Ambiguity and Design

Image by Carl Hastrich: Another diagram communicating conceptual process.

I’ve moved into a position where I can do strategic design research, which I need to explain online as things settle down in the new year. Ever since starting this blog I have been exploring the key questions around innovation and the various processes, recently some big ah-ha moments are occurring that are weaving these thoughts together.

What really is design anyway

Sometimes I can be a bad ambassador for design. I can’t relate to people who don’t see the critical need for design thinking tools. When I meet someone who assumes that designers only wrap pretty skins around functional objects my eyes glaze over.

The reality is that contemporary design process is much more about making sense from ambiguity. It is a rigorous, systematic methodology for gathering insights and reading between the lines of what people say they want, and what they really need. There are of course rigorous methodologies for developing and implementing solutions to problems, but the real value lies in identifying what the problems are in the first place.

Clarity in Confusion

Reading a recent article in Fast Company I fell in love with the definition of complexity and ambiguity by Dev Patnaik, CEO of strategy firm Jump;

“Uncertainty is when you’ve defined the variable but don’t know its value. Like when you roll a die and you don’t know if it will be a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6. But ambiguity is when you’re not even sure what the variables are. You don’t know how many dice are even being rolled or how many sides they have or which dice actually count for anything.”

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Architecture for Birds

Continuing the Co-habitation Discussion

Home sweet home... the nest is in the yellow steel guard beam is the down town loft for the demanding chicks.

We discovered a bird’s nest wedged inside a cross beam hanging at the entrance of our condominium parking garage. It’s a brilliant example of nature’s opportunism, carving out homes in unlikely and unplanned locations throughout the city.

Our discovery feels like a hidden treasure. The steel beam has become a little secret moment of magic to watch. If we get this much pleasure from chirping chicks in a steel tube, why isn’t there more of this downtown?

Why isn’t there more integration? Cottages have their bird boxes and feeders, but not downtown. Why not integrated into the tower’s building envelope?

Nature is a Pest?

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Design Fiction: Imagining Futures

Frank Lloyd Wright's plan for Ellis Island, envisioned in a comic book, absolutely superb. Copyright 2005 - The New York Times.

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s Architecture!

I stumbled upon this fantastic article in the New York Times from all the way back in 2005. It covers a comic book: “The Manhattan Guardian” in which prolific author Grant Morrison weaves together the fantasy and reality of New York into a new DC comic city, “Cinderella City”.

Much of the Cinderella City looks like the New York of today: grimy subway stations, soaring buildings, busy street scenes. But Grant Morrison, … also laced it with architectural marvels that were proposed but never actually constructed.

I love the story of Grant Morrison reading through architectural literature hunting for the grandest examples of unrealized visions for New York. Included is a hotel Antonio Gaudi designed in 1903, along with the mega complex Ellis Island Key, a domed superstructure dreamt up by Frank Lloyd Wright before he passed away.

Comic books are amazing for their ability to explore alternate realities. While most of those realities are populated with incredible physical specimens with dubious fashion sense, the deep principle is the exploration of worlds where anything is possible. It’s a landscape that can be addictive.

Mr. Morrison, who lives in Glasgow, said by embellishing on the existing New York he was tapping into his favorite comic book power: the ability to create alternative realities. “Things as they are have never really been enough for me,” he said.

Design Fiction – a world to explore

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Strategic Design – Good Quote

I love the quote below from Yves Behar, as it summarizes my whole conversation about what is required to create real change. When asked about what car companies needed to do in order to break free from their design stagnation he said:

“They need original design briefs and 21st-century business models.”

Note: he did not call for “improved design process”, or a specific tool like “life cycle analysis” or “biomimicry”. He asked for better briefs, and the freedom within business to challenge existing models that create revenue streams. In essence;

Better questions, and new value models.

Not bad…


Upgradable Digital Camera

What happens if your $32,000 camera becomes obsolete in a couple of months?

The beautiful Hasselblad H4D-200MS

While most of us are fussing about whether we really need 16 megapixels to take great party photos for facebook, there are some pretty serious photographers demanding a heck of a lot more from their machines. Hasselblad uses some amazing multishot technology, turning a 50 Megapixel camera into a 200 megapixel camera!!!

While impressive, the real story is… what if you had forked out an enormous sum of money for the previous H4D-50MS sans the super ultra level of pixel mania? Ship it back to them, part with a few extra thousand dollars and they will add some hardware, fiddle with the software, and send you back a super, duper version of the greatest camera you had ever owned.

Upgrades! On digital cameras?

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