Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Call for papers: Imagining Business, Oxford, June 2008

Call for Papers: First EIASM Workshop on

Imagining Business
Reflecting on the visual power of management, organising and governing practices

Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, UK,
26-27 June 2008

Keynote Speakers: Paolo Fabbri, Donald Mackenzie & Nigel Thrift

Organizations are saturated with images, pictures, and signs that impact on many different aspects of everyday organizational life. A moment of reflection can produce a long list of examples relating to: budgets and accounting tools, advertising literature, design specifications, public relations leaflets, standard operating procedures, schedules, reports, graphs, charts, organizational hierarchies, and maps, to name but a few.

This raises the question of how we study the role of images in performing all kinds of activities that keep us busy and attentive? Do we focus on images as signs and inscriptions that can be viewed as mediators making others do things (Latour, 2005)? How does this relate to ideas of intensities, affect, engagement, beliefs and passions? Can we explore the difference and multiplicity that underlies such performances in terms of techniques and practices of managing and organizing, and how do images relate to various issues of agency, accountability and responsibility?

Furthermore, imagination as representation is not the focus of this call. Rather than limiting the debate to the role that images have in representing ‘businesses’ of all sorts, we need to explore the role of images as 'forces' in performing business, and enabling possibilities in terms of thinking about and enacting particular orderings.
While images, signs and visualization have been studied from a wide range of perspectives and fields of study (e.g. history, religious iconography, art and visual studies, literature and communication studies, philosophy, sociology, geography, visual anthropology, semiotics, architecture, science and technology studies), within the areas of business, management and organization studies the level of interest has been less evident. A particular focus of this workshop therefore involves bringing together an eclectic assembly of scholars to enable an imaginative forum for discussion and debate in this area of enquiry. We welcome papers and extended abstracts (2500–4000 words) from scholars from a wide range of disciplines that seek to explore theoretical and empirical issues from a diverse set of themes.

Submission deadline: 28th February 2008
Organisers: Lucy Kimbell, Christine McLean, François-Régis Puyou, Paolo Quattrone

For more information go to:

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Design-led innovation: Not on the Economist's radar yet

Disappointing news for those in the business of promoting design and design management. The Economist's recent report on innovation has not paid attention to the evangelism of designers, academics, and national design bodies like the UK's Design Council who have been talking up the value of design processes and 'design thinking' in organizational life and in innovation in particular. The articles provide a good snapshot of some key ideas - the differences between innovation and invention, the role of creativity, national policy, and organizational implications. They run through some recent thinking including open innovation, disruptive innovation, user-led innovation and service innovation. IDEO's Tim Brown gets a quote, and Doblin's Larry Keeley. But design-led innovation doesn't get a mention.

Where does this leave researchers working in this area - after 40 or so years of research into design processes and design theory, and 25+ years of research into design management? Responses welcome.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Said Business School makes Business Week top 60

This year Said Business School has again made the list of top design schools around the world - one of few business schools to do so. Here's the special report.

The full list is here, which includes many of the most prestigious names in design and engineering education. But as with last year a number of interdisciplinary initiatives and joint programmes has brought several business and management schools on to the list including the obvious contenders Stanford, Rotman, and Harvard.

We're honoured to be included in the top 60 and the recognition it indicates for the work we've been doing in teaching and research. We think of the initiatives we currently have at Said as a prototype for a way of working that acknowledges the strengths and particularities of Oxford and its networks of entrepreuneurs, especially in science and technology. With my Said colleagues, in particular those working in innovation, operations management and marketing, we are now looking at how to build on our early work and iterate these ideas to make a sustainable and valuable contribution to management teaching and research.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Design management - metamorphosis

Design management is a discipline, or interdiscipline, in transition. A recent seminar held at London College of Communications brought together researchers, lecturers and practitioners who work within or on the boundaries of this area. The aim of the day was to create a platform to sustain further debate, analysis and action.

Organized by Naomi Gornick (Brunel), Tom Inns (Dudee), Tony Kent (LCC) and others, the workshop involved this diverse group exploring definitions of design management, its relation to other bodies of knowledge and the value of connecting practice, education and research. Participants included those with a long-standing commitment to research and teaching in this area including Alan Topalian and Brigitte Borja. In discussions there were references back to key workshops and reports in the 1980s, the decade during which design management emerged - with an occasional suggestion that 'none of this is new'.

