Chain gangs: reinventing the Hanseatic League

In which I talk to Winy Maas about the design of webs, networks and archipelagos of cities and regions. This story was published in July 2003 In Domus magazine.
Sustainable cities, working cities, are necessarily complex, heavily linked, and diverse. As the English writer Will Hutton has commented, just as local knowledge and information was key 150 years ago, when there were 80 different steps in the button-making industry, so, too, complex local knowledge and linkages are also key today if you are a software, media, care, or educational enterprise.The ideal city needs to contain a rich mixture of craft-based workshops, consultants, law firms, accountants, distribution and logistics companies, advertising agencies, universities, research labs, database publishers, and local or regional government offices. Unique skills, clusters of specialised suppliers, local roots, and a variety of human skills that are unique to a region – all these are a powerful advantage for local cities and regions on today’s economic stage.
This picture confronts smaller cities with a dilemma: they cannot realistically offer the same density and complexity of knowledge skills that a large metropolis can. The metropolitan centers have their own problems, it is true, but they will always win on diversity, which is a key to evolutionary success. So how are the smaller ones to compete?
According to Winy Maas, a principal of the Dutch bureau MVRDV, the answer lies in webs, chains, networks, and ‘archipelagos’ of cities and smaller regions. By aggregating their hard and soft assets, collective cities – or multi-centered cities – can match the array of functions and resources of bigger centres, while also delivering superior social quality. The ability of small cities to offer a context that supports intimacy and encounter – what the French call ‘la vie associative’ – is where small-city webs will win out over the big centres.
City alliances are not a completely new idea. City networks date back to the thirteenth century when, in the Hansa League, an alliance of more than seventy merchant cities collaborated effectively for their common good in order to control exports and imports over a wide swathe of Europe. A powerful network of trading partners, with its own accounting system and shared vocabulary – the Hansa League became one of the major economic forces of the Middle Ages. At one stage it controlled much of Scandinavia, the Baltic states, northern Germany and Poland – and outposts can be found even today as far apart as Scotland and the Basque country.
TERRITORIAL CAPITAL
Today’s urban and regional networks can be traced back to the formation of the International Union of Cities in 1913. The Treaty of Rome, in 1957, accelerated the emergence of networks of cities and regions as supra-nation state actors in Europe. Increased globalization has put considerable pressure on cities to network among themselves – sharing, partnering and learning. Globalisation has also driven smaller cities to re-discover Hansa-style alliances, and to market them using new business techniques. According to Philip Kotler, a marketing professor in the United States, some ten per cent of business-to-business advertising – a vast amount – is now spent on marketing places, regions and nations. Kotler has identified 80,000 communities within the EU which, in one way or another, need to differentiate themselves from each other. Place marketing – or, more properly, place and regional design – aggregates and networks complementary functions and core competiencies of a region. In Europe the concept of ‘territorial capital’ is used increasingly to describe the synthesis of these hard and soft assets of a region.The hard assets include natural beauty and features; shopping facilities; cultural attractions; buildings, museums, monuments, and so on. Soft assets are all about people and culture: skills, traditions, festivals, events and occasions, situations, settings, social ties, civic loyalty, memories, and capacity to learn.
For networked, multi-centered cities to succeed, these different kinds of territorial and social and intellectual capital need to be linked together by a combination of physical and informational networks. The hubs, links, and physical and informational flows of a region need to be proactively designed in ways that help a working culture flourish.
The biggest pressure of all on cities to collaborate is environmental. Bigger cities guzzle more energy and resources per head than do smaller ones. Smaller cities, which are located closer to resources, and in which people and goods need to move less, are lighter. Cities also guzzle land. A German Federal Statistical Office forecast in 1997 that Germany would turn into a 100 per cent settled landmass within 82 years if three per cent economic growth persisted.
MULTIMODAL MOBILITY
Mobile communications are already transforming time-space relations in favour of smaller towns, working together. Where this author lives, in the Netherlands, planners hope that transport telematics will make it possible for me to to think more, and drive less. They expect to reduce so-called vehicle hours (the time spent by vehicles in traffic) by an ambitious 25 per cent. A key concept in Dutch policy is the multimodal or ‘chain approach’. The idea is that information systems will help me work out the best combination of walking, bicycle, private car, train, bus, plane, or boat – before I set off. Right now, individual transport information systems are pretty good – train and bus websites are reliable and reasonably easy to use. But they don’t work together. The next step is so to connect systems that I will enter the beginning and end points of a journey (in place, and in time) into the programme, and be offered a menu of ways to complete it.
As Nokia future-gazer Marko Ahtisaari explained at Doors of Perception 7: Flow, mobile phones can enhance proximity and reduce the allure of ‘far’. “Although mobility and mobile telephony seem very much to do with being apart, in fact the evidence is quite to the contrary,” he said. “A lot of telecommunications behaviour is aimed at getting together physically – I mean, quite simply, physically close, the stuff that happens between the one-to-ten centimetres range and room-size interaction. While we talk about devices being connected, and everything being connected in a technological sense, social interaction will be a prime driver in the future as well, even in technologically enhanced social interaction.”
CLUSTERS OF COMPLEXITY
Architects and spatial planners started thinking about clusters in the 1960s. In 1963, Christopher Alexander and Serge Chermayeff wrote that, in designing on a large scale, “We must look at the links, the interactions, and the patterns.” Following that initial insight architecture and planning evolved rather slowly – but in recent years the sustainability agenda has given the networked approach new impetus.
According to Winy Maas, “The magnitude of information concerning a region is overwhelming: complex, and constantly changing. This multi-scalar approach is new for design. It is nearly impossible to represent all the relationships, and the webs of interdependencies, of a region. The integration of hard and soft factors is complex enough – but planners, policy makers and designers now also have to deal with a new dimension of complexity: a variety of new actors. Privatised network industries, such as railway companies, airports, electricity supliers, and telecommunications operators, are influential actors. So, too, are citizens who, with growing confidence, are demanding that social agendas – such as social inclusion, or sustainability – are factored into planning processes.
“As the speed of spatial, economical and political developments and processes accelerates, we need a more dynamic approach and tools for planning”, says Maas. ” Such tools turn massive volumes of raw data into visualizations. This is not about broad-brush visions of the idealised futures, says Maas. “We keep getting asked to make ‘visions’ for cities and regions”, Maas explains, “but I want to make planning, design and thinking tools that people can really use. We are measuring an increasing variety of things, and collecting vast quantities of data. The question is: how to use it. How are we to perceive and connect all this information in ways that add value and meaning to the raw data? Increasingly, that means how do we represent the data, visually, in order to work on and with it. We also need to make these tools more accessible and usable by non-specialised actors and stakeholders”.
THE REGIONMAKER
Maas and his colleagues have therefore become toolmakers. They have developed a family of software tools, called the Regionmaker, which was first devised by MVRDV for a project called RhineRuhrCity .The Kommunalverband Ruhrgebiet (KVR), a union of cities in the region, has invested in a series of initiatives to improve its post-indstrial situation, and today fewer than six percent work works in coal and steel. But perceptions remain that this is the Detroit of Europe, a landscape dotted with ghost towns, overgrown industries and polluted areas. “The region is very well connected logistically,” says Maas. “It has incredible water resources, a dense university system, and successful media and computer industries. But these assets are fragmented. As you find in so many places in Europe, it’s a mosaic of competing municipalities, rather than one entity.” Hence the project to reposition the area as one place, one city: RhineRuhrCity.
The Regionmaker, which combines the function of search engine, browser, and graphical interface, brings together a variety of existing information sources and flows – for example, demographic data, or outputs from Geographical Informations Systems (GIS) or ‘geomatics’, as they are now called. “In a nutshell,” says Maas, “the idea is that within the context of a globalizing world, international databanks, advanced computers, internet and intranet systems, game technology, global monitoring and information systems, can be integrated in ways that convincingly represent regions. With the Regionmaker, there is no limit to visualization. You can look at maps, study charts, access databases, export images, import video feeds from helicopters or satellites, connect to the internet, use CAD drawings, and so on.”
Maas anticipates that the Regionmaker will evolve as a tree-structure of sub-machines and routines. MVRDV have plans to add representations of knowledge on the movement of people, goods and information. A housing sub-routine could develop scenarios for optimal housing designs. A light calculator could optimise the need for and control of, natural light in built spaces. A ‘function mixer’ would propose optimal mixtures of activities according to economic, social or cultural criteria.
Maas speculates that systems such as the Regionmaker could become decision support systems in a more pro-active and critical sense. “We could add an Evaluator, or an Evolver that can suggest criticism of the input we make,” he speculates. But there will never be a single programme for everything – and Regionmaker will never be finished. “We think of it not as all-in-one Big Brother software, but as an intricate network of different software programmes operating at different spatial dimensions.”

