Design, Engineering, Science – Their Differences through the lens of BiomimicryPosted: November 12, 2011
I have had the opportunity to spend some time with amazing people over the last couple of weeks. These include everything from researchers in basic science laboratories looking for nature’s recipes, to architects working on enormous projects collaborating directly with engineers, and the never ending flow of creative students who keep willingly signing up for my design thinking experiments. At the risk of gross over simplification, I’m beginning to see some repeating patterns.
Vision, Strategy and Tactics – the holy trinity of innovation
I wrote about vision, strategy and tactical thinking when I first began this blog, but it has never really been out of my mind. Here is my current synthesis regarding what they mean to me;
- Vision = WHY. These are the fundamental values that drive an individual or business forward, and ultimately form the framework to measure success.
- Strategy = WHAT. This defines the opportunities within the vision, or the problems that must be solved, in order to achieve the vision.
- Tactics = HOW. These are the pragmatic, executable actions that must be resolved in order to achieve the vision.
Design as Strategy, Science and Engineering as Tactics
My design students, whether professional practice, graduate, or undergraduate are increasingly being trained in skills and experiences in identifying what opportunities must be explored in order to achieve a client’s goals. How the idea is achieved becomes a collaboration with engineers and specialists. Good integrative process enables both “categories” of disciplines, strategic and tactical, to work together, as exemplified by the practices of Thomas Auer and Transsolar, and work I have witnessed from HOK partnering with OVE ARUP engineers. This integrated process is well documented, debated and celebrated, with the general limitation being budget constraints and good interdisciplinary practices. The failures of handing off a design to an engineer with limited or no integration is also well documented.
On the other hand, when I have visited basic research laboratories, the focus is heavily geared towards tactical explorations, with very limited strategic questioning. The scientific researchers looking to discover the recipes of nature are generally working from an assumption that these insights will fuel innovation once shared amongst their peers within the scientific community. The vision against which their success is measured is connected to peer review and recognition, ultimately tied to further funding for future research.
As a designer who lacks the long term patience of science, there seems to be a lack of strategic thinking. What should be researched, in the context of a more integrative vision; science and business and society, are questions that appear to be superficially explored. I recognize some of the emergent exploration is key to the general advancement of broad scientific discovery. Open research allows scientists to unravel mysteries on many frontiers at once, not limited by businesses’ short term desires and narrow thinking. But I am also curious to know whether strategic thinking could help foster support by bringing more disciplines to the table, therefore more eyes, money and brains.
Science and Design Dialogues – the Stalled Project
So, I started a project in Summer with some passionate friends, which has since stalled, mostly due to my lack of time to follow things up, and an increasing personal awareness that I lacked a clear vision for the project. The Science and Design dialogues; explained here, and viewable here, was a loosely thought through initial exploration of “what if designers were invited into the conversations of science?”
I want to participate in more science spaces in order to understand what the opportunities of these dialogues could really be, and how best to explore them. Is it true that there is not a lot of strategic thinking? The cursory discussion sections of scientific papers suggest this, but I don’t know what is discussed at the conferences or over a beer afterwards. I want to understand more about the long, deep and patient tactical processes that are underway in these true research laboratories in order to explore what the value of the faster, sometimes shallow and provocative strategic processes might bring to the table.
A good topic for my Masters, no?
I think I’m going to dust off the Science and Design dialogues idea over christmas and have another think about what this could be…