Les Wynn's account of his role within Xerox raised some of the questions facing both design managers, and the discipline as a whole. Wynn asked how design management must change, given the changing business models facing many organizations to which outsourcing is a common response. Is design just another function of the organization or is it a key capability that should definitely stay in house?

What came across strongly for me was how there continues to be a confusion between design, and design management. Participants discussed design management on both a project level and an organization level. They seemed to be agreement that design management was connected with strategy, and that its visibility and accountability to the highest level of the organization is key to its effectiveness.

I would not expect to see design management emerge as a single, authorizing discipline to build on this earlier history. Rather I notice a number of areas in which the ideas of both design and design management have been taken into conversations about strategy, innovation and organizational design - in the approaches discussed in Boland and Collopy's Managing as Designing, for example, the founding of the d-School at Stanford, the MBA at the Zollverein School of Management and Design and the establishment of Design London (Imperial College, Tanaka Business School and the Royal College of Art). In this diverse and diversifying area of practice and research, I suspect design management is likely to remain fluid. Workshops such as this one will have an important role in bringing together some of that diversity.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

London Design Festival

Festivals help make public issues in an area of practice - and this year's London Design Festival, 15-25 September makes visible tensions within current design practice between the commercial and the experimental, design as outcome and design as process, the issue of sustainability, and the relationship between design as conceived of by designers and its various publics - investors, users, consumers, commissioners, manufacturers.

Of particular interest to me are the Financial Times Business of Design talks next week including one on investment in design and another in the role if design in retail. The talks organized by Blueprint include some people I'd love to hear speak - all architects: Peter Cook from Archigram, Zaha Hadid and Amanda Levete from Future Systems. The team at RCA Innovation are putting on two shows, both at the RCA as well as talks and events.

What's missing for me - and this may be an artefact of the sign-up system for festival partners - is attention paid to emerging areas of design such as service design, interaction design, and experience design, which, reliant on intangibles, are often harder to communicate.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Intersections that don't intersect all that much

"Design is changing as it adapts to a world in transition." The Intersections 07 conference held in Gateshead at the end of October aims to explore some of these adaptations. But despite all the emails and leaflets promoting the event and detailing all the interesting speakers, I don't find myself wanting to attend. Some reflections on why:

- Design is allegedly getting more interdisciplinary or post-disciplinary but at Intersections, there are few speakers from non-design places to give their perspective. I more or less know what many designers say/do - but I am increasingly interested in what people who choose, or don't choose, to work with 'designers' think about them.
- On a similar note, I'm not sure that I want to go to an event that is driven predominantly by the agendas of design practitioners, however insightful or thoughtful (as I know many of the speakers to be) in isolation from Design Research/Theory (people like Ken Friedman, Richard Buchanan, Klaus Krippendorff or Nigel Cross), who are also people who think deeply and care passionately about design and how it might be changing.
- Similarly, I have some idea what Tim Brown of IDEO might cover in his presenation on design thinking - a vision of the world in which business people (should) value designers. Despite some stars (like IDEO) and some promoters of this idea (like Business Week), mostly they don't. Again, I would prefer to hear a dialogue between Tim Brown and some of the management academics who offer a more theoretical version of this story (Boland & Collopy, Roger Martin, Jeanne Liedtka)- and even better, some who don't buy into it.
- Why have a panel on the social anthropology of design, but not include the key academics in related fields who have studied design and desiigners in the broadest sense and have interesting things to say eg Harvey Molotch, Lucy Suchman, Nina Wakeford? Again, I don't just want to hear from designers, however famous or insightful.

In summary, Intersections looks to me as if it will present an up-to-the-minute snapshot of key issues in design practice - as viewed from within design practice. And it will offer a design view on intersections between design and other worlds, but without offering deep insights from those other worldviews. Over in Toronto, an event held in June with some similarities called Overlap doesn't quite hit the mark either, although it does draw more directly on disciplines and practices other than design. The event I would like to go to doesn't appear to exist, yet.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Counting Creativity: Routine, Regulation and Evaluation in Design

How do you measure creativity in design? This is the question being tackled by Guy Julier (Leeds Met, design historian) and Liz Moor (Middlesex, sociology/cultural studies) in a AHRC-funded research project which will result in a book to be published next year. At an intimate gathering in Leeds last week, many of the contributors presented their responses to this question in papers that considered fields as diverse as graphic design, advertising, public art, museum exhibition design, cinema production design and - a new area on the UK government agenda - the design of children's play spaces. A recurring theme was the extent to which designers, design managers and clients are increasingly required to account for the value that designers create, while there continues to be a mystery about what designers do, and how, and where their 'creativity' lies. Designers and artists working on publicly-funded projects in particular have to provide accounts of how they are 'adding value' in ways that inherit the most reductive thinking of some management practices. Designers at the agency where contributor Annemarie Ennis works have to record in detail their daily activities in a similar way to lawyers, accountants and management consultants. But her desription of how this data is gathered, amended and used illustrates how such regulation leads to fictionalized evaluation.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Bill Moggridge talk: Designing Interactions