Posted in city & bioregion | Leave a comment

Pros and cons of Dutch design

I was asked by the main Japanese design magazine, Axis, to write an ‘afterword’ for their special issue on Dutch design. I took the opportunity to reflect on trends in design policy in other countries.
Dutch design has enjoyed tremendous international success and prestige in recent years. Can it last?
One reason ifor its recent success is that The Netherlands is possibly the most intelligent market for design in the world. Sophisticated public and private sector clients know how to commission and manage design. And most cities and government agencies have procurement policies that enable projects to be awarded to the best design, not just to the cheapest proposal.
But profound changes, now happening in the world at large, raise an important question about the ability of Dutch design to respond to new challenges.
We are in the middle of a transition to an economy in which services are more significant than stand-alone products. Can thing-based designers, or for that matter architects, make this transition too – or are they doomed to be left behind?
In reflecting on these questions for design in The Netherlands, I draw positive – but also some negative – conclusions.
Dutch people take it for granted that they will redesign the landscape – and even nature itself. The whole country is a never-ending design project. Continuous and heavy investment in transport and logistics infrastructures has been part of an economic strategy nicknamed ‘Holland Main Port’.
The big idea of the last 10 or 15 years was to make the entire country a transport and logistics hub for Europe. At Schiphol alone, tens of thousands of square metres of new buildings were developed to support the booming air-freight business.
But Schiphol is only one element of a bigger transformation. All over the country, enormous warehouses and freight interchanges have been built at the intersection between rail, road and water routes. The result: one of the busiest and most integrated – but also most congested – multi-modal transport networks in the world.
This enormous investment programme is a break with the country’s cultural heritage as a trading nation that travels light.
This break with the country’s mercantile tradition is not easy to reconcile with the promotion of a knowledge-based economy fuelled by higher levels of investment in software than in hardware.
The ‘mainport Holland’ strategy is controversial with environmentalists, too, who argue that the ecological impact of high-density and high-value mobility (such as air freight) is nearly always damaging.
Many architects and designers have benefited from these massive investments in buildings and infrastructure. But they, along with government policy makers, now have to change direction.
The Dutch are globally renowned experts in the development of physical infrastructure – from dykes to airports – but the challenge now is to design ‘knowledge infrastructure’ – and that won’t be easy.
New times, new design policy
Around the world, new ways to think about, and do design are emerging.
Therere is growing poressure to understand natural, industrial and cultural systems – and the interactions between them – as the context for innovation. Clientrs – and regulators –are steadily forcing innovators to consider the sustainability of material and energy flows in all the product-service systems we design.
Tomorrow’s solutions will not be based on products on their own, in the old sense, but by product-service systems.
An example would be a car-sharing scheme, such as the Green Wheels service, that I use in Amsterdam. I do not own a car, but I subscribe to a mobility and car sharing service. When I need to use a vehicle, I locate one via a website and pay by the hour.
The design, integration, and operation of such product-service systems is where the greatest value will be created in the future. If a country does not make product-service systems the focus of its design policy, it runs the risk of falling behind.
Holland is well-placed to play a leading role in the development of product-service systems.
The situation in new media also remains positive.When CNN described Amsterdam as as ‘Europe’s Cyber City’ during the mid-1990s, it was in response to the fact that many global players were making Amsterdam their European centre of operations. This was in part because of a lively multi-media and internet design scene. Despite the dot.com meltdown, the Amsterdam New Media Association has many hundreds of active members.
Dutch artistic and cultural practice is, by its very nature, diverse, independent, and interdisciplinary. Doors of Perception, for example, is a member of the so-called ‘Virtual Platform’ of organisations busy with design and artistic research in new media. Our fellow-members include a media arts lab, V2, which produces the Dutch Electronic Art Festival; Steim, a celebrated music and acoustics research lab; Montevideo, an archive and production centre for video art; deBalie, a centre for debate and discussion in the centre of Amsterdam; The Waag Society For Old and New Media; Paradiso, a famous rock-and-roll venue that also stages new media programmes; and so on.
None of the member organizations of the Virtual Platform has more than 10 or 12 staff, but we collaborate with each other on a regular basis. Later this year, for example, (October 2003), we will jointly organise the E-Culture Fair – a two-day ‘bazaar’ of experimental new media art and design projects.
Design research in Hollland is often initiated by small but collaborative groups. Eternally Yours, a Dutch foundation, is organising Time in Design, a round-the-clock, 24-hour event in October, to look at a crucial question: if the throw-away society is over, how do we design for longevity in products and services?
Important design innovation also takes place in the big universities. In the environmental domain, for example, Kathalys is a Centre for Sustainable Product Innovation run by TNO and Delft University of Technology. For more than ten years, Kathalys has led the way internationally in initiating and realising sustainable product innovations.
The need for institutional innovation
These positve developments – Kathalys, VIrtual Platform, and so on – exist on the edge of mainstream Dutch design. Edges are Dutch design’s strong point.
But, as an institution, Dutch design – in common with many professions – has been slow to learn and adapt in a fast-changing world. I
Its schools and universities, its professional associations, and its specialist media, are still struggling to escape from an essentially nineteenth century understanding of design practice.
A persistent focus on what things look like in design academies is exacerbated by structural divisions between design disciplines – and between those disciplies, and other branches of knowledge.
Connectivity between people and ideas is further hindered by the turf-protecting way professional organizations, and design businesses, are organized. The result is that many designers lack the expertise to tackle the complex and multi-dimensional social questions that confront us.
The Netherlands’ Design Institute (1993-1999) was an impoitant attempt to promote institutional innovation in design. Its aim was to help the design profession evolve from a closed and inward-looking system, into an innovation support system within interlocking networks of people, companies and educational entities.
Sadly, the Design Institute closed at the end of 1999 following the arrival of a new chairman. But Doors of Perception emerged undamaged as an independent organization, and through Doors the spirit of innovation, and the international networks, created by the Design Institute have survived and continue to grow .
Also a new organization, the Premsela Foundation, has been set up as a platform for Dutch design policy on a national basis.
Some other aspects of the design situation in The Netherlands are not so rosy. The country’s economic situation, for example, is weak today after a decade of seemingly effortless growth.
Government budgets are under severe pressure, and it inconceivable that more money will be made available for culture or research for the next few years at least.
Another problem is that Dutch professional design associations, although well-organised, remain conservative in their thinking and actions. Far more attention and investment is given to old-fashioned design prizes, for example, than to the renewal of design knowledge.
At a government level, too, there are worrying signs that some officials in the Ministry of Economic Affairs want to copy the UK and promote a ‘creative industries’ policy that will include design. This writer is resolutely opposed to the idea that design and advertising are ‘creative’ whereas all other industries, by implication, are not.
In other countries than Holland, more innovative design policy is emerging.
Sweden, for example, is way ahead of The Netherlands in the extent to which different ministries collaborate. A group of Swedish ministries recently allocated two million euros for the development of a new design policy that focuses on new concepts for care. In Holland, despite years of effort, different ministries hardly talk to each other about design policy.
“Sweden is finally about to approach a point where we can leave behind egocentric design,” says Ulf Mannervik, an author of the new policy
Korea is also ahead of Holland in design policy. Korea’s “Industrial Design Fundamental Project” of recent years supports systematic research, and enables 95,000 design students for a population of 45m – a high percentage by any standards.
The llevel of design research in Korea is aalso high. Korea has far more postgraduate design programmes – 66 – than The Netherlands. Samsung, alone, is hiring 100 interaction designers – a huge number.
The British Design Council has also developed innovative design policies in recent years. It proactively makes design proposals for unexpected domains, such as places of learning, or prisons. The Design Council has also developed innovation process tools that help high-tech companies turn technological inventions into profitable products.
Perhaps the most innovative design policy comes not from national governments but from the European Commission.The Intelligent Information Interfaces programme (:i3”) of 1999-2001 was more advanced – in terms both of content, and of project form – than anything supported by constituent EU members.
i3 – and its successor programme, The Disappearing Computer – delivered scenarios for people-centered services, enabled by interactive systems, that are rooted in European culture and tradition.
The EU has now launched a new network of excellence called Convivio. This European network of excellence for social computing gathers together research institutions and universities, of which Doors of Percepion is a member; we are responsible for vision building concerning the design of services to meet everyday life-needs in new ways.
Can Dutch design and architecture stay on top? The glory days of the 1990s are probably over – if only because spending in the coming years will be so much lower. Dutch design will prosper if now takes a “breather” to refresh its thinking and institutions. If it does not do that, the way ahead will be downhill.

