Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Week 6 - Sept 30 Thought Questions

This week's readings focus on design as a social process. As you will notice, exploring design as a social process often involves observation and ethnographic approaches. For some of you this may push even harder on your ideas of researcher bias - keep in mind that there is bias in all research - and that different methods allow different vantages point for investigation. Focus on how the method reveals something about design knowledge, and how the authors substantiate their findings.

Next week we are going to do a "fishbowl" activity - where half the class will do a design project and the other half will be researchers studying them. Think about which role you want (observer or observee) - and come prepared to discuss:

(1) How do the authors talk about design as a social process (and how can this help you make sense of what you observe for the fishbowl activity)?
(2) What insights do they bring to our question "what do designers know and how do they come to know it"?
(3) How do they study design? What are the strengths and weaknesses of their approaches?

9 comments:

Kevin said...

Some thoughts on Bucciarelli (1996):
- Couldn’t the designers in Ch. 6 simply use some combination of the Delphi method (qualitative) and the AHP (quantitative) [among several other methods], for listing and choosing between alternatives and performance criteria (at least as a pre-cursor to the meeting)? That would go a long way towards mitigating social biases, such as one teammate dominating the conversation (e.g., Sergio), and greatly reduce confusion.
- The author seemed so worried about interference bias that he/she was unable to come up with any non-observational data. This in turn seems to add its own bias because now all of the data is correlated to the perspective of the author.
- As discussed in Ch. 1 and 2, why should we know how everything works? We live in a society where expertise is departmentalized, therefore having to know how everything works is irrelevant. Furthermore, we can represent reality accurately enough for decision-making/policy purposes without having to understand everything completely. Is it not better to just accept some levels of uncertainty?
- The idea that the uncertainty surrounding a design can actually make it easier for designers to obtain a consensus was surprising to me. The author further argues that consensus is essential to design. I would actually postulate that consensus, while helpful, actually is not necessary for all designs (just think of the congressional bills passed that do not have bi-partisan support; does this mean that such bills are bad?).
- So given this study, now what? Is there a certain working/social atmosphere that is most conducive to design?

Kat said...

This weeks reading were quite a surprise to me.

The first reason was that , having in mind the "design as a social process", i was expecting to read about the final social effects of the design, and then the discussion would be about how we can include this factor into our future students learnign. Apparently this was not the case :)

Bucciarelli's question about what the questions like "how does it work" mean to every each one of us was a good starting point. From there on i was trying to understand how many possibly different answers there would be among designers of the "same" discipline. Would their responces differ so much? I guess when designers learn how to design, besides the very fundaments interdisciplinary representations that they are taught, they are always told to try to be "unique", to differe from the rest to make a difference, so I had never thought that the different outcomes might not just be the results of inspiration, but sometimes just the resaults of miscommunication.

When it comes to the Kleinsmann paper, the process was pretty clear, but for some reason i am not really convinced that it is trully usefull. Maybe it's too soon for me to realize the potential of using them. I think it is again,at least for me, a discussion about how badly we need to have a word, a title, or a discription for everything. Can it be that the "joint tale" that the analysis reveals, just happend to become tacit knowledge to all the actors involved in the process after some time?

tforin said...

So after reading these pieces, I've noticed that there is this common thread of communication/negotiation and shared understanding. After engineering students graduate and work in the field after a couple of years, we expect that they will eventaully become project managers.

Now a project manager has to understand the different facets of his/her project and how the engineers are capable of fulfilling their roles. To me there is this a point where the manager might not be able to cover all of the aspects of the project. This is where depth and breadth of expertise comes into play for the manager. It's not so much that the manager needs to know the details of every facet, it's mainly his/her ability to make connections to bridge the gaps between areas of expertise.

So bridging the gaps to me means that the manager has enough of an understanding of technical language and concepts that he/she is able to begin a conversation with another disciplined expert and they are able to sustain a conversation and learn about one another through negotiations. In that scenario, breadth enables the creation of more depth.

All designers should be open and willing to accept uncertainty but they should also be willing to explore that uncertainty. This is where I find that design as social process comes into play. If any two persons are unwilling to admit uncertainty and explore it to create a new understanding, then the design is lost. This makes me wonder whether or not we are able to integrate mutlidisciplinary experiences in class.

Steve Chenoweth said...

In partial response to Kevin about Bucciarelli, and whether anyone must know everything about a system -

Bucciarelli's first question applies this to a telephone (and its underlying network). At AT&T we worried about this a lot, from about 1920 or so onward. The problem was that, if no one had a global view of what all it took for a large system to work, if you only had talented specialists working on building it, then the odds were very high that it would fail. The missing skill wasn't project management, which we also had. It was what came to be known as "systems engineering" - people who's expertise was knowing just enough about many specialties to be able to understand if the whole thing would work, in consultation with all the specialists.

We strongly believed these generalists were required to do something like design and install a new telephone system in downtown Omaha.

While, as Bucciarelli says, not even the designer knows all the details, we resolved the complexity problem by having people who did understand all of it down to some depth, in combination with the many specialists.

Bethany Fralick said...

