such references are available I would
certainly like to know of these. We had with us a remarkable set of original
drawings and pre-visualisation sketches created by the architect Louis I.
Kahn who worked with my Institute (NID) as the local architects to design
and execute the campus for the Indian Institute of Management. These are now
published in the book “Complete Works of Louis I. Kahn” (* see reference
below).

I used these and other available pre-visualisation images of progressive
external models to argue against the single great moment of break-through
and in favour of this progressive external manifestation that facilitated
the right and left-brain interaction in the process of design synthesis. My
paper that was created as class notes in 1997 to support a visual lecture is
quoted below. (Since it has not been published outside NID so far, I
reproduce it here to facilitate this discussion).


QUOTE:
Class Notes and Lecture on Drawing for Visualisation
AEP Bridge Semester
National Institute of Design
Paldi, Ahmedabad - 380 007.

16 October 1997
Design Visualisation

M P Ranjan

Design is a responsible and creative activity that aims to understand human
needs and aspirations in order to generate effective alternate solutions
that can resolve these needs. By its very nature the process of design deals
with extremely complex interrelationships of issues and concerns of the
user, the environment and the well being of society in social, technological
and economic realms. The designer is therefore in the arena of generating
scenarios and specifications and offering these for selection and decision
within the framework of professional contributions offered to a wide variety
of clients. The nature and complexity of different design tasks may vary to
a great extent. Some tasks are technologically complex but most design tasks
deal with other realms of complexity in the social, economic or
psychological dimensions of users and the community that supports the
conduct and performance of the task.

Design has therefore moved from being an individual enterprise to that of
being a team effort with a variety of members being drawn from a large
number of diverse disciplines, the selection depending on the nature of the
task and our current understanding of the same.

Professional design has the further complexity of being conducted in an
extremely competitive business and economic landscape where the demands of
time and quality are stringent and is accompanied by a very high degree of
risk. These pressures have mandated a number of critical changes in the
processes that designers and their collaborators employ in the conduct of
the design programme. Design has borrowed work strategies from all formal
disciplines where effective approaches and methodologies have been innovated
and developed through experience and research. The morphology of the design
task has therefore become a complex set of iterations that revisit the
stages of defining and redefining the task leading to improved understanding
of the task itself. In this process several alternate scenarios are
developed and examined critically and this may lead to restatement of the
very problem itself.

Design thinking is distinctly different from scientific and management
thinking styles in that the designer and the design team are willing to cope
with a great deal of ambiguity while the boundaries of the design
opportunity are gradually brought into sharp focus. The process of refining
the understanding of the design task and that of generating alternate
solutions or scenarios follow one another in fairly quick cycles and are
mediated by interactions with real users in many cases. The user centered
ideology adopted by designers in recent years has necessitated the creation
of several new stages in the design process. Early concepts and prototypes
are shared with users with the use of preliminary visualisations that are
specially conceived to permit user participation or facilitate user
observation to develop insights into potential problems that are not
perceptible in the normal course of concept development. It is the attitude
of the designer that is put to critical test in such cases where it is very
easy to slip into the mode that the "designer knows best" which is in the
final analysis counter productive. The designers visualisation skills and
cognitive capabilities are needed to create new and unique solutions, but
the evaluation of each of these is done through user mediated processes that
have proved to be most effective.

The designer is then called upon to innovate appropriate representations of
the design concept in whole or in part so that individual or groups of users
can interact with these representations and provide fresh insights into both
the nature of the problem and the suitability of the solution. Here the
challenge is to discover and use appropriate tools and media that are best
suited to the process of visualisation and the process of evaluation. The
tools and media need to be selected with care so as to afford fluent
representation of complex relationships or geometries, form and content,
structure and context that is required by the particular design task.

Traditionally the use of a variety of types of drawings were the preferred
modes of visualisation used by sculptors, artists, architects and designers.
However in recent times many examples of direct modelling in soft materials
have been explored where drawing would limit or inhibit the perception of
new and unique possibilities. Preferred styles of visualisation of
individual designers may also emerge from their professional habits, degree
of skill with the tools of their trade and the cognitive modelling
capabilities of the individual. Each design discipline or design school may
advocate certain standards for the design students or practitioners from
their group. Trade practices in particular industries may also set demands
for certain standard specifications to be followed by the designer in the
manner in which the design concepts are delivered to the client for further
action and decision. Many of these standardised methods of representation
reflect the communication and documentation norms of the industry or trade
in question. Notwithstanding these trade practices and norms the individual
designer is always at liberty to explore their personal repertory of media
and skills in the early stages of design visualisation when the emerging
images of the external models are primarily intended to capture the fleeting
cognitive maps and scenarios that are being iteratively explored by the
designer.