Posted in art & perception | Leave a comment

Chain gangs: reinventing the Hanseatic League

(In which John Thackara talks to Winy Maas about the design of webs, networks and archipelagos of cities and regions. This was published in July 2003 in Domus magazine)
Sustainable cities, working cities, are necessarily complex, heavily linked, and diverse. As the English writer Will Hutton has commented, just as local knowledge and information was key 150 years ago, when there were 80 different steps in the button-making industry, so, too, complex local knowledge and linkages are also key today if you are a software, media, care, or educational enterprise.The ideal city needs to contain a rich mixture of craft-based workshops, consultants, law firms, accountants, distribution and logistics companies, advertising agencies, universities, research labs, database publishers, and local or regional government offices. Unique skills, clusters of specialised suppliers, local roots, and a variety of human skills that are unique to a region – all these are a powerful advantage for local cities and regions on today’s economic stage.
This picture confronts smaller cities with a dilemma: they cannot realistically offer the same density and complexity of knowledge skills that a large metropolis can. The metropolitan centers have their own problems, it is true, but they will always win on diversity, which is a key to evolutionary success. So how are the smaller ones to compete?
According to Winy Maas, a principal of the Dutch bureau MVRDV, the answer lies in webs, chains, networks, and ‘archipelagos’ of cities and smaller regions. By aggregating their hard and soft assets, collective cities – or multi-centered cities – can match the array of functions and resources of bigger centres, while also delivering superior social quality. The ability of small cities to offer a context that supports intimacy and encounter – what the French call ‘la vie associative’ – is where small-city webs will win out over the big centres.
City alliances are not a completely new idea. City networks date back to the thirteenth century when, in the Hansa League, an alliance of more than seventy merchant cities collaborated effectively for their common good in order to control exports and imports over a wide swathe of Europe. A powerful network of trading partners, with its own accounting system and shared vocabulary – the Hansa League became one of the major economic forces of the Middle Ages. At one stage it controlled much of Scandinavia, the Baltic states, northern Germany and Poland – and outposts can be found even today as far apart as Scotland and the Basque country.
TERRITORIAL CAPITAL
Today’s urban and regional networks can be traced back to the formation of the International Union of Cities in 1913. The Treaty of Rome, in 1957, accelerated the emergence of networks of cities and regions as supra-nation state actors in Europe. Increased globalization has put considerable pressure on cities to network among themselves – sharing, partnering and learning. Globalisation has also driven smaller cities to re-discover Hansa-style alliances, and to market them using new business techniques. According to Philip Kotler, a marketing professor in the United States, some ten per cent of business-to-business advertising – a vast amount – is now spent on marketing places, regions and nations. Kotler has identified 80,000 communities within the EU which, in one way or another, need to differentiate themselves from each other. Place marketing – or, more properly, place and regional design – aggregates and networks complementary functions and core competiencies of a region. In Europe the concept of ‘territorial capital’ is used increasingly to describe the synthesis of these hard and soft assets of a region.The hard assets include natural beauty and features; shopping facilities; cultural attractions; buildings, museums, monuments, and so on. Soft assets are all about people and culture: skills, traditions, festivals, events and occasions, situations, settings, social ties, civic loyalty, memories, and capacity to learn.
For networked, multi-centered cities to succeed, these different kinds of territorial and social and intellectual capital need to be linked together by a combination of physical and informational networks. The hubs, links, and physical and informational flows of a region need to be proactively designed in ways that help a working culture flourish.
The biggest pressure of all on cities to collaborate is environmental. Bigger cities guzzle more energy and resources per head than do smaller ones. Smaller cities, which are located closer to resources, and in which people and goods need to move less, are lighter. Cities also guzzle land. A German Federal Statistical Office forecast in 1997 that Germany would turn into a 100 per cent settled landmass within 82 years if three per cent economic growth persisted.
MULTIMODAL MOBILITY
Mobile communications are already transforming time-space relations in favour of smaller towns, working together. Where this author lives, in the Netherlands, planners hope that transport telematics will make it possible for me to to think more, and drive less. They expect to reduce so-called vehicle hours (the time spent by vehicles in traffic) by an ambitious 25 per cent. A key concept in Dutch policy is the multimodal or ‘chain approach’. The idea is that information systems will help me work out the best combination of walking, bicycle, private car, train, bus, plane, or boat – before I set off. Right now, individual transport information systems are pretty good – train and bus websites are reliable and reasonably easy to use. But they don’t work together. The next step is so to connect systems that I will enter the beginning and end points of a journey (in place, and in time) into the programme, and be offered a menu of ways to complete it.
As Nokia future-gazer Marko Ahtisaari explained at Doors of Perception 7: Flow, mobile phones can enhance proximity and reduce the allure of ‘far’. “Although mobility and mobile telephony seem very much to do with being apart, in fact the evidence is quite to the contrary,” he said. “A lot of telecommunications behaviour is aimed at getting together physically – I mean, quite simply, physically close, the stuff that happens between the one-to-ten centimetres range and room-size interaction. While we talk about devices being connected, and everything being connected in a technological sense, social interaction will be a prime driver in the future as well, even in technologically enhanced social interaction.”
CLUSTERS OF COMPLEXITY
Architects and spatial planners started thinking about clusters in the 1960s. In 1963, Christopher Alexander and Serge Chermayeff wrote that, in designing on a large scale, “We must look at the links, the interactions, and the patterns.” Following that initial insight architecture and planning evolved rather slowly – but in recent years the sustainability agenda has given the networked approach new impetus.