I was struck by something Doors of Perception founder John Thackara said a few years ago - "We know what technology can do, but what is it for?" A guest lecture at Said Business School by IDEO co-founder, award-winning designer Bill Moggridge, provided possible answers, discussing many of the technologies which have become common or even essential in industrialized countries in the last 20 years.

This was our final Design Leadership MBA elective class, open not just to Said students but to the wider university, which I organized jointly with the James Martin Institute. Drawing on material from his recent book Designing Interactions Moggridge raised the issue of the increasing complexity in material world in the objects and networks around us and talke about how to draw on a range of expertises to create new products, services and experiences.

Showing a video of a woman trying to use her i-mode phone to buy a can of drink from a vending machine (it took 35 minutes) communicated clearly the impact of poor design. It reinforced the point we have explored in this MBA elective about the importance of attending to the artefacts through which end users/customers experience products and services. Moggridge's process recommendations for success to avoid what this user experienced include - of course - prototyping.

Describing what's necessary to enable innovation, Moggridge used the term "post-disciplinary design": "Forget your discipline when you're in the project room". He argued that there are three elements to successful innovation through design:
- interdisciplinary design thinking (what to do)
- specialist design skills (how to do it)
- and a general design awareness (how to choose).
For managers and entrepreneurs, I think this means they don't have to all rush off to design school but rather develop an awareness of the design approach (whether it's called design thinking or something else) and improve the organization's ability to make judgements about design.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

MBA Design Leadership elective - week 8 - icons, standards, quality and failture

In the final week of our MBA elective in Design Leadership, we drew on recent public and media discussions in response to the London 2012 Olympics brand and logo as a way to discuss success and failure in design. In our conversation we reviewed a range of publicly available resources as data - the London organizing committee's aims for the Olympics, the film that communicates the vision behind the brand, news reports about the problems experienced by viewers from the 2012 advertisements which appeared to trigger epilepsy, the campaign to redesign the logo and the legacy from previous Olympic brands and their graphic identities. For managers, key issues are how to manage the design process to meet the organization's goals, and how to evaluate design effectiveness.

In the second part of the class, we heard from guest speaker Chris Thomason from PDD, a leading independent design company with offices in London. Unlike many other consultancies, PDD offers "concept to cash" consultancy, including expertise in advising clients on manufacturing in China, for example, and in house skills and technology to test prototypes against spec. Their team of 60 people includes not that many "designers" - rather they offer a range of skills and resources including in research, ergnonomics, prototyping, engineering, and psychology. For Chris, a key question for clients was whether they want something similar or something totally different. Failures include failures of timing, of execution and killing off concepts too early. His claim - "We design profit streams for companies" - left the audience with the question about what approaches, methods and skills managers need to deliver on the goals of strategy if they want to explore new areas. Is an understanding of design and design management essential for innovation?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

MBA Design Leadership elective - week 7 - managing as designing

In this week's class we looked at the work of academics who propose that designing is a metaphor of value to businesspeople - a way to think about how they might go about their practice, especially in contexts of uncertainty and ambiguity, in the design of all different kinds of forms whether organizations or new ventures.

The two key thinkers in this area are polymath and Nobel prize winner Herbert Simon and Donald Schon. Simon - whose "The Sciences of the Artificial" (1969) provides some of the most ubiquitous quotes in this field - argues that designing underpins all human activity in what he calls the realm of the "artificial". While he proposes that a science of design will be an important area of study and suggests some of its topics, Simon's intellectual foundations in technorationalism make the detail of his ideas unattractive to those who are attentive to the social contexts in which people do things. Schon's "The Reflective Practitioner" (1983) uses emprical studies of how professionals of different kinds go about their practice to propose that problem framing, not just problem solving, is a significant activity for professionals.