Such early external visualisations are barely recognisable as coherent
images to a casual observer, however for the designer they are of great
significance since this is perhaps the first stage of the dialogue between
the left and right hemispheres of their brain that is facilitated by the
external model, however rudimentary. These early visualisations take many
forms and these depend on the media that the designer may choose to employ
at various stages of their work and these may be deliberately varied as a
result of experience or in an effort to open up new and unusual
possibilities in response to the challenges of the design task. These
external manifestations may be barely discernible doodles or smudges that
for the designer represent a rapidly executed trace of the cognitive model
that is being continuously refined, modified and developed in the designers
mind. While sketching and doodling are used extensively by the designer for
this early stage of visualisation there are a number of other media that are
used.

One characteristic of the media that is in common is that it is very fluid
and has soft features as if to reflect the fuzzy nature of the cognitive
model at this early stage of design exploration and development. These
external traces and markings on paper or soft materials provide the designer
with the multilevel and internodal dialogue between the two brain
hemispheres that is critical for creative reinterpretations of possibilities
and for pattern recognition of complex new relationships that may have been
studied in isolated instances but that needs to fall together in the process
of design synthesis. Design decisions are made as a sequence of choices
exercised by the designer at the time of articulation of the external model.

The design visualisation progresses by the designer creating a series of
images or models, each an embodiment of a particular set of characteristics
as determined by the data available, the analysis of the task and the user
or as perceived by the designer at that particular point of time in the
design process. This very act of articulation brings new insights and may
shift the direction of exploration or launch the designer into a search for
a particular detail that may be critical in making the overall concept to be
either viable or interesting. Thus the designer moves from the general to
the particular, from the macro to the micro level of observation of the
cognitive model that is constantly being refined and elaborated without
freezing on any one specific alternative. Usually the designer defers
decision on specific attributes and leaves some difficult details in an
ambiguous state in a deliberate effort to obtain clarity of the larger
patterns and relationships of the solution before solving particular
structural, formal or production problems.

In the user centered design ideology adopted by many designers and by
several design led companies, the early prototypes and external models are
prepared expressly with the intention that they be shared by groups of users
in a variety if real use settings so that they can provide critical insights
into the strengths and weaknesses of a particular design solution. Numerous
iterations are made, each exploring one or more dimensions of the design
opportunity and these are documented so that the design team can develop a
conviction about the particular directions to be taken in each case.

These external models begin as very abstract and fuzzy representations and
these are gradually refined and elaborated till more concrete models replace
earlier representations. These models, when drawing and sketching are used
as a route for visualisation, grow out of thumbnail sketches, doodles, scale
drawings, orthographic drawings, breadboard models for details of
construction or performance of mechanisms, scale models and renderings for
form review, full scale mock-ups and fabricated prototypes where ever
possible.

It may be useful to look at a few examples of such visualisation in action.
Let us look at a potter as a metaphor for the process of early
visualisation.  An artist, designer or studio potter, working at the wheel
and making the model of the clay pot works with clay in a series of
iterations to produce one particular pot. A lump of prepared clay is
centered on the potters wheel and the material is turned at a suitable
speed. The potter applies her hands to the rotating clay and observes the
transformation of the form with each application of pressure. The form of
the pot emerges as a result of her subtle manipulations. The feedback to the
potter is not merely a visual appreciation of its form, but with the eyes
closed, she can feel the shape and size of the emerging pot, at one point
too tall and at another too wide, leading to a corrective pressure on the
tips of her fingers or at the base of her palm.

Each application of pressure and the result thereof is a result of years of
fine training and experience and each pot is a unique expression of a design
intention that is revealed to the designer in the progressive iteration of
its making. The designer would have had the chance to see, feel and evaluate
numerous intermediate stages before a design and aesthetic decision is
frozen in the shape of the finished pot. If the making of a pot is taken as
a metaphor for the early stage of design visualisation, then we see that a
very flexible medium is manipulated through numerous iterations before the
designer moves on to another approach or attempt to resolve the various
conflicting variables of the task at hand. The cognitive model held by the
designer too gets enriched through each iteration.

