Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Thoughtless act

The perfect cable hanging device

I'm a lumberjack and I'm ok

Microlandscapes - My homage to Slinkachu.

The world needs more little people.

Thanks to Prof Bejamin Olshin at UArts, for introducing me to Slinkachu.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Welcome to Suburban Anthropology lesson 1.

Jane Fulton Suri calls them "Thoughtless acts". I've heard them called "affordances", "environmental artifacts", "user-centered designs"

The following photo are examples of how people interact with a world that isn't perfectly tailored for their needs. By taking cues from what the environment affords them, people can create their own, often insightful, design solutions to the problems they face in everyday life.

Lets observe

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Design, sustainability and spirals

Over the last few weeks I've been reading about sustainable human-centered design. One of the most interesting papers I read was by Daniel Christian Wahl and Seaton Baxter, published by Design Issues journal here. The paper focuses on the role designers play in developing sustainable solutions. Wahl and Baxter present a unique (and an initially difficult to understand) viewpoint of how to generate sustainable design solutions. However, once I got my head around it (I'm getting better at readying outwith a science context) their argument is certainly compelling.

The paper proposes that true sustainable solutions will only be achieved by designing across disciplines and using cross-collaborative research. In order to do this, groups of design teams should integrate the knowledge from various professions, including designers, anthropologists, scientists, social workers, artists, historians (t
o name a few) and stakeholders (who they are designing for). By doing so, the view-points and "meta-design" (beliefs, knowledge, values) ideals held by different disciplines will create a dialogue which delivers a more "holistic" understanding of the problem.

How will designers make sure that dialogues (and potential solutions) do not miss their target. Wahl and Baxter propose that the theory of Spiral Dynamics may be used to structure a framework for integrating the perspectives across disciplines. Spiral dynamics is a systems that identifies a number of behavioral systems, based on the biological, psychological and social interactions and relationships that these aspects of humanity result in. Each level of the spiral is characterized by certain world views, value systems, beliefs, modes of living etc, and the higher you are on the spiral the less ego-centric and more world-centric you become. When employed in design, spiral dynamics can allow designers to better understand where participants/people/communities are "coming from" (their "mind-set" "needs and beliefs"). Thus, more effective dialogue and solutions will be generated.

Interestingly, Wahl and Baxter also speculate that by encouraging individuals to move up the
spiral via integrated holistic design, "designers can help change culturally dominant worldviews and value systems", which could "effect changes in lifestyles and resource use that will drive sustainable transition".

I can definitely see the benefit of this way of thinking. When many perspectives are brought together and the direction and target of their approach is properly understood, surely more effective solutions will be generated. This is particularly true to developing effective solutions to sustainability issues. When these integrated collaborations meet participants on their level on the spiral, they will respond positively and be involved in the solution itself. Furthermore, by meeting them on their level, designers can then begin to push society into a more socially and worldly responsible mind set.

Sustainable and organizational design links

These sites and sources have been particularly useful for learning more about sustainable and organizational design

Sustainable Everyday website on human centered design initiatives and scenarios
In the Bubble by John Thackara (fantastic book) highlights how we can change past design practices into ones that create more functional and effective solutions. These may have the potential to design new services that help reconnect us socially, economically and environmentally....technology may not always be the answer!!
Design Issues journal winter 2007 has an excellent series of papers which concentrate on how design theory can be applied to organizational change. I found the papers on the deisgn pratices of Frank Gehry and the ZIBA redesign of Fedex particularly interesting and useful.

From a scientist to a designer


I'm Fraser, and this is the first posting on my first ever blog. It has taken me quite a while to actually get round to starting this thing up, but hopefully since the hard work is now done I'll find it easy to keep on posting.

I've decided that start this blog up to document my thoughts, observations and ideas as I go back to school to learn about design. This is a reasonably daunting task right now, as for the last 10 years I have trained and worked as an immunologist. However, I am excited as this course is not your usual industrial design degree, but is one which recognizes the potential for design thinking to promote change and sustainability. You can find information about my program at UArts here. My ultimate hope is that my scientific brain will be open to the changing perspectives and methodology of a designer, and perhaps, my unique point of view will bring something new to conventional design thinking.....I'll keep you posted.

Also, I have loads of other interests to share including music, soccer, graphics and what it's like to be a Scotsman in Philadelphia, so there will be extras