The more recent readings are from Boland & Collopy, whose event Managing as Designing in 2002 brought together a wide range of scholars and practitioners interested in exploring this idea. The event led to a publication of the same name (Stanford Business Books, 2004). Writing by Jeanne Liedtka on strategy as design, and Roger Martin on the design of business, is based on the argument that managers should be more like designers. Translating some of the ideas emerging in design research since the 1960s, Liedtka and Martin are reaching a new audience - both are based in business schools (Martin is Dean of the Rotman School, Toronto). After a century in which management education has moved from the scientific closer to the social, I think it'll take a while to absorb ideas from the arts and humanities.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

MBA Design Leadership elective - week 6 - User-centred design, inclusive design, participative design

This week's class started with a crit of the design of Saïd Business School. Students came to class with two examples of 'good' design and two examples of 'bad' design, from their experience as users or observations of others. Examples were drawn from the design of the building and fittings, processes and procedures, software and internet services and communications. This exercise generates a discussion about judgements about design, and the management of design in organizations.

We then moved on to discuss emerging issues in design which focus on the end user. Increasing attention is paid not just to the appearance of design artefacts, but also to utility and usability. Interface and human-computer interaction designers have been developing methods that either take a “user-centred” approach – putting the user and their perceived needs and desires at the centre of the design process; or involving end users in the design and development process – participative design, drawing on Scandinvian research and practice that emphasizes democracy in design. Inclusive design methods seek to design products and services that do not exclude users or customers (for example by making text on a phone too small to read for older people or those with poor sight). These developments provide opportunities for managers and entrepreneurs to get closer to the articulated or unarticulated needs and requirements of end users. Instead of seeing these as constraints on design and innovation, is there value in looking at these as opportunities to forge new markets, not just new products or services?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

MBA Design Leadership elective - week 5 - Design leadership v design management

In this week's class we hosted Joe Ferry, head of design and service design at Virgin Atlantic, who gave an engaging and inspiring presentation about the role of design at the airline.

Joe's personal story started with his final year student project for his MA in Industrial Design Engineering at the Royal College of Art, which caught the airline’s eye. It was an invention which would become Virgin Atlantic's initial Upper Class Sleeper seat and later a business class standard on most airlines. But Joe's presentation was not just about design - it was about the value of design methods and processes within a difficult commercial context. As an upstart airline challenging the incumbents British Airways and the US carriers, Virgin had to find a way to differentiate itself. The way Virgin Atlantic has gone about this is by giving design a key role.

Having developed his MA project into a seat that was rolled out in the airline (and copied by many others), Joe was then given the challenge of developing the next generation of seating. He lead the team of in-house designers and external design conultants, working closely with engineers, ergonomists and manufacturers, which lead to the £105m investment in Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class Cabin, unveiled in late 2003, the winner of many awards. This is the design not just of seating, but of the whole customer experience.

Joe has a team of 15 designers from a range of backgrounds (architects, interiors, textiles, service design, lighting) who - having learned the constraints they must work within in a highly regulated industry - work closely with external design consultancies. They prefer to work with emerging designers rather than established consultancies, Joe said, for several reasons. Firstly, because they know little about the airline industry and ask difficult questions, challenging the assumptions of the in-house team. Secondly, as emerging companies they are keen to prove themselves and make their mark. Thirdly, in smaller agencies, he said, you know who you are going to work with.

Having used design to re-define the transatlantic business class experience, the challenge is now to continue innovating. Under Joe's leadership, design has played a critical part in creating a commercial success in a demanding industry; it will be interesting to see what happens next.

Another issue will be to what extent concerns about climate change will impact on the airline industry: to what extent will designers be quick to respond to constraints (whether imposed by regulators or in response to public opinion) to devise innovative experiences that minimize their envrionmental impact?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

MBA Design Leadership elective - week 4 - Design processes and methods

In this class we explored some key ideas about design, distinguishing between design as outcome and design as process. We then drew on literature in design management to discuss how to manage design processes - as it appears in textbooks and how it is enacted in practice. Drawing on design research over the last 40 years, we explored the implications of the idea that designers co-create the problem space and the solultion space (eg in Cross and Dorst). Understanding design processes and design methods is key for managers and entrepreneurs developing new products, services and ventures. We considered methods such as sketching and prototyping and explored what they offer managers and entrepreneurs and designers at different stages in the design process. From the brief but intense project with the MA students at the RCA, as well as their previous experiences, students were able to see the relevance and importance of visualization methods in exploring and commmunicating design problems and solutions.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

MBA Design Leadership elective - week 3

In the third and final week of our MBA students' joint project with MA students from the Royal College of Art, we again visited the college for an engaging and enjoyable afternoon. In the intervening week, the design students took forward their initial ideas, several of which had been iterated in the larger group. The MBAs also had a role in each product/service proposal - using frameworks and analytical tools from their background to contribute to and extend the underlying concept, often at a very early stage. At this workshop, the MBAs did a one-minute pitch for each project, and then the class voted on which three they wanted to hear in more depth. This voting mechanism - primarily decided on because of the limited time available - brought some competition to the proceedings which is (in my experience) not so overt in RCA crits.