According to Winy Maas, “The magnitude of information concerning a region is overwhelming: complex, and constantly changing. This multi-scalar approach is new for design. It is nearly impossible to represent all the relationships, and the webs of interdependencies, of a region. The integration of hard and soft factors is complex enough – but planners, policy makers and designers now also have to deal with a new dimension of complexity: a variety of new actors. Privatised network industries, such as railway companies, airports, electricity supliers, and telecommunications operators, are influential actors. So, too, are citizens who, with growing confidence, are demanding that social agendas – such as social inclusion, or sustainability – are factored into planning processes.
“As the speed of spatial, economical and political developments and processes accelerates, we need a more dynamic approach and tools for planning”, says Maas. ” Such tools turn massive volumes of raw data into visualizations. This is not about broad-brush visions of the idealised futures, says Maas. “We keep getting asked to make ‘visions’ for cities and regions”, Maas explains, “but I want to make planning, design and thinking tools that people can really use. We are measuring an increasing variety of things, and collecting vast quantities of data. The question is: how to use it. How are we to perceive and connect all this information in ways that add value and meaning to the raw data? Increasingly, that means how do we represent the data, visually, in order to work on and with it. We also need to make these tools more accessible and usable by non-specialised actors and stakeholders”.
THE REGIONMAKER
Maas and his colleagues have therefore become toolmakers. They have developed a family of software tools, called the Regionmaker, which was first devised by MVRDV for a project called RhineRuhrCity .The Kommunalverband Ruhrgebiet (KVR), a union of cities in the region, has invested in a series of initiatives to improve its post-indstrial situation, and today fewer than six percent work works in coal and steel. But perceptions remain that this is the Detroit of Europe, a landscape dotted with ghost towns, overgrown industries and polluted areas. “The region is very well connected logistically,” says Maas. “It has incredible water resources, a dense university system, and successful media and computer industries. But these assets are fragmented. As you find in so many places in Europe, it’s a mosaic of competing municipalities, rather than one entity.” Hence the project to reposition the area as one place, one city: RhineRuhrCity.
The Regionmaker, which combines the function of search engine, browser, and graphical interface, brings together a variety of existing information sources and flows – for example, demographic data, or outputs from Geographical Informations Systems (GIS) or ‘geomatics’, as they are now called. “In a nutshell,” says Maas, “the idea is that within the context of a globalizing world, international databanks, advanced computers, internet and intranet systems, game technology, global monitoring and information systems, can be integrated in ways that convincingly represent regions. With the Regionmaker, there is no limit to visualization. You can look at maps, study charts, access databases, export images, import video feeds from helicopters or satellites, connect to the internet, use CAD drawings, and so on.”
Maas anticipates that the Regionmaker will evolve as a tree-structure of sub-machines and routines. MVRDV have plans to add representations of knowledge on the movement of people, goods and information. A housing sub-routine could develop scenarios for optimal housing designs. A light calculator could optimise the need for and control of, natural light in built spaces. A ‘function mixer’ would propose optimal mixtures of activities according to economic, social or cultural criteria.
Maas speculates that systems such as the Regionmaker could become decision support systems in a more pro-active and critical sense. “We could add an Evaluator, or an Evolver that can suggest criticism of the input we make,” he speculates. But there will never be a single programme for everything – and Regionmaker will never be finished. “We think of it not as all-in-one Big Brother software, but as an intricate network of different software programmes operating at different spatial dimensions.”

Posted in city & bioregion | Leave a comment

Mobility, Geography, Access (DoorsEast2, Bangalore, India, 2003)

doorseast2.poster.abishek.jpg
Our aim in DoorsEast2, in Bangalore was to learn how to design services, enabled by ICT, that meet basic needs in new ways – and to share this knowledge with citizens, education, industry, and professionals. This was our second international encounter in India. It built on the success of a previous event, DoorsEast 1, that was held at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad in February 2000.
doorseast2_bus.png
DoorsEast2 had three parts: morning plenary presentations by experts and project leaders; afternoon small groups to deepen knowledge exchange; and informal evening show-and-tell sessions in-and-around the city. Designers, technologists, entrepreneurs, and grassroots innovators, shared their project experiences developing new kinds of services. They presented and discussed projects from India, South Asia, and the North, that deliver new ways to meet needs in daily life in the areas of home, work, learning, mobility, and sociability. Discussions addressed principles for the design of network-based services in new contexts; tools and methodologies for mapping local knowledge; lessons learned, and next steps
We called DoorsEast 2003 a “working party” because it was also a celebration of the tenth anniversary of Doors of Perception. It was organised by:
– Doors of Perception (The Netherlands);
– Center for Knowledge Societies (CKS) in Bangalore (India);
– National Institute for Design, Ahmedabad, India;
– Interaction Design Institute Ivrea (Italy)’
– National Institute of Fashion technology (NIFT) Bangalore
with support from Nokia.
doorseast2.nift-courtyard.png
Designers, technologists, entrepreneurs, and grassroots innovators, shared their project experiences developing new kinds of services. They presented and discussed projects from India, South Asia, and the North, that deliver new ways to meet needs in daily life in the areas of home, work, learning, mobility, and sociability.
Discussions addressed principles for the design of network-based services in new contexts; tools and methodologies for mapping local knowledge; lessons learned, and next steps. Although their contexts differ dramatically, both Europe and Asia face the same innovation dilemma: in order to innovate successfully, we need to learn about the emerging needs to which new technology might be an answer.

