Friday, July 20, 2012

Design Thinking: The Design Journey Revisited

Design Thinking: The Design Journey model and the Mind-Body model explained

M P Ranjan
July 2012

The Design Journey model was sketched out 2007 based on a conversation with one of my former students, Sumiran Pandya who came into my office at NID to seek some clarifications on the complexities of design thought and action. Sitting face to face with him, I had a blank sheet of A4 size paper in front of me and as I spoke I doodled the map and filled in terms and stars as we progressed with the discussion.

The design journey is explained through a metaphor of a “Stone in the Pond” when the initial intention is without much depth or definition but with a sense of what we would like to achieve, a direction, just like the first contact of the stone in the pond and then the ripples move out in ever growing circles till they reach the edges of the pond to return as waves that would also capture the contours of the lake as well.

In this model the journey is represented by two sets of co-located and forward moving lines, one red and the other black. The red line represents the state on mind and mental processes while the black line the state of the body as well as bodily sensations that closely coexist as we continue our journey of search, experiment, seeking and discovery as well as small and major insights that occur as we tend to engage with different aspects of the domain that is being examined and explored. These insights are represented in the stars that are marked on both the red as well as the black line since some insights are mental constructs while others may be bodily sensations that can have a tacit existence but may not be articulated in thoughts and in language easily. This journey is represented by the meandering paths in red and black shown in the middle of the page as emanating from the centre of the pond ripple. This is a sort of plan or aerial view of the journey or a map of the terrain that has been traversed as the design explorations progress.

Just below that representation is another path that represents the emotional status of the designer or design team, which is represented as a horizontal line moving in sync with the mind-body journey path in real time. This view is like an elevation view from an orthographic diagram and each point on this line would correspond to a particular point on the mind-body line represented above. The emotional journey also meanders up and down with hopes rising and some times soaring with the arrival of new insights or breakthroughs and at other times dropping down to a pit of frustration and utter dejection at times that could even lead to the project being abandoned for some time or altogether if there are no mentors present who could hand-hold and help the designer move forward and find future satisfaction or success. In some cases there could be a long gap between one stage and the next and many such breaks before final success is achieved, if at all. There are no guarantees in this activity and the designer needs to develop an attitude that can cope with ambiguity as well as cope with a lot of failure before a major breakthrough is achieved.

Design thinking is for me a form of embodied thinking when many particular thoughts are connected to some sense data that is carried in the body as a perception or even an unarticulated feeling that hovers over the body whenever that particular thought is accessed. This tells me that perception and imagination are intricately connected and they move forward in sync as we explore and develop design opportunities in search of viable design solutions and concepts. The process by which these design opportunities are developed would happen in the mind and body space, with real world explorations supported and enhanced by imaginations that I call inplorations for want of a better word. Inplorations have both mind and body characteristics since each held image would have both an imagined form as well as a felt feel. The softness of feathers and the hardness of stone are carried from our real world experiences to our imagined construct and these can be processed just as they can be experimentally explored in the real world. These explorations – inploration loops develop as design actions and these leave behind a huge body of intermediate products and by-products that are a result of both exploration and inploration alike. Concepts as well as discarded ideas are strewn along the design journey and very few designers pay heed to these by-products and rarely are these documented in the rust to find the final solution. For me these intermediate stages and its by-products such as doodles, sketches, mock-up models and draft prototypes all have great value in my research for understanding the design process in all its complexity. Similarly many imaginary by-products and sensations are carried in the mind for long periods of time before these are finally achieved in the real world constructs and the delivered products and services that the designers approves. These imaginary by-products also play a role in conceptual blends that will see several of these imaginary constructs being combined and modified before a few of these imagined alternatives are tested in real material at a huge cost of time and effort. The mental constructs take fractions of seconds to synthesize but their material counterparts may take years to accomplish.

This diagram tells me something about the nature of design opportunities, which explains why it is so difficult to explain your concept to a colleague or to a client since part of the attributes are lying in this imagined space and cannot be felt or seen by the viewer. This is an experiential part and in some cases future projections of scenarios of the idea that can be seen vividly in our minds eye quite clearly but are nor apparent to the viewer even if they are explained in great depth, the imagination that may be generated in such a dialogue with the viewer is that of the viewer and not of the designer, there is a mismatch. Design is not about the general principle but about the particular manifestation, which generates value, great value, and in most cases true value resides in the ultimate particular and not in the general concept at all. This is my grandfather’s chair and not just any old chair!! Very valuable, for me.

The insights that are garnered and assimilated in the conscious mind are shown as star points on the design journey map. These are harvested from all our experiences and gathered together as a string of such insight stars along the way and as they accumulate above in the mind and in our guts as favored thought sensations and feelings and these familiar ones contribute to the forming of deep convictions that are finally represented as a big star from which decisions are empowered and supported. Design thinking also goes through many styles of thought or modes of thought and each is used typically at a different stage in the design journey.

These modes of thought are quite distinct and each has their own mind set and associated attitude. These are described in some detail in my paper titled “Design Journey: Styles and modes of thought and action in design” and on my blog at this link here.