In the ensuing discussion, students talked about their encounter with each others' methods and processes in this short project which several saw as having a huge divide between them. Some business students were astonished how quickly the designers were able to generate and develop ideas, for example going from what seemed (to some MBAs) incomprehensible manifestos in week 1 to a product prototype in week 2, or in daily iterations of the project between weeks 2 and 3. There was also a question about how useful 'MBA thinking' could be at the very early stage of these projects.

To give the MBA students a different insight into design-inspired innovation, we then had three presentations by graduating second-year students from three departments with very developed projects. From MA Design Products, Ian Ferguson described the development of his software tool for rapid prototyping machines to enable them to produce objects with more heterogeneity (resembling bone, wood or foam). From MA Industrial Design Engineering, Michael Korn and Komal Vora presented their new design for a fashion boot aimed at people who find it hard to put on shoes, a project which has already won a business plan competition. From MA Design Interactions, Jess Charlesworth talked about her personlized futures methods that draw on her internship at the DTI futures lab.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

MBA Design Leadership elective - week 2

The second week of the joint project between MBAs at Saïd Business School and MA Design Interactions students at the Royal College of Art took the design process a stage further. MA students each presented their initial concepts for products and services which ranged from a "Spiritual Gym" to a "Manifesto for a Better London".

The photos show a simple prototype for an "Antenna", a product proposed by Kenichi Okada and Chris Woebken. Inspired by the ways ants sense their environment, these students constructed a simple device which has a microscope at the end of a stick, connected to a laptop showing what the microscope sees. Thus this device offers a different way of looking and making connections - only able to 'see' in extreme detail. But as the second photo shows, using this device in public generates social interactions that generate different kinds of data.

The point of this exercise is not to develop a product from this prototype but rather to explore the ways (student) designers go about generating, testing and communicating their ideas - such as the power of prototyping to instantiate concepts. The MBAs and MAs voted on which products and services to take forward, and then spent time analyzing their features, prioritizing some for the next iteration of the design. The third photo shows one of the matrices generated in which design features are organized under four headings.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

MBA Design Leadership elective - week 1: Design thinking/designerly ways of knowing

This is the second year Said Business School has offered this elective and once again 19 students have signed up (out of about 225 students and around 30 electives). As last year, it involves a combination of class-based teaching based on readings (drawing on design management, design research, innovation studies) and practical workshops. This year, the eight-week course includes a three-week project with MA Design Interactions students from the Royal College of Art in London – both institutions trying to find a way to create a meaningful educational experience from different contexts (design/the arts v social science/management) and limited time available.

Our first meeting was held in London where each group of students presented some of the work they had prepared. The MA students, who in the previous week had chosen an extreme organization to research and reflect on personal commitments, presented manifestos which will be the starting point for designing a product, service or product/service system. These often poetic and sometimes moving personal statements gave a flavour of one approach to designing (we cover user-centred design later). The business students presented their often witty MBA-style analyses of the organizations selected by the design students – giving a sense of the kinds of conceptual toolkits and language they use (eg Porter’s five forces) that designers are not generally familiar with.

Readings giving the MBAs resources for understanding how designers think included Cross on designerly ways of knowing, Buchanan on wicked problems and design thinking, and Heskett on significance and utility.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Scenarios: designing probable, preferable and plausible futures

What do designers who make use of scenarios methods need to know about the history of this practice? In a recent talk, Angela Wilkinson, director of scenarios and futures research at the James Martin Institute, gave an overview of the history of scenarios – in her view not just limited to the 20th and 21st centuries but evident too in practices such as reading animal entrails and making maps. Wilkinson divided up scenarios into three schools: the US school emerging from military R&D trying to create probable scenarios to get policymakers to “think the unthinkable”; the French school aiming to envisage and design preferable futures; and the Shell school generating plausible scenarios – her own background – drawing on ideas of conversation, reperceiving and focus.