Each new "pot" adds to the designers experience of the various scenarios
that were explored and it helps form some deep bonds with preferred
directions especially if these are confirmed by the interactions with users
who are able to see for the first time the "products" of the designers
cognitive explorations. In this process the cognitive model gets
progressively detailed and is far more complex and detailed than any
representation. The designers’ cognitive model is rich in detail and is
instantly recalled under varying circumstances of the user and environmental
conditions. The designer sees the solution by day and by night, feels the
air flow around its contours and can sense the soft feel of the flexible
material of a handle even if it is only in the mind at this stage.
The designer lives with the changing model through numerous refinements and
critiques from users and colleagues. In team mediated processes it becomes
critical that all members of the team are clued in to the current state of
the model and their individual contributions are then directed at solving
particular aspects of the design task that their special skill or expertise
enable. It is important to generate these external models in a suitable
media. Sketching has been used by many architects as a means of capturing
complex concepts that need to be clarified and developed through numerous
iterations before communicative drawings or scale models can be made. The
works of architects Reima Pietila and Louis I Kahn are well documented
examples of great design vision being captured through a series of fuzzy
sketches leading to the articulation of some of their finest works of
architecture in India and elsewhere. Kahn designed the Indian Institute of
Management campus at Ahmedabad and his early sketches speak volumes of the
highly refined cognitive model that he carried about in his head long before
a single brick was laid at the campus in Ahmedabad. Similarly the Finish
Embassy at New Delhi emerged from some very fuzzy markings and doodles in
pen and ink and dry pastels from the experienced hands of Pietila. The key
decisions are made in the mind's eye and the external markings at this stage
are but a trace of the rich cognitive model where some critical details or
proportions are expressed as a slight stress in the quality of a line of the
thumbnail sketch if you can call it a sketch.

Like foot prints in the sand on a crowded beach these fleeting impressions
are captured on paper (or clay) by the designer in an attempt to clarify and
elaborate the form, structure, performance, content and context of the
design solution, all in a single moment of design synthesis, only to be
reviewed and revised as the design task progresses to its formal conclusion.
For the designer these markings are very personal and memorable just as for
the person strolling on the beach his very own footprints are clearly
distinguished from those of all the others, which for him is mere noise.
Very few design tasks are documented to retain some of these moments of
breakthroughs that are achieved on the back of an envelope or through a
little doodle on the corner of a large drawing that just lets all the
complex variables fall neatly in place for the designer to know that the
solution is near at hand. The excitement of the moment is sharp and intense
particularly after many attempts were frustrated by the critical needs of
the problem at hand. Sometimes the designer too is unprepared to see the
radical proposal that has emerged from the subconscious just as Leonardo Da
Vinci and his colleagues ignored the perfect sketch of a bicycle drawn on
one of his sheets. Mankind invented or should we say reinvented the bicycle
four hundred years later as a result of this oversight.

There are many dimensions to design visualisation and it is this special
capacity of the designer to generate visible and tangible scenarios to
complex needs that makes the profession different from the managers who also
develop strategies and scenarios for action in their own way. However these
are rarely expressed in visual form but in the form of feasibility reports
and verbal specifications. It is then the designers task to give form and
expression to these strategies and the particular embodiment of the design
strategy is captured and the image produced carries with it messages of a
complex nature be it fashion, reliability or meaning to a set of users or
the community.
~
UNQUOTE

I would certainly like to hear from those who believe that the term
“creativity” is useful, critical and has a clear definition that can be
studied and used in the context of education. I would also like to hear from
the list on the ultimate short list of books that must be added to any
design library on the subject of creativity and perhaps we need to open a
new thread on models and cognition in design to explore some of these issues
and processes to arrive at a better understanding of this very complex and
elusive phenomena.

* Reference: Heinz Ronner, Sharad Jhaveri & Alessandro Vasella, “Louis I.
Kahn, Complete Works, 1935 – 1974, Institute for the History & Theory of
Architecture, The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, 1980.
(Pages 265 to 305 - Drawings and illustrations on the process of conceiving
& building The Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, India.)

With warm regards

M P Ranjan
from my office at NID
20 September 2003 at 5.35 pm IST

-------------------------------------------------------------------
Prof. M P Ranjan
Faculty of Design and
Head, NID Centre for Bamboo Initiatives
National Institute of Design
Paldi
Ahmedabad 380007
INDIA

Fax: 91+79+6605242
Home: 91+79+6610054
Work: 91+79+6639695 ext 1090
-------------------------------------------------------------------

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