Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Systems Design: The NID Way

Image: Systems Design: The NID Way _ a Four stage model for dealing with complex situations. (click image to enlarge)
There is a lot of interest around the world for models of design action that can be both responsive to complexity as well as be effective as a vehicle for social transformation which is much needed in the era of massive change and an era of massive concerns for global warming and social equity. Take a look at the attached model that I have called the Design Systems Model - the NID Way. There are four parts at which the work can start but these would need to be explored across all of these as we progress and each provides new insights that help us take the decisions to go forward and each uses a different designer ability and sensibility but we need to be flexible to move from one to the next in quick succession if we are to be able to use this model with telling effect. I have been using this model in my classes for design students at NID ever since it was first articulated in 2001 as part of my presentation to the National Design Summit in Bangalore in my lecture called “Cactus Flower Blooms in the Desert: Reflections on Design and Innovation in India”. You can download the full text paper from here (Design Summit_txt_MPR2001.pdf file size 128 kb) and the two part visual presentation from here below:
(DesignSummit_pic1_MPR2001.pdf file size 3.6 MB and DesignSummit_pic2_MPR2001.pdf file size 4.6 MB)

To support this process of design one would need to find a user or user group and here one can have several alternatives and these could be explored as scenarios of application and come concepts could be developed in order to see how the business side of each offering can be supported. These are all simultaneous processes and iterative processes and not to be seen as being done one after the other. However as we move forward our conviction about what is the correct direction will get better and better till we take some final decisions that can be supported and justified and tested through investments in prototypes and field trials. Try it and see, it is what I teach at NID and I call it the NID way since all students from all our disciplines at NID are introduced to this form of thinking and it does set them apart from the other schools in the world in their approach to design thinking. This is not easy but you can try and get into this way of working and thinking at each stage and you will need to support this process with visual documentation that can be re-examined in the next iteration and recorded as new ideas emerge and are captured on The Design Journey. The key effort would be to see if one can spell out possible outcomes in each of the four areas and discuss it with colleagues and partners in the field with a sharing of the supporting sketches and visual evidence of use situations along with a description of macro and micro details of the imagined situations.

I decided to make this post since I was asked by a student from a school in Nasik to advise her on her project directions from a distance. The advise that I gave her formed the seed of this post and it is perhaps a way of sharing our know-how with a wider audience in India and elsewhere since the design culture needs to spread quite rapidly if we are to meet the challenges of the massive change that is inexorably bearing down on all of us. I am reminded of a great book that gave me my first insights about the nature of design when I first started looking at design theory in a formal sense as a student at NID in the late sixties and early seventies. “What is a Designer: education and practice” by Norman Potter was a fantastic introduction to the emerging concept of design theory for me and it was published by Studio Vista in 1969 as part of a wonderful series of introductory books on design which found its way to the NID library in those days. I was given a task of reading a book as part of a course titled “Rhetoric” where each student had to select one book which they would read and then present to the rest of the class in an open session at the institute. The book that I had chosen was another from the Studio Vista series called “Transport Design by Corin Huges Stanton. After reading this book my attention was drawn to the rest of the series of very smartly designed books which were not intimidating to the novice and this led me to a wonderful journey of research and discovery, all on my own.

I must thank my teacher Prof. Kumar Vyas for having offered this assignment as part of our programme at NID. Kumar as we all call him is now retired from NID but very active in teaching at a number of design schools and he is presently the Chairman of the Governing Council of the new school, the MIT Institute of Design, Pune. I wonder if Rhetoric was also offered at the Ulm school of design in the sixties or if it was created at NID as part of our own experiments in design education, we will need to do some research to check this fact, but in any case it is a great assignment. However several of my student colleagues failed to either read their designated book nor make their presentation which was a great loss for all of us. I was to learn later over several; years of being a teacher at NID that this was a normal behaviour for our design students as well as our teachers who showed an uncanny contempt for both reading and writing that I quite fail to understand to this day, but I have realized that this is the accepted way in many design schools, at least till now, very sad indeed. At NID this has resulted in very few of our courses being documented and discussed in a critical framework of academic discourse although some extremely interesting design education experiments have been conducted here we unfortunately do not have the benefit of the critical documentation which will permit us to carry out an in depth analysis and evaluation of the validity and impact of these explorations.

Design education is fortunately changing and the deep seated contempt for reading and writing seems to be melting away slowly with the “wikipedisation” of our research but along with this we also seem to be loosing our contact with material exploration and free-hand drawing that were at the heart of design education in the pre-computer era. I wonder when we will finds the balance between the Arts and Crafts style of thought and action and the other extreme of the Science and Technology centric approaches and discover a middle path that is truly the “Design Way” as described by the great book with the same title by Harold Nelson and Eric Stolterman. At NID our beautiful wood and metal workshops were all but destroyed to make way for the new IT enabled visualization and modeling facility called the “Design Vision Centre” and the distancing of the hand with the promise that the mind is faster to the market is a deep change that only time will show what could be the long term consequences to design education at NID. I do not believe that this is an “either – or” situation, where one can easily replace the other, since if we look at the model of the Systems Design - the NID Way, one will see that we will need to be flexible to move from one mode to another in a seamless manner if we are to make the disruptive innovations that are needed in the face of massive change that we are experiencing today. If we are to ward of the massive disruptive revolutions of a political nature which are sure to follow in the wake of massive change that is not met with an adequate and sensitive effort and if we do not in this process manage to invent the alternatives to meet the challenges ahead. Design is therefore a critical resource for human society and this was my core argument when responding to the lecture made at NID auditorium by two design teachers from the Konstfack University, Repartment of Interdisciplinary Studies, Sweden yesterday when they spoke about trends in society and the lessons that they see from Charles Eames and his India Report of 1958. I will elaborate on this discussion in another post since I intend to explore these ideas as we go forward in developing our understanding of design today. In the context of the current model, Systems Design – the NID Way, it is sufficient to see that these explorations in the real world are paralleled by inplorations in the imagination of the designer and all the four stages are explored – implored to arrive at the insights that lead to deep conviction, and it is this conviction that would give us the courage and determination to create a desirable future for all of us. This journey is described in the paper titled Design Journey: Styles and modes of thought and actions in design” which can be downloaded from this link here (pdf file size 270 kb)

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