Other talks in this series include Rafael Ramirez (Said Business School) and BettySue Flowers (LB Johnson Presidential Library).My particular interest will be to see where the emergence in some design consultancies of making artefacts “from the future” as a way of exploring scenarios fits in.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Skoll Forum on Social Entrepreneurship: Enabling social innovation

This year's forum organized by the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship filled the foyer, lecture theatres and seminar rooms of Saïd Business School, as well as much of Oxford, with the energy and buzz of entrepreneurs, academics and policymakers from all over the world. I can't do the event justice here but want to reflect on some things I heard at the events I attended.
- The question of handling uncertainty. How do social entrepreneurs and investors/funders handle risk? Are the tools of corporate finance, grounded in traditional economic rationality, useful for those setting up social based ventures? What can we learn from how 19th century social ventures in sanitation, education and health in the UK, for example, developed into public assets?
- The question of scale. For policy makers who want to support or enable sociallly-based ventures, what are the things that can be exported from one particular context? What can't be replicated even if a regional government really wants to try to support social venture models that work elsewhere?
- The question of design. This year's forum included two sessions on 'Design Thinking' run by Debra Dunn and colleagues from Stanford's d-school who ran workshops in which participants explored ideas of user-centered design and visual, iterative methods of framing problems. Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management in Toronto, and an advocate of "integrative thinking" and "design thinking", chaired the closing panel. How can social entrepeneurs use design methods to frame problems and involve stakeholders in co-design?

Friday, March 23, 2007

A year after the Cox Review: design, management and technology education in the UK

Over 30 people attended a workshop organized jointly with the UK Design Council , held at Saïd Business School on Wednesday 21 March. It brought together many of the people currently involved in forging links in the UK between design education, management/business education and research, both those working within higher education institutions and others from related contexts such as NESTA and regional development agencies. International models such as the Stanford d-school, Zollverein, Chicago's Institute of Design and the Rotman School of Mangement in Toronto provided some of the points of comparison. See this blog set up by the Design Council for a deeper discussion. [Unfortunately having helped organize the event, I was ill with flu and unable to attend so the notes below are based on talking to others and reading the Design Council's report.]

The day started with two provocations proposing contrasting positions on the question as to whether the UK is well placed to achieve economic success through the use of design (the Cox Review, commissioned by the UK Treasury, was concerned primarily about the role of design in economic growth and innovation in the UK). Bruce Tether (Manchester Business School) argued against while Nick Leon (Tanaka Business School) argued for.

Then there were several presentations by speakers from higher education institutions developing different models for multidisciplinary teaching and research. Jeremy Myerson (Royal College of Art) described the college's plans for a new centre called Design London set up jointly with Imperial College and Tanaka Business School, recently awarded funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). Bob Young (Northumbria University School of Design) presented Northumbria's plans for a multidisciplinary research lab drawing on their experience with an international summer school programme, and the difficulties of getting academics to work across disciplinary boundaries. Nick Wilson (Kingston University Business School) described Kingston's development of 26 new MA programmes developed by specialist arts and design programmes with modules on the creative industries delivered by the business school. Martin Binks (Nottingham Unversity Institute for Enterprise and Innovation) talked about his school's close working links with small and medium sized enterprises and raised the question of how to achieve multidisciplinary projects with 1000 students, not just 10.

Questions that emerged included
- the intellectual underpinning to these developments
- a desire to hear the details, rather than broad strokes/big pictures
- the differences between design management of the 1980s-1990s and these developments

The Design Council is producing a write-up which is available from Aviv Katz.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

We have never been disciplinary

Designers typically make claims about being able to integrate between disciplines: that "design thinking" and design methods are effective at drawing together knowledges from different contexts in the process of designing. Once that meant different kinds of (design) specialist; increasingly this means the various stakeholders in a process of creating a venture, especially "users" but also various organizational functions needed to design and deliver a new thing. So, design might be seen as profoundly or indeed determinately interdisciplinary - offering a process to enable collaboration across multiple disciplines.

A colloquium (academese for talkshop) on "Interdisciplinarity and Society" held at St Catherine's College, Oxford, the other day provided me with resources to reflect on this. The day was an ouput of a study led by my collaborator Andrew Barry (Oxford University Centre for the Environment), Georgina Born (anthroplogy, Cambridge) and Marilyn Strathern (anthroplogy, Cambridge) funded by the ESRC which is a comparative study of interdisciplinary research involving a survey of interdisciplinary collaborations involving natural scientists and either social scientists and/or artists worldwide.