Posted in [no topic] | Leave a comment

Bangalore diary

Writing from India, where he encounters designers, digerati and Bollywood producers who want to put him in a movie, John Thackara considers the potentially thrilling future of IT in the subcontinent.
To Bangalore, India’s IT city, to speak at the first India Design Summit. The event is organized jointly by the National Institute of Design (NID) and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).
Business leaders here anticipate keen competition from China, in markets ranging from textiles to software, now that the World Trade Organization (WTO) has further opened up Asian and global markets; they are looking for new ways to innovate higher-value products and services. NID’s new Director, Darlie Koshy, persuaded CII to stage the summit as a signal that design will be one of those ways.
Koshy’s timing strikes me as excellent in two respects. First, India’s manufacturers and software industries are preparing to move up the value chain of the world economy, and they seem to have decided that design can help them do that. Secondly, NID graduates possess a unique combination of social responsibility – and entrepreneurial zeal – that are perfectly suited for these New Times.
For its part, the CII, too, is in the middle of a generation shift. Its new vice-president, Ashok Soota, is president of Mind Tree Consulting, one of India’s software powerhouses; Soota is a keen supporter of design as an alternative to what he described as the ‘LCP Raj’ – the stifling decades after independence in which Indian industry laboured under a regime of Licenses, Controls and Permits.
The Design Summit summit had a somewhat ceremonial flavour, with lots of senior people saying rather general things; but the CII will now set up a design working party to work out how best to turn this abundant goodwill into projects.
The day I arrive, a report by Forrester Research predicts that within five years the proportion of spending on offshore services in global IT budgets will rise from 12 to 28 per cent of total expenditure. As I comment at the conference, only America could describe a subcontinent with one billion people as part of an ‘offshore’ industry. But nobody seems to share my indignation.
People I meet are more engaged by a discussion of the different ways design can help them develop new kinds of services, supported by IT. My own talk is about the move away from tech-driven innovation towards a new model which I nickname ‘the re-engineering of daily life’.
Sir Christopher Frayling, chairman of the UK Design Council, made a well-received speech about design as one of the ‘creative industries’ that the British government (and, to my horror, the Dutch minister of culture), favours right now.
Personally speaking, I can’t stand the ‘creative industries’ concept: the words conjur up ghastly images of a world filled with advertising executives and rich design consultants. Creative industries thinking is redolent of a point-to-mass mind-set that may have worked in the new economy – but won’t wash in these New Times. The good news is that I have the strong impression that the follower generation, certainly in India, shares my distaste for the creative industries concept.
December 2nd
After the Design Summit Jogi (Panghaal, Director of Doors in India) and I visit the new campus of Bangalore’s National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT). Bangalore NIFT is the latest in a nationwide network of seven educational and research institutions first established in the 1990s. (NID’s new director, Darlie Koshy, was previously at NIFT). NIFT’s Director in Bangalore, Hema Maya, and her senior academic, G. Somasundaram, a professor in fashion management studies, tell me that their task is to deliver the designers and managers (600 graduates each year) and business strategies needed to expand India’s share of the global textile and apparel market from one to at least five (and preferably ten) per cent by 2010. NIFT is such a buzzy and focussed institution that I’m sure they will succeed.
Another new design institute in Bangalore, Srishti, has been set up by Geetha Narayan and Poonam Buir Kastur. When I arrive there, Jogi is running a workshop about the mapping of communications in a network of nine villages somewhere in the countryside nearby.
Our next stop is Infosys where Sridhar Dhulipalar has aranged for me to give a talk. The Infosys campus is more like a small city state than a company. Within our first minutes on campus we bump into a crowded national delegation from New Zealand, led by its IT minister, and another group from AT+T, apparently including its chairman. The Doors of Perception delegation is more modest in size – namely, the two of us – but we’ve nabbed the lecture theatre first so the other guys don’t get to grandstand like we do.
Infosys City, as it’s called, is an enormous site: 28 buildings cluster among ponds, fountains, lawns and and shrubs. There are Food Courts, conference centres, and a huge gym. Mind you the latter, although filled with brand-new machines, is empty: I presume everyone is working. The only unsure touch is an expensive high-tech ‘presentation suite’ in the main corporate building where you are shut in a darkened room and subjected to a ghastly audio visual show about the digitally-enhanced lives of Indian yuppies. Speaking personally, I was a hundred times more impressed chatting to Infosys staff after my talk than by this automated sub-themepark experience. Infosys should chuck out the tech and replace it with a tearoom.
After Infosys we head for the Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT). This élite postgraduate facility hosts 122 hand-picked students in an expensive, if rather hideous, building paid for by Singaporean investors. Our host – IIT’s director, Professor Sadagopan, who had been a speaker at the Design Summit – is besieged by two separate Chinese delegations and by phone calls from the the Chief Minister. So we don’t stay long.
Singapore is spearheading the development of an ‘IT Forum’ to coordinate strategy among an Asian belt of IT cities including Bangalore and Hyderabad in India, Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore. David Lim, Singapore’s IT minister, reckons there is complementarity in this ‘infocommunications ecosystem’ between China’s manufacturing base, India as a software powerhouse, Korea’s bandwidth capacity, Japan’s global leadership in wireless services, and Singapore as a test-bed for new services and business models. Pan-Asian rhetoric like this is persuasive, but I’m not convinced much will come of it. Most IT alliance action nowadays is company-to-company (B2B) not state-to-state (S2S).
December 3RD
Our next stop is General Electric’s equally lavish new campus, the Jack T. Welch Research Centre, which has just opened in another outskirt of Bangalore. The campus has been designed and built at amazing speed. Its Bangalore-based architect, Naresh Navasimhan, shows us round. Eleven hundred researchers are already busy in eleven labs developing polymers and synthetics, modelling new chemicals, engineering smart ceramics and metallurgy, and so on. Nearly everone here, we are told, has at least a masters degree or a PhD.
I’m reassured to see plenty of people in white coats putting powders into glass pipettes – and not just rows of young guys staring into computers. The team here evidently works together well; the duration of research projects has been reduced sharply by cutting the steps in GE’s standard process from 24 to seven. Research costs, as a result, have plummeted from an average of $2million per project to $200,000. Small wonder that GE has decided to enlarge the facility to 3,000 researchers as fast as possible (or that the company’s US-based researchers are anxious about their futures). Several thousand construction workers are hammerng away putting up a new group of buildings.
Welch-ville is impressive as an example of global-scale research production. But although the facility is brand new, the atmosphere feels resolutely Old Times. A vast sign over the food court exhorts us to ‘Welcome GE’s New CEO, Jack Immelt’. I learn that the (new) Great White Chief did not, in the event, show up in person, but manifested himself by telepresence instead. Inside the facility, otherwise bare walls sport policy exhortations in ghastly typography. A traffic sign at the entrance reminds visitors that the speed limit is not ten, and not 15, but 16 kph; 10 miles an hour is GE’s global on-site traffic standard. The acres of lawn with rows of powerful water sprinklers, full-on during the hottest part of the day, are also pretty shocking in a city which has a severe water shortage. I don’t imagine this will endear GE to environmentalists, but neither do I imagine they will care too much.
