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PHD-DESIGN  June 2008

PHD-DESIGN June 2008

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Subject:

Re: A simple definition of 'Design' ~ De-constructing the Sign?

From:

Johann van der Merwe <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Johann van der Merwe <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 29 Jun 2008 16:52:47 +0200

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (172 lines)

Filippo
Apologies for fast and sloppy writing - "they" refer to the different
versions of design, as people seem to view them: the mechanical,
objective, background, productive (safe) stuff that you can think about
on one level, and the user stuff, the interaction and experience (more
difficult) stuff that you think about on another level = these two
levels of thought inhabit different realities too often, when they
should be made (forced) to communicate.
The users may not normally be interested in the mingling of these two
realities - but the designer must be. It is when something goes wrong
that the two realities force themselves onto the same experience plane,
for the poor user.

I first started thinking about this after reading Nevil Shute's book No
Highway (1948), in which the central figure in the story grounds a plane
on an airport runway in Newfoundland because no one believed his story
about metal fatigue and the wing about to fall off the plane if they
take off again. No fault could be found with the wings in previous crash
investigations, and a visual inspection showed no problem now: what was
this guy on?
Two "realities" can exist at the same time - the unbroken wing at one
second, and the thing falling off the plane the next second. Two
realities can exchange places so quickly that the user cannot compensate
and udjust.
Today we know differently - sensors can warn the user that something
"invisible" (to mere human sight) is going on ...

The "ghastly" comment was somewhat tongue-in-cheek - it refers to Horst
Rittels grey (as opposed to black & white) world of wicked problems that
cause you headaches just thinking about them. :)
But that wickedness is exactly the challenge.

Your point 2 is what we as a faculty are struggling with: too many
people in the business of information design (informatics) still believe
(like your engineer example) that they do not have to take the user into
account. However, especially in the field of health informatics, users
have asked designers to come up with "just good enough" designs (aka
half-formed, not-yet-finished, prototypes if you will), because they,
i.e. the medical staff, are the most important links in the chain of
events and the initial design is just one element = the final context
that the design/system must be able to deal with are the contexts (very
often on the spot emerging) that the designer simply cannot know about,
"context" that the literal user must supply. They, the medical staff,
through their real-time use of the prototype, must be allowed to
co-design the final result.

Two (and quite probably more!) realities coming together with a
vengeance, and if they do not mix, patients can die.

How does one define "design" that has to make use of multiple realities?
There are so many authors that write this type of "design" that
definition is difficult to impossible.

Johann

>>> "Filippo A. Salustri" <[log in to unmask]> 06/29/08 2:07 PM >>>
Johann et al.

Okay, I'll buy everything except, maybe, you're very last paragraph:

1. There do still exist - and there always will - engineers that have no

interest at all in the 'users'.  This is mostly because the things they 
design don't really have users (e.g. an integrated circuit, pistons in a

car engine, a buttress on a bridge).  This doesn't mean they don't think

the user exists or matters, it's just not their job to care.  And 
they're right.

2. There's a growing number of engineers who are *very* interested in 
the human end of things, and this ranges from the clinical (ergonomics) 
to functionality & look&feel (so-called and sometimes mis-called) 
"human-centred design" and realize that the user is the most essential 
element of the system they're designing.

On matters of context, I'd add: no designer ever knows enough about 
context, but we can get to the point where we know enough to be 
confident that our design will be "good enough."  And engineering, as I 
often say, is "the art of 'good enough'."

I live in the same place as you.  You seem to think it's somehow 
"ghastly".  I think it's great: I have to balance the needs of human 
users against the needs of the product.  The needs of the product are 
generally the laws of physics + the inadequacies of the manufacturers 
and supply chain stuff, and profiteering and all that stuff.

Again, because of my background, I don't really see the difference 
between 1st & 2nd order cybernetics.  I do see it as an optimization 
problem: make the best possible product for the human (users etc) 
constrained by, basically, everything else.

In terms of your last paragraph, Johann, you started the paragraph 
writing about 'design', but then you wrote "...THEY live in different 
realities...."  It the 'they' that throws me.  What do you mean by 
'they'?  The 2 different cybernetic perspectives you mentioned 
previously?  Two different kinds of design?....

Cheers.
Fil



Johann van der Merwe wrote:
> Filippo
> We are quite probably both right ... you say that you disagree with my
> statement that "real design" cannot and should not be defined ... 
> Perhaps we could focus on an area of "design" that has nothing to do
> with both of us, and simply start the process with the target: the
> "context".
> 1] the first phase of the context is the group of people involved -
> people we know will make use of our actions, as well as (this, if at
all
> possible) the people we do not know of who might do the same.
> 2] the second part of the first phase of the context is what these
> people want and need and why.
> 3] the second phase is to think with the concrete "design" knowledge
we
> have (and hopefully keep adding to), add that to what the people we
want
> to design for need, and have a good long and hard look at the result:
> adequate result, or lacking still, according to the contextual drivers
> (massive amount of variables to consider)?
> 4] the third phase is to realise that the second phase is where we
> parted company, although not necessarily so.
> 
> 3] using the "concrete" - excuse the unintended pun - design knowledge
> of a civil engineer usually means knowing how to build bridges and
> fly-overs and the like - and the designer need not consult a living
soul
> except his bosses and the bank manager. But the user? These strange
> creatures do not exist. This is first order cybernetics, a very
> necessary system of control that relies on the material used to
underpin
> the physical design of the artefact, and this is done so that this
> artefact can keep on doing what it was designed for - a bridge has to
> carry the load (as well as for now unforseen increases in load)
without
> falling down. It will work well with or without people. 
> The ghastly fact of life is that in my design world we have to work
with
> a mixture of first order and second order cybernetics - a good traffic
> system has to be designed according to the first order principles
> (although why these people cannot manage to keep all the traffic
lights
> in sync is beyond me), BUT, a better traffic system is ALSO "designed"
> with second order cybernetic principles in mind: not designed for
> observed systems that work the same at all times, but designed FOR
> observing systems themselves - people. Design in my world has to be
for
> observing systems but based on observed systems. It is this mixture of
> your world and my world, that come together, that could be the cause
of
> the confusion and disagreement.
> We do not really disagree at all, you see.
> It's just that design is like complexity theory says these things are:
> they live in different realities, and we have to spot the times that
> these realities have to come together in the users' world of the
> everyday.
> 
> Johann


-- 
Filippo A. Salustri, Ph.D., P.Eng.
Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering
Ryerson University
350 Victoria St, Toronto, ON, M5B 2K3, Canada
Tel: 416/979-5000 ext 7749
Fax: 416/979-5265
Email: [log in to unmask]
http://deseng.ryerson.ca/~fil/

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