Another output will be a book which draws on the contributions from several amazing scholars at the event. These included:
- historian of science Simon Schaffer (Cambridge), who took us on a zoom round his understanding of interdisciplinarity drawing on Foucault: that disciplines organize by assembling in space and especiallly by organizing aesthetic objects in space.
- anthroplogist Lucy Suchman (Lancaster), who talked about the currently fashionable role of anthropology in industry, drawing on her time at Xerox PARC.
- Georgina Born and Gisa Weszkalnys, who described the findings of their study of emerging "interdisciplines" in art-science collaborations, in particular the multidisciplinary teaching programme at UC Irvine called Arts Computation Engineering and the emergence of new aesthetic objects.
- Sheila Jasanoff (Harvard), who drew our attention to the ways that academic departments control disciplines, compete for funds and replicate themselves.

Designers and theorists from different backgrounds and contexts have been turning design into a discipline over 40 years or so, and (in the UK) the teaching of design and most research about design has moved into universities. Design is now identifiable as a range of disciplines, some within the arts tradition and some within engineering. Recently I have been wondering to what extent design (and art too?) can be considered to be disciplinary even though it's now embedded in academia. One the one hand, according to Hebert Simon's definition, nearly any purposeful activity is a design activity. On the other there are students, teachers, professional designers, and theorists whose activities enact the discipline(s) of "design". From another perspective, design processes and artefacts cannot be understood without people engaging with them in context. The boundaries are hard to describe. To follow Latour's "We Have Never Been Modern", I wonder if it is possible to make the claim "We have never been disciplinary". If design is un-disciplined/undisciplinary, might this make its practices and methods particularly suitable as a starting point for multi-disciplinary collaboration?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Event: links between management education and design education

Emerging bridges between design, technology and business education a year after the Cox Review

With the (UK) Design Council I am jointly organizing a half-day event which will bring together many of the UK academics and policymakers involved in making links between management/business education and design education.

It follows a year or so of meetings in response to a report by Sir George Cox to the UK Treasury about Creativity in Business, which argued for better links between management/business education and design education (teaching and research) and the creation of five centres of excellence based around teaching and research. Relevant models include the interdisciplinary d-School at Stanford, Rotman School of Management in Toronto and Zollverein Design Management School in Germany. Find out more at the Design Council's blog.

Date: Weds 21 March 0945-1430 (includes lunch)
Location: Saïd Business School, University of Oxford

_ To share knowledge and experiences of UK higher education institutions working at the intersection of design education and business management education
_ To discuss the implication of findings form the US mission and the Cox Review recommendations for UK HEIs and for national policy
_To discuss barriers and support development opportunities

If you want to attend please contact Aviv Katz at the Design Council.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Designing for social issues: Hilary Cottam

Hilary Cottam - who does not call herself a designer but won the UK Designer of the Year award in 2005 - offers a wonderful example of what "design leadership" might be.

Hilary visited Oxford earlier this week to talk about failure, doubt and misdirection - as part of the "Permission to Fail" series at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, University of Oxford, organized by artist Abigail Reynolds. In contrast to another recent speaker in this series, novelist AL Kennedy who talked eloquently about the doubt and amibiguity in her writing practice, Hilary talked a great deal about institutional failture and institutional doubt.

In a range of projects in the UK and internationally, Hilary has developed and used visual and participatory methods to help people in complex and difficult situations make sense of their environment and the sorts of changes they want. She has worked with artists and designers to help people give form to their aspirations, needs and fears. Whether working with her neighbouring slum dwellers in the Dominican Republic, persuading the UK Department for Education to give her £10million to re-design not just a school building in south London but also its processes and organization, and then as the leader of the Design Council's RED unit, Hilary has created opportunities for groups of people to co-imagine and co-design their services.

What I found particularly interesting was the questions she is now asking herself and her team (who have left the Design Council and are setting up a social venture). How do you scale these practices? What institutional forms need to be developed to move away from industrial models of education and health provision? In what ways can we discuss the implications and effects of using what some people call "design thinking" and design methods (visualization, prototyping, user focus)? And if Hilary's goal is "to help people do it for themselves" what are the ethical and political issues that are embedded in this?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Counting creativity

Guy Julier (Leeds Met) and Liz Moor (Middlesex) have convened a research project called Counting Creativity, whose first workshop was held at the Design Council's offices in London last week, bringing together academics and practitioners. The project investigates the growth in practices of accounting, routine organization, systematization and measuring in design studios and companies.