Back in the city I meet 40 designers and architects at an informal get-together organized by Jacob Matthew, an organiser, in his private time, of Bangalore’s Designers Friday network. Matthew’s 28-strong company, Tessaract, consults for big retailers, manufactures furniture, and runs an interesting design shop. Along with most of the professionals I meet, Tessaract seems to be doing pretty well – so the evening was hardly fertile ground for my talk about the need for design to re-invent itself. But once again I am struck by an openness to new ideas and the intelligent way designers and architects here plot their course.
December 4TH
For me, the major story in India is the potential for the design of services by, and with, rural and urban poor people. This is not about aid, but about a truly vast, un-met market that myopic TelCos, all of whom seem to be mesmerised by high-cost, high-bandwidth business networks, seem unable to focus on.
M. S. Banga, chairman of Hindustan Lever, pointed out in a press interview during my visit that India’s software industry has impacted less than 500,000 people among a one billion-strong population – but that more than 700 million people work in agriculture (living in roughly 700,000 villages). If the income of these people were to rise by a modest three per cent a year, overall GDP in India would grow by 1.7 per cent a year. And the country would also benefit from a reduced rate of urbanization. Mumbai (Bombay), I learn, is growing by 160,000 people a week – whereas the last time I was here the number was 60,000.
Connectivity is no longer the main obstacle to wealth creation via communication services. On my last but one day, an impressive programme to bridge the digital divide is announced. Under Plan 9000, Pace, a Hyderabad-based computer training company, will launch 3,000 self-sustaining computer centres in Andra Pradesh and 6,000 in the rest of the country. Each will be staffed by three computer science graduates who will be helped to procure equipment such as computers, scanners and software. Each centre, which will have cable internet access, will service 15,000 people – about 100 million in total.
As with the Public Call office (PCO) innovation of the 1990s, a combination of new technology and new business models is making serious inroads into the digital divide in India.
The crucial step is to accelerate the design of new services to take example of this more broadly available connectivity. At the Centre for Knowledge Societies(CKS) in Bangalore, Aditya Dev Sood’s team documents developmental ICT projects throughout South Asia. The Bangalore-Hyderabad area is probably the only region in the world where global-quality high-tech and Bible-age lifestyles co-exist, and I’m sure Sood is correct to argue that test projects done here can stimulate service innovation throughout South Asia and the African subcontinent too.
CKS and Doors have agreed to search for ways to support service design innovation in different rural and urban contexts. CKS is looking to expand its project documentation activity, while Doors will support pilot projects that involve collaborative mapping of communication flows, and the design of service scenarios, in diferent situations.
Institutes such as NID, where Professor M P Ranjan has pioneered scenario design techniques for several years, have started to train designers about the use of design scenarios for this kind of work, so plenty of qualified people are available once the projects get underway.
Bangalore operates at multiple speeds. GE’s huge research centre seems to have been built in less time than it takes to order a beer at the Bangalore Gold Club, where I am staying. Bangalore is less frantic than Mumbai, or even Ahmedabad, where we did our first Doors event in India last year. One reason for a certain tranquility is that the city contains several large parks. These are are owned and occupied by India’s army and airforce. India’s nearest external enemy, Pakistan, is thousands of kilometres to the north – but the British, who liked the climate here, turned sleepy little Bangalore into a a garrison city during the nineteenth century and India’s military never left. I saw hardly any troops or military vehicles, but their city-centre grounds are so extensive that there could be many divisions of them hidden away.
Speaking of the military, an article by Anuradah Chenoy in the Asian Age (30 November 2001) enlightened me more about the Afghanistan situation in 500 words than all the western media coverage I’d seen since 9/11. Chenoy’s ripping yarn includes these gems: By 2050, Central Asia is to account for 80 per cent of US oil and gas. The Taliban leadership was invited to Houston in 1997 and promised $100 million a year in transit fees when the Bakhu-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline is built. Vice-prez Cheney was previously president, CEO, and a major stockholder in Haliburton, a leading energy services group. Bush Senior is a member of the $12 billion Carlyle Group whose private equity investors have included … the Bin Laden family. Bush Senior is said to have met the Bin Laden family twice. Gripping stuff.
Only four million mobile phones have been sold in the whole of India, but everyone seems to have one here. People mostly use pre-paid cards, and a price war is raging between local TelCos and international networks such as Orange. There are signs everywhere for “MOTS” (Mobile On The Spot).
The tempo of business is determined by the use of mobiles: Jogi and I make appointments a few hours in advance; call from taxis or auto-rickshaws to say we are arriving; and a couple of times, people call minutes after we leave a meeting to confirm the points we just agreed.
Speaking of mobiles, Nirmal Sethia, a management professor from California, reflects at the design summit on the “lost 20 minutes” of his students. This is the amount of time they spend packing up their papers (and Palms) at the end of one lecture and walking across campus to the next one. “Five years ago, they would either chat to each other, or possibly walk alone reflecting – as I fantasized about it, at least – on what they just heard,” says Sethia. “Nowadays, most of them are talking on their mobile before they are even out of the lecture hall. I speculate not only about what they’re talking about – but also about what they are now missing from college life.”
December 5TH
En route back from Bangalore to Europe, I have one more day in Mumbai. Ravi Pooviah, a communication design professor at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, has organized a four-day conferece on interaction design at the Indian Institute of Technology and invites me to give a talk. Another group of very smart students and researchers. By now its 37 degrees, and I’m beginning to flag, but it’s tremendous fun to be there.
Since I last visited the Mumbai/Bombay IIT in 1994, a row of bizarre apartment blocks has been erected by the lake. Each one is at least 40 stories high and boasts either a Grecian temple, or some kind of Italianate cupola, on its top three floors. Las Vegas meets Milton Keynes – not the sort of thing they’d approve of back in Holland. During a break at the conference, I learn that the Mumbai/Bombay dot.com scene has been more badly hit than Bangalore’s larger software companies. If dot.com money paid for those blocks, they deserve it.
In Mumbai on my last evening, two young film producers approach me on the street and ask me if I want to be in a Bollywood movie. I say yes, of course – and then ask them what my role will be. Nobody mentions mentions the title, let alone the plot, of the movie. “You can choose between the police chief and the hotel manager,” they say. I say I’ll do the hotel manager, and ask when they start shooting. “Eight o’clock tomorrow morning.” Talk about just-in-time production. Sadly, I have a flight to catch – but just in case I’m throwing away a fortune, as well as a new career, I ask about the pay. “It’s 500 rupees before tax,” (about $10) they say. Five, perhaps less, after deductions. I tell them my agent will call them. Maybe.