This process moves from intentional thoughts through categorical, explorative and analytic modes to arrive at abductive, synthetic and reflective modes at different stages of the design journey and some modes are returned to as we move forward in iterative steps along the journey and revisit and verify earlier concepts and refine and elaborate some of these as we go forward in our search for a suitable fit to the problem or opportunity at hand or should I say in the mind of the designer. This also brings up for me the role of the designer and his responsibility in the whole process since only he can see parts of the scenario and some scenarios are so problematic it may be possible that these are held in abeyance as a result of their potential consequences.

In any case the designer has no control of the concept once it arrives in the real world as a prototype or even as a sketch manifestation since these are available for others to act upon and that is what makes design process a reflexive journey since others immediately respond and act on their own capacity in the face of a new design offering that may challenge their comfort or their position of strength in a competitive business environment. The response is usually immediate and in some cases even pre-emptive and the design offering fails to muster support since it is doomed by the consequences of the marketplace. There is no guarantee for success and even if a product or service is launched the success may only be seen in the market and not be tested in any lab or closed loop jury of peers and experts as all of them could be found lacking in foresight and prediction of what the market would actually support.

The last part of the diagram shows us that once the design offering is out of the designers grasp it enters into an orbit of its own that is determined by market forces and the real world complexities of social and political forces as well as economics, biases and taboos so that we cannot predict the outcomes and it could be a rearing success or an unmitigated disaster, as in global warming that is a consequence of many of our very thoughtful and so called successful design actions of the past. 

This is why such sensibilities are critical for a designer to hold and cherish and his ability to weigh these variables and concerns may be the answer for warding off future disasters. The designers thought processes are not unhindered nor are they uninhibited by his taboos and biases, we are after all human. This is what I tried to depict in the model of the mind-body map that I had developed to explain the process of innovation and design in exploring future possibilities and in addressing known and deeply held beliefs that may need to be processed before we are able to make a break-through that would show new and improved way of acting on our world and to try and improve what and how we do things in our world in the days ahead. Once we are aware of ourselves and our taboos we may be able to see “What if” and “What may be” which are fundamental to making new combinations that can be offered as possible opportunities on the design journey.

This model of Mind-Body map shows me that the resource maps that we are able to generate are inclusive only when we are able to transcend our taboos and discover resources that may otherwise be invisible to us when seen through the filters of our biases and socio-cultural taboos. Similarly imagined opportunities get processed through the design journey to bring back reformed design offerings that are synthesized and developed in such a way that they vibe with the context and add value to the social, geographic and historical situation that is being addressed. Value emerges when the combination of possibilities are fine tuned to the ultimate particular offering where the variables are in fine balance and there is a display of great value and an unfolding of value that is not measured in small quantities but in huge steps and in some cases quite disproportionate to the inputs that have been deployed. Cost has no relation to price and material has no relation to value, if the experience is wonderful that user is charmed and the offering is of immense value. It is My Grandfather’s chair!! Therefore it is not necessary for a great design to be a novelty for it to generate value but its particular manifestation may have the ingredients of immense value and part of that value comes from the viewer and not necessarily from the object or service that is being offered, the context matters just as much.

In this model I divide the mind space or canvas into three distinct zones, the Experential space, the Taboo space and the Propositional space. The Experintial space has all the collection of past experiences and memories including sensations that are linked to particular memories as an embodied memory and these are very critical for design thinking. These could include surface qualities experienced by touch, taste or smell when a material is handled or strength that is experienced in our guts when we bend a piece of material in the hands while examining its suitability for a particular application while the design task progresses. Designers touch materials all the time and file away insights about many of its qualities and these come memories flooding back when called upon to make a decision about making new choices while the design thought is in progress. The Propositional space is where we file away tentative models and diagrams of patterns that could resolve or partly develop design ideas and these are works in progress and can have many internal ideas generated through the proces of "inploration" that I have mentioned above. Conceptual blending is used to create many layers of alternatives and existing concepts and combined with new ones to make an array of alternatives from which informed choices are made. The Taboo space is also important and this is the blind spot of the designer and it influences the resource may since the taboos that the designer carries from childhood or from social and cultural practices may or may not permit them from even seeing available options since they may be a taboo subject in their culture or in their personal experience. Fear, beliefs and dogma all play a role and to overcome these is a huge effort especially if orthodox practices have been deeply ingrained in the designers mind. 

The 'flying magic carpet' in the model can be seen as that of the mind being compared to an infinite canvas or supple fabric with each star or dot representing one or a collection of memories in chunks that can be brought together as Shibori or Bhandani workers bring together knots in their fabric to dye a particular colour in the process of pattern making on cloth using the tie-dye process of patterning. While the tye-dye process take time to tie and form patterns the mind takes no time at all, or almost no time and at a heightened state of creative excitement we can do millions of such comparisons in a very brief period of time. Yes, motivation is important and the spirit must contribute to experience and skill. Responsible design is another factor that plays an important role in value formation but that may be the subject of another post. The body and mind are intricately connected and these provide us the embodied experiences that are critical for efective design thought and action.

Design Innovation of India presentation can be downloaded from this link here as a PDF file 2.7 MB

1 comment:

  1. Sir, I am really glad to see this on your blog. I feel proud to be the first one to have been a part of the MIND-BODY MAP discussion.



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