Design Research Studio


August 28: Response

I am very interested in learning about transition design, but I do approach this semester with trepidation. Transition design is clearly hugely important and I believe it can be the conceptual basis for not only design practice, but also business and policy. However, I am unclear on how to incorporate this thinking into the hardware-focused Industrial Design practice which I love.

I struggled with this to an extent during my summer internship, when I found it somewhat difficult to explain to coworkers how the abstract research I was doing was still “an Industrial Designer’s job”, and how it would ultimately connect to the hardware. I knew in my gut that the high-level approach was the right way to inform and define hardware designs, but I lacked the vocabulary to convey that idea to my coworkers. I hope to gain an understanding of how to bridge this gap between conceptual thinking and traditional ID, and the ability to put it into words.

I am also a little bit apprehensive about the idea of a studio course in which we do so much thinking and mapping, and so little of the traditional design practice that I am used to. That being said, I loved the first lecture and I cannot wait to see where it goes from there. I feel very fortunate to have had the traditional ID background of the outgoing curriculum, and to still be able to learn about transition design with the new curriculum.

September 6

Initial research into gentrification has been surprising. I knew there are many stakeholders with differing perspectives, but I underestimated the degree to which there is an utter lack of consensus on nearly anything relating to gentrification. Facts are presented in articles which completely contradict another author or publication. Some take it for granted that gentrification causes displacement, and others argue that only 1% of the population is pushed out. Some state that crime rates lower in communities that are gentrified, and others state that gentrification directly raises crime rates in that same community.

Reading the Ojai briefing was valuable because it clarified some of the process of undergoing a transition design project. It was easy to feel lost and confused when seeing directly contradictory information, but the stakeholder exercise illustrated in the Ojai briefing showed that these contradictions are to be expected and that we can take them into account in an effective way.

I still do not clearly see the connection between transition design and traditional ID practice, but I am beginning to understand that there are points of overlap. I imagine that an industrial designer’s skills can be very valuable in the phase of visioning a future solution, particularly in a way that stakeholders and participants can feel personally connected to. However, the visioning phase seems to be only a slice of the process, and because it is so closely related to designing and conceptualizing lifestyles, I am not sure an industrial designer’s particular skill set is actually crucial.

September 11

I felt slightly conflicted while reading the Capra reading. I absolutely agree with the idea that, as a society, we have an issue with our perception of many large scale problems. I agree with the author that the leaders of our society do not properly understand or embrace the idea that many societal problems are interconnected and cannot be solved in a vacuum. It further demonstrates to me the concept put forth by Meadows that the mindset of a population is the most powerful leverage point for change.

I also found the idea of changing our mindset towards an understanding that we are all parts of the same system to be compelling. Ultimately, I agree with the foundation of Capra’s argument, but I find it difficult to embrace a few ideas. I do not fully understand the supposed connection between a holistic worldview and gender. Capra states:

“The exploitation of nature, in particular, has gone hand in hand with that of women.”

He does not fully explain this idea, and states it as if it is widely understood to be true already. Perhaps this is perfectly valid, but without more exploration of this idea I am left feeling skeptical.

Capra also states that the idea of physics being the source of the ultimate explanation of natural phenomena is “Clearly a Cartesian fallacy.” This is also not fully explained. It is not clear to me how a life-centric and holistic worldview conflicts with the idea that physics is exploring the root cause of scientific phenomena.

September 18

I felt uneasy while writing my skit for gentrification. I am supposed to be acting out the part of a low-income, long-time resident in an area that is being gentrified. Writing the script made me realize how many assumptions we are making about what it feels like to be in that position. I understand why we are not undergoing research ourselves, and I agree that to do so for this project would be disrespectful. However, I am not sure that we have a suitable replacement. At the moment, I am not sure that we can gain the same type of empathetic understanding of the situation from googling that we would gain from talking to stakeholders directly.

The Block reading made a strong case for the value of a community, but because it is only the introduction, it does little in the way of explaining how to build such a community.

The Jungk reading goes into a little more depth about the process of future workshops, which seems like a fairly concrete method to improve the strength of a community, as Block advocates for. I can’t help but notice the parallels between Jungk’s process and the Transition Design framework described in the Ojai reading. The future workshops begin with critique, then fantasy, and then implementation, much like the Transition Design process of researching, forecasting, and then backtracking to create transition pathways. Overall I found the idea of future workshops to be very optimistic and positive, and I hope that it is genuinely feasible. I believe the only way to have productive workshops is through very effective moderation, so expanding the number of workshops to a large scale could prove difficult.

Response to Monday’s Class

I was left feeling very disappointed and deeply uncomfortable after the last class. To begin with, I do not think the skits were effective as a form of research. I think that rather than expanding our awareness of the issues and building empathy, the exercise served to deepen our assumptions and preconceived notions, and led us to embrace stereotypes in lieu of proper research. I understand and agree with the decision not to undergo first-person research, as I do think that would be disrespectful of the true stakeholders in the wicked problems. However, I think it is even more disrespectful to those people to replace a real conversation with skits. We acted out our assumptions about people without stopping to make our biases clearly known. The intent of stakeholder research is to be exposed to outside opinions, and to learn what do not know we do not know. We cannot speak for stakeholders.

This exercise could have served to make us aware of our own biases, limited perspectives, and ignorance of the subject matter; but I do not think the opportunity was seized. I believe many students left the class with their own assumptions reinforced by the exercise.

I was also made uncomfortable by another aspect of the exercise: skits are inherently funny and lighthearted. Watching friends try to act (poorly) is always going to be funny. This meant that students stood on stage and pretended to be poor, desperate, or vulnerable people while the class erupted in laughter. We made a show, and a mockery, of the genuine suffering of communities in need. It felt like the opposite of empathy.

September 20

I enjoyed reading Dator’s article but at the same found little to be new information to me. I think the exercise with the hats could be valuable to people new to the creative process, who may not be accustomed to brainstorming and designing in a collaborative way. It is interesting to read about methods to help the “layperson” to design, particularly after reading Jungk’s advocacy for civilian workshops.

I also like the idea that valid predictions of the future will always sound absurd. I have never thought about this idea so clearly, but it has always made intuitive sense to me. Most of today’s technology would have sounded absurd just a generation ago, and yet we expect future predictions to make sense to us. This becomes more true the farther forward we forecast; the most accurate vision of the far future is probably something we cannot comprehend.

Do you remember
The day the ocean rose up
And we lost our home?
Globalization:
The word we used to describe
Our community.
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