Posted in development & design | Leave a comment

Trophy buildings are over

Three developments are putting an end to the boom in landmark buildings. The first is over-supply. This year’s Venice Architecture Biennale show-cased literally hundreds of large, glamorous buildings that will be built in the next few years. But, precisely because they are conceived as spectacles, these signature buildings have started to cancel each other out.
We accord them the same perceptual status as an Armani ad on a wall in New York or Milan: we look at them, judge them in a glance – and then move on. That’s not a great return on all the time, work and money invested to bring these totemic edifices about.
A second development: buildings conceived as tourist destinations are hard to sustain in business terms. City-hopping tourists seldom re-visit the Guggenheim in Bilbao, for example, where visitor numbers are now in decline.The UK, too, is awash in landmark cultural buildings – conceived politically as large and expensive signs, and paid for with lottery money – that seem doomed to go out of business once their novelty has worn off.
The third development is the emergence of “sociability” and “liveability” as new criteria for urban design. The French – who with their Grands Projets invented the craze for trophy buildings – have gone off in a new direction – towards the development of live, participatory events as ways of adding value to a place.
Describing itself as the “land of festivals”, the region of Provence-Aples-Cote d’Azur, alone, published a 194 page catalogue for 2002 that lists more than 300 events and festivals.These range from land-art and arborescence, ancient music and falconry, to festivals of laughter, rythm, and fanfare http://www.laregie-paca.com
Formal cultural festivals have been booming in France for years, but the new craze if forles arts de la rue. So popular has street art and performance become that festivals on the subject are now staged every summer – in Chalon-sur-Soane and Aurillac. These events, which bring together street-level theatre, circus, music and dance, have spawned now well-known acts such as Royale Luxe, Iltopie, and Generik Vapeur (http://www.generikvapeur.com/)
Eyebrows were raised this summer when the French minister of culture, usually the epitome of high (read: expensive) culture, attended the Chalon event for the first time. And a professional asssociation for street arts has been formed to represent the artists and producers, and festival organisers. http://www.lefourneau.com/lafederation
Jean-Marie Songy, director of the Aurillac festival, says these events expemplify what he calls the “open city – the utopian ideal that a city as an open stage that supports freedom of expression”. http://www.chalondanslarue.com/
Some artists have mixed views about the growing attention. Caty Avram, founder of Generik Vapeur, warns that “these festivals are indispensable for bringing performers and programmers together – but we must take care that our street-level interventions do not evolve into spectacles observed by a passive public.We should always be looking for new locales, and for people not accustomed to our kind of actions”.
Olivier Brie, Director of Art Point M, agrees: “there are two real risks for a festival such as Chalon: the rain, and paying visitors”. (Source: Le Monde 20 July 2002)
“Street artists are rightly suspicious of passive spectacle” confirms another producer, Catherine Lemaire, director of a dynamic Ganges-based agency, Eurekart. “The trend is away from set-piece performances towards smaller, more intimate interactions. The thinking now is that every spectator can also be an artist”. eurekart@club-internet.fr (00 33 (0)4 67 73 98 40)
Lemaire observes that street theatre is becoming less aggressive and provocative. “Artists seem to have become less confrontational and more humane – less hard”, she says.”We are seeing smaller, more intimate events – and the emergence of troupes of one, two or three people – in contrast to the 15 or 20 we’d have seen a year or two ago. It’s not unknown now for an artist to provoke an interaction with just one person on the street”.
A second tendency, says Lemaire, is that street art is finding new types of locations.”Performers seem to be moving away from decorative balconies in the town square, in favour of the workplace, the shopping centre, or the factory”,
Every November, Lemaire organises the equivalent of a Cannes Film Festval in Montpellier – Label Rue – which brings together a selection of artists, and commissioners of events from throughout France. Lefevre, who has realised street art events in dozens of towns throughout France, Spain and Italy, selects about 40 acts and invites city and festival programmers to come and view them.
The artists do their thing in car parks, outside cafes and on the streets of Montpellier. There is music of all kinds – jazz, steel drum, morooccan fanfare, yeti chanting. There are graffiti artists, fire performers, and a sculptor, Patrick Lefevre, playing the saxophone a top a 15 metre pyramid of his own construction.
end

Posted in city & bioregion | Leave a comment

Interaction Design Institute Ivrea (Helping set up a new instituion, Ivrea, Italy, 2000-2003)

ivrea.bldg.jpg
Doors of Perception’s John Thackara was a member of start-up team (and of the Steering Committee until the end of 2003) that established Interaction Design Institute Ivrea. This new research institute in Italy was supported by Olivetti and Telecom Italia. The Institute’s Director was Gillian Crampton Smith.
ivrea.foto.jpeg
The specific tasks of Doors were to:
– help develop and articulate the institute’s basic concept and organisational form;
– define and articulate the roles of, and benefits to, industry sponsors;
– organize an international workshop of experts to refine the research programme;
– write job and person profiles for professors, researchers and students;
– create and implement launch phase communications and produce inaugural event;
– organize a workshop for industry on new business models for interactive products and services.
ivrea.blue-light.jpg
For Panorama,the Institute became “a point of reference for the generation of new ideas and a new design culture.” Prestinenza called Interaction Ivrea “a model for the moribund Italian educational system”. Francesco Gavazzi, in a cover story for Corriere della Sera, proclaimed that “at Ivrea, students design new ways of interaction between man and technology”.
In 2005, the Interaction Design Institute left Ivrea and moved to the new premises of Domus Academy in Milan. There, the two institutions developed devise a new Masters in Interaction Design, which started in 2006.

Posted in [no topic] | Leave a comment

From shelfware to wetware: where next for design research?

In December 2002 I chaired a seminar in London, organised by the Design Council, which brought together 100 academics, designers and business people to discuss: “how to get the most out of academic design knowledge”. The Design Council will publish a formal report soon (I will link it from here) – but here are some half-formed thoughts (Philip Tabor) on the points that arose.
Designers and companies tend to understand ‘design research’ as:
– technology scoping
– market research
– product development
– trend forecasting
Most of the academics at the meeting said that these activities were not “research” as they understood the term.
Other kinds of value can be created by design research. Among these:
– knowledge about new processes and methods – to the extend that they can be documented and codified. People running large organisations generally value process innovations more than outcomes. But this is not a uniquely academic research activity: internet service companies like Sapient, and management consultants, do process innovation all the time.
– case studies and best practices: everyone wants them, but there’s a difficulty: a “best practice” is hard to document or make ‘objective’. Practices, by definition, are rooted in a social and technological context.
– Intellectual Property Rights (IPR): old-thinking companies want it, but an obsession with IPR stifles innovation.
– reflection, criticism, and evaluation of bigger picture: these lofty activities are badly needed, and are traditional tasks for academe. The problem arises: how to share the insights so gained with people on the front line whose attitudes and behaviours we want to modify?
– develop new business models: business school academics were active in this field during the early dot.com boom: remember “pure-play” business concepts? Nearly all these platonic concepts failed – precisely because they were not rooted in a context.
– develop new ways of working: the same proviso applies. Academic research can draw our attention to new ways of working (or “WoW” as Philips’ Josephine Green called it) – but I’m sceptical that academic research, by itself, can innovate methods out of context.
– understand people and communities: my tolerance for engineers and social scientists who claim to “understand people” is so low that I pass on this one.
– identify un-met needs and desires: the concept of an “un-met need” raises an equally large number of epistemological questions. That, too, is for another time.
It’s worth noting, too, that there is no single “design process”. Those words were used by different people to describe different steps:
– action research – iterative design in which build > trial > evaluate > learn > build repeat, continuously;
– scoping the domain – to identify broad-brush drivers and dilemmas;
– framing the initial question – on the basis that questions are more powerful than answers;
– assembling the actors – with an emphasis on the inclusion of people formerly known as users;
– obtaining resources – the process of designing and drafting project proposals, setting up projects, and co-coordinating them, is complex and very time-consuming;
– co-ordination and facilitation – the Sloan Business School’s Centre for Co-ordination Science (sic) reckons that coordination should be allocated 30% of time and money resources in many projects – but never is;
– sharing results – will never happen if left to the end of the project.
If I reflect, after the meeting, on success factors for design research, four of these stood out for me:
– locate at least part of the project in a real-world context. I heard no convincing examples of purely theoretical design research.
– Design research should involve the innovative re-combination of actors among the worlds of science, government, business, and education.
– If the results (and value) of design research are to be shared effectively, communication and dissemination methods need to be designed (and budgeted) in at the start.
– there’s an urgent (and so far not visible) need to develop peer-to-peer methods for research and investigations.
The list of barriers to the effectiveness of design research to emerge from the meeting was longer:
– limits of design knowledge; its epistemology (C Frayling);
– difficult to capture/represent – and thus share – a process;
(processes are often tacit and social, not objective);
– divergent ways of working (WoW);
– inadequate access to, or knowledge of, who is doing what;
– impoverished stores, or more properly flows, of knowledge and experience
– IPR/ownership issues stifle sharing;
– institutional constraints (professional associations, disciplinary divisions);
– funding bodies are too slow, too mono-disciplinary;
– lack of ways to measure effectiveness (Jamie Oliver story).
Conclusion
It was not clear to me, after the meeting, what the academy can or should do, that business cannot. I’m not persuaded that pure reflection, for example – “shelf ware”, as wittily described by Rachel Cooper – can be effective, or meaningful, if it is divorced from practice. I also fear that stores of knowledge, put together by academic researchers, may be less useful – remembering the recent failures of knowledge management – than flows of knowledge. I also wonder whether academia can, or should, deliver the just-in-time-research that fast-moving industries seem to need.
In the end, it is probably not a matter of either-or (academic vs. worldly research) – but of both-and. But even a both-and conclusion raises tricky issues. Systematic collaboration between academics and practitioners implies institutional and attitudinal transformation. Does this transformation process need to be designed?
On this last point, I was fascinated to read a paper by Yochai Benkler, Professor of Law at New York University, about Linux and the nature of the firm. Free software, or open source software, is a fifteen-year-old phenomenon in the software world. But, according to Benkler, free software, although the most visible, is one example of a much broader social phenomenon, commons-based peer production – a new mode of production in the digitally-networked environment.
http://www.benkler.org/CoasesPenguin.html
The central characteristic of this new mode of is that groups of individuals successfully collaborate on large-scale projects following a diverse cluster of motivational drives and social signals – rather than market prices or managerial commands.
This would be a worthy subject for a follow-up meeting.
See also my piece, Does your design research exist? at
http://www.doorsofperception.com/In+the+Bubble/details/50/

