Friday, October 27, 2006

"Go work for a credit reference agency"

I enjoyed reading i-Gitators in Action: Can Service Innovation (Design :-) ) Save the World?, a three-way conversation between GK van Patter (NextD Institute), Chris Downs (live|work, see links on right hand side of page) and Gill Wildman (Plot) discussing among other things the emergence of service design, and the state of design education and promotion in the UK (all references to "design" here meaning design based in liberal arts traditions rather than engineering design or computer science).

As I have remaked in other posts, there is a considerable disconnect between practitioners and academics inventing new domains of knowledge connected with services. Patching between these nodes is not as simple as citing a few references in each others' reading lists or even inviting speakers to join conferences, but rather a more disturbing encounter with the Other: with different ways of thinking about the world, and about what kinds of knowledge can be produced. I think these questions are more fundamental than trying to define which leads: design, or innovation? I regret I am not educated in philosophy but its underlying questions and theories are important and useful. For example, the word "abductive" now pops up regularly in conversations about design (and sometimes in management too: see Roger Martin's contributions to the Rotman business school magazine), although you won't find it in many texts on research methods which (in a gross simplification) focus on comparing inductive and deductive methods. As someone from a design background now situating my practices within a management school framed by social sciences, I am hoping in a modest way to make some useful knots (in the Haraway sense) but cannot do this without engaging with these Others.

Chris' advice to new design graduates was welcome. "Embrace and enjoy the complexity. Get out of college and get a job. Don’t hang around in your school’s new ‘future design blah innovation blah lab.’ Don’t prostitute your services for free to get a toe in the door at IDEO, Humantific, Plot or even live|work. Go and work for a hospital, the government or a credit reference agency. " This advice I think acknowledges the "silent design" (Gorb and Dumas' term, see citation in earlier post) that goes on, all the time, all over the world, where people who are not educated as designers, and do not think of themselves as designers, are busy designing things and re-designing them through usage, like those 70% of services in the global economy. On the one hand we have "silent design" and on the other "noisy design" (my term with this usage, as far as I know): the bigging-it-up of capital-d Designers whose claims about the importance/efficacy/value of their practices are tied up with authorship, ownership, and object-based cultures and economies. In my classes with MBA students this is a key part of my message: Be aware of your own role as designers (managers, entrepreneurs). Know why, how and when to work with design processes and practices. Not silent design, or noisy Design, but reflective, reflexive designing practices that acknowledge entanglements and tolerate difference, ambiguity and incompleteness.

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