In their introduction to the event, they wrote:
"In recent years, design and, by extension, branding, advertising and design in the built environment, have been increasingly subject to these effects, both internally in their working practices and externally in their evaluation. No doubt this reflects many wider trends in society, but it’s particularly interesting where creativity and systemization actually meet head-on in the design industry. Everyone in creative fields has a view on this. However, we are interested in finding out why this has come about, analyzing what are its effects and considering what can be done to improve design processes."

Hearing first hand from people working in commercial studios (such as an ad agency) or in public sector museums (such as the V&A) brought to life these questions. If designers now have to account for their time in six minute chunks (but actually create a week's worth of data on Monday mornings), how does this make us think about which bits of their work are "creative" and which are not?

In my presentation, I talked about projects in which I undertook unauthorized versions of such practices of evaluation and measurement, for example my book Audit and collaborative project Personal Political Indices (Pindices) with sociologist Andrew Barry. I used these to raise issues such as: being attentive to how these practices are embedded in networks of relations; how data is produced, not gathered; and how data production is tied up with data representation.

I argued that design companies do not have to take an uncritical approach to evaluation and simply reproduce established (and now challenged) practices and procedures drawn from management. Designers might even see the drive to account for their creativity as an opportunity to (re)design such artefacts, building into them the ambiguity and not-knowing which are essential parts of the design process.

Monday, January 15, 2007

New contexts for design

A few days ago I participated in the International Design Principles and Practices Conference, organized by Common Ground (Australia) and held at Imperial College London. In contrast to other academic juggernauts I've attended, this one was pleasingly small and intimate, with an international mix of people from different backgrounds including interior design, engineering, interaction design, design theory and quite a few people from business schools.

I particularly enjoyed two papers, both giving design a refreshing and welcome critical social science treatment: one by Guy Julier from Leeds Met and one by Monika Buscher from Lancaster University. Guy's paper drew on practice theory (such as Harvey Molotch's Where Stuff Comes From) to explore end user motivations enacted through their practices - a perspective which does not often appear in design research or education, as far as I know.

Monika described some work from a larger (100 person) interdisciplinary research project in palpable computing in which she is undertaking ethnographic field studies of how landscape architects work. Informed by Science and Technology Studies, Monika's work is drawing attention to how "the design is negotiated with all the human and non-human agencies" (my notes) in the way these architects go about their work.

Both of these contributions for me raise questions about the intentions of designers, the design process and how it should and can be undertaken and managed. Both provide ways to move away from the historical preoccupation with objects and to pay closer critical attention to the ways people engage with objects and the contexts in which they do so.

The keynote by Ken Friedman, whose teaching and research bridges design (at Denmark's Design School), management (at the Norwegian School of Management) and the arts (artist and founder of Fluxus), shared the fruits of his interdisciplinarity. His articulation of ten challenges for designers was also a statement of the challenges facing entrepreneurs and people in organizations whether in the non-profit, or for profit sectors, given contemporary questions such as climate change, AIDS and poverty.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Reviewing design in 2006

The last few weeks have, as usual, seen the British newspapers I read conduct their reviews of the year and previews of the year ahead with lists and rankings, recommendations and tips. As usual, there were no informed discussions of design practices and outcomes. Indeed design was mostly invisible, although discussed in some papers within distinct categories such as fashion, architecture and consumer electronics/gadgets. Entangled with consumption, design artefacts are the only things you get to read about in these newspapers - as long as you can buy them and put them in your home, on your desk, or on your body. Within the arts pages, in contrast, film, books, visual art, theatre, dance, opera and music each have their critics and commentators discussing not just outcomes but also the contexts of production.

The problem is of course that everything has been through some kind of design process, so a review of design for 2006 might end up being a meta-list. But even if we limited ourselves to the kinds of things taught and researched at design schools and looked for a national discussion of these in the broadsheets, we still find the major UK media outlets keeping silent about design.

I wonder if - hope that - this might change over the next few years. The UK University and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) has just published its figures for acceptances onto undergraduate programmes. The BBC's report on this is worth a read: in second place for 2006 is "design studies" (below law in first place and above management studies at four). Part of the reason, the BBC reports, is a desire for degree-level studies that relate to vocations and professions. But perhaps it's also possible to read into this a desire on the part of these new undergraduates to develop their knowledge and understanding of how the world is designed and how they might into a reflective, informed discussion about their own designing practices. Or it could be that all the DIY makeover programmes on TV have given them visions of future success as future interior designers...