These readings refer to design in industry. I agree that they heavily discuss communication and negotiation. I am wondering how this applies to engineering education. As engineering educators (in the future), our students will eventually go off into industry and contribute knowledge to society. Kleinsmann discusses barriers and enablers of design. Will these be the same for students? Would it be useful to conduct this research with students? I think the barriers and enablers may be addressed during the college years to eliminate some of the difficulties of industrial design.

AD said...

Today’s reading was great for me particularly because this semester I am also taking Development Anthropology and a public participation course. The concept of an “engineering subculture” was very intriguing… we have our own vernacular, methods of communication, knowledge, skills, ideals, understanding, worldview, practices, community, and I would go so far as to say dress. 
We can take this another step further and look at design from an anthropological viewpoint. Bucciarelli (Chapter 1) seems to be trying to figure out why we design and some of the most basic motivations we have as designers. He poses a variety of questions related to how technology is used and perceived. This seems highly dependent upon need and context. For example, if you have something you don’t need or know how to use, then you may misuse the item or simply discard it.
Bucciarelli and Kleinsmann & Valkenburg both present the notion that when working on multi-disciplinary projects, we tend to hold on to our own identity and push our own agenda related to our training and area of expertise. I would be interested in hearing more about the idea of multi-disciplinary teams being the equivalent of multiple, diverse stakeholders working together to solve an issue. We come in with different priorities, experiences, and training and are expected to work together toward a common goal. This is where an effective facilitator or team leader, maybe someone not quite like Sergio, could be of great benefit.

Laura said...

Something I found interesting in Bucciarelli in regards to design as a social process was his description of engineers as a "subculture." I sort of agreed that some aspects of a culture could be applied to engineers (the use of jargon, working as a community, etc.) but I didn't think much of that term until he compared it to describing commuters as a subculture - commuters sort of communicate with each other way in a way, even if its just with their turn signal or horn, and they do so to accomplish a goal, and this implies that they are working together as a community, as part of a subculture. And therefore, why couldn't engineers be seen as a subculture as well? Just because different companies differ in how they design, work, communicate, or get things done, it just means they're taking different routes - but they're still part of a similar culture. And thus it is implied that the work that engineers do is social and they must work together within their community/culture... but that seems to be the only argument that seems valid in which Bucciarelli argues that design is a social process. I agree with Kevin in that Bucciarelli didn't seem to fully reach any major results or understandings - he described the interactions in different companies, he described their technology considerations, but he didn't delve much into why these social interactions that he mentions are completely relevant. And also along with what Kevin said, it sort of bothered me that he seemed stuck on so many other points - no, we don't know how x-ray machines work exactly, but what does that matter? He seemed to have so many different design questions (which I obviously empathize with, as every week I find something else about design to be curious about) but all of his questions and inquiries were coming into play in his discussion of each engineering project. It's difficult to gain much from his notes or reactions when there is so much that he is concerned with.

And I also agree with what Bethany said - as I was reading this I was thinking how much this easily does NOT apply to engineering students. We've already seen there's room for a large difference between freshman and seniors, so clearly there will also be a difference between professionals and students. Yes, design in industry is very social - but how will it be in school? More or less social? Something to consider.

michihcim said...

Short summary:
Bucciarelli sees design as a social process of negotiation between designers in the engineering firm. There is ambiguity in the process. All actors come from different “object worlds”, thus they have different interest because of their experience, responsibility, etc…. Bucciarelli argues it is this ambiguity that allows design as all actors in the design process negotiate shared meaning with others from their own object worlds. However, he pointed out that reaching shared meaning does not necessarily mean that all actors see things the same way but rather they develop the same vision of the artifact.

Buciarelli chose to study the process as it happens, since he thought recollection would be tempered with object world thinking. He realized the bias being a participant-observer could bring. He pointed out that all methods of data collection (audio, vedio, notes) have limitations. (For example: audio—serialization of concurrent conversation; ignoring body and facial languages; filters out what is spoken. Video—providing limiting perspective of the setting and people involved; however, it could magnify the details of the perspective in view.) We should be aware of what might not be captured by the data recordings.

Kleinmann also studied design from the perspective of negotiation between designers. He however used interviews to collect recollections of the actors involved in design. His framework allowed him to identify enablers/barriers between different levels of organizations.

Some thoughts:
Viewing design as a social process of negotiating shared meaning allowed us to add a level of perspective to the design process. In previous readings we learned that design qualities might be a result of the iterations designers make. Now we may find out “why” iteration happens if we study the exchange between designers. I think it is also consistent with the reflective practice framework. Valkenburg’s study can be viewed as social negotiation causing surprises, thus resulted in reflection practice at the personal level, and eventually shared meaning at the project level.

I think Buciarelli’s framework is hard to operationalize… Kleinsmann has a clean data collection/analysis framework for after-the-fact interviews. I wonder what we shouldbe recording when actually observing design in order to get meaningful data (I would not know what to do with Buciarelli’s transcription). Maybe we can give each designer a column and record the jorgan, questions… as time goes on??

Eric Holt Design said...

I like the term “object worlds”, introduced by Bucciarelli (1996) and defined by Kleinsmann (2008). It seems like a more positive way to define “bias”, both for the designer and the researcher.