Posted in [no topic] | Leave a comment

From shelfware to wetware: where next for design research?

(In December 2002 I chaired a seminar in London, organised by the Design Council, which brought together 100 academics, designers and business people to discuss: “how to get the most out of academic design knowledge”. Here are some half-formed thoughts (Philip Tabor) on the points that arose)
Designers and companies tend to understand ‘design research’ as:
– technology scoping
– market research
– product development
– trend forecasting
Most of the academics at the meeting said that these activities were not “research” as they understood the term.
Other kinds of value can be created by design research. Among these:
– knowledge about new processes and methods – to the extend that they can be documented and codified. People running large organisations generally value process innovations more than outcomes. But this is not a uniquely academic research activity: internet service companies like Sapient, and management consultants, do process innovation all the time.
– case studies and best practices: everyone wants them, but there’s a difficulty: a “best practice” is hard to document or make ‘objective’. Practices, by definition, are rooted in a social and technological context.
– Intellectual Property Rights (IPR): old-thinking companies want it, but an obsession with IPR stifles innovation.
– reflection, criticism, and evaluation of bigger picture: these lofty activities are badly needed, and are traditional tasks for academe. The problem arises: how to share the insights so gained with people on the front line whose attitudes and behaviours we want to modify?
– develop new business models: business school academics were active in this field during the early dot.com boom: remember “pure-play” business concepts? Nearly all these platonic concepts failed – precisely because they were not rooted in a context.
– develop new ways of working: the same proviso applies. Academic research can draw our attention to new ways of working (or “WoW” as Philips’ Josephine Green called it) – but I’m sceptical that academic research, by itself, can innovate methods out of context.
– understand people and communities: my tolerance for engineers and social scientists who claim to “understand people” is so low that I pass on this one.
– identify un-met needs and desires: the concept of an “un-met need” raises an equally large number of epistemological questions. That, too, is for another time.
It’s worth noting, too, that there is no single “design process”. Those words were used by different people to describe different steps:
– action research – iterative design in which build > trial > evaluate > learn > build repeat, continuously;
– scoping the domain – to identify broad-brush drivers and dilemmas;
– framing the initial question – on the basis that questions are more powerful than answers;
– assembling the actors – with an emphasis on the inclusion of people formerly known as users;
– obtaining resources – the process of designing and drafting project proposals, setting up projects, and co-coordinating them, is complex and very time-consuming;
– co-ordination and facilitation – the Sloan Business School’s Centre for Co-ordination Science (sic) reckons that coordination should be allocated 30% of time and money resources in many projects – but never is;
– sharing results – will never happen if left to the end of the project.
If I reflect, after the meeting, on success factors for design research, four of these stood out for me:
– locate at least part of the project in a real-world context. I heard no convincing examples of purely theoretical design research.
– Design research should involve the innovative re-combination of actors among the worlds of science, government, business, and education.
– If the results (and value) of design research are to be shared effectively, communication and dissemination methods need to be designed (and budgeted) in at the start.
– there’s an urgent (and so far not visible) need to develop peer-to-peer methods for research and investigations.
The list of barriers to the effectiveness of design research to emerge from the meeting was longer:
– limits of design knowledge; its epistemology (C Frayling);
– difficult to capture/represent – and thus share – a process;
(processes are often tacit and social, not objective);
– divergent ways of working (WoW);
– inadequate access to, or knowledge of, who is doing what;
– impoverished stores, or more properly flows, of knowledge and experience
– IPR/ownership issues stifle sharing;
– institutional constraints (professional associations, disciplinary divisions);
– funding bodies are too slow, too mono-disciplinary;
– lack of ways to measure effectiveness (Jamie Oliver story).
Conclusion
It was not clear to me, after the meeting, what the academy can or should do, that business cannot. I’m not persuaded that pure reflection, for example – “shelf ware”, as wittily described by Rachel Cooper – can be effective, or meaningful, if it is divorced from practice. I also fear that stores of knowledge, put together by academic researchers, may be less useful – remembering the recent failures of knowledge management – than flows of knowledge. I also wonder whether academia can, or should, deliver the just-in-time-research that fast-moving industries seem to need.
In the end, it is probably not a matter of either-or (academic vs. worldly research) – but of both-and. But even a both-and conclusion raises tricky issues. Systematic collaboration between academics and practitioners implies institutional and attitudinal transformation. Does this transformation process need to be designed?
On this last point, I was fascinated to read a paper by Yochai Benkler, Professor of Law at New York University, about Linux and the nature of the firm. Free software, or open source software, is a fifteen-year-old phenomenon in the software world. But, according to Benkler, free software, although the most visible, is one example of a much broader social phenomenon, commons-based peer production – a new mode of production in the digitally-networked environment.
http://www.benkler.org/CoasesPenguin.html
The central characteristic of this new mode of is that groups of individuals successfully collaborate on large-scale projects following a diverse cluster of motivational drives and social signals – rather than market prices or managerial commands.
This would be a worthy subject for a follow-up meeting.
See also my piece, Does your design research exist? at
http://www.doorsofperception.com/In+the+Bubble/details/50/

Posted in learning & design | Leave a comment