Consilient Design
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Consilient Design

Why Consilience and Design?

The inspiration for the title of this publication comes from the title of a book by E.O. Wilson. It may seem odd that a blog about user experience design was inspired by a book by a famous ant scientist. Wilson, a Harvard entomologist and two time Pulitzer Prize winner is sometimes referred to as the “father of sociobiology”.

In addition to his bug work, Wilson has an abiding interest in humanism and its relationship to science. His book “Consilience — the unity of knowledge” took on the challenge of finding unity between the humanities and the sciences.

Our publication has more modest goals. First, we want to explore the notion that at the core of different design approaches, ideologies and theories of experience design lies a deeper structure of human behavior that needs to be understood and accounted for in the design process. Successful experience (or product?) design requires that designers develop a sense of situational awareness of the person, their motivations, and context of use. Building this deeper understanding of users requires assembling knowledge and connecting ideas and concepts from a variety of disciplines, including psychology, business, marketing, engineering, etc. We draw inspiration from the need to connect various concepts to create big ideas and inform the design process.

Second, much writing about design has an antagonistic stance. It is easy to understand why this is so. Obviously, if one develops a new approach to design and writes about it, it will draw more attention than yet another recitation of well-worn ideas. If you want to draw attention, you need to differentiate yourself from others. If you really want to get someone’s attention, say something controversial. Of course, there is nothing wrong with advancing new ideas. This is how progress is made. However, when the intellectual products of the motivation to stand out are viewed across the field as a whole, the signal of good, practical design can be lost in the noise. Counterintuitively, we seek to stand out by highlighting commonality.

Third, we seek a broader consilience beyond the craft of User Interface design. While focusing on the mechanics of interactions and visual presentation is important for great product design, not including and pulling from the larger universe of useful ideas that exist outside of the UI design field misses key opportunities to innovate. There are valuable ideas in not just design-adjacent areas such as engineering but also in sciences far removed from interface design such as biology and of course, psychology and the social sciences. Drawing upon these notions can serve to fuel creativity and ensure that design focuses deeply on human beings, including performance limits, behaviors, motivations, and goals.

Finally, we want to promote understanding in contrast to technique alone. We assert that design innovation increases when designers combine and synthesize concepts from a variety of fields. This makes designing, as a cross-disciplinary collaborative problem solving activity, extremely powerful to converge ideas from a variety of sources. Knowing why a method works, having the ability to critically analyze alternatives and recognize what is useful and what is not makes one a better designer. The same goes for developing the ability to find inspiration in the broader world of knowledge. In short, we want to both illuminate the essence of design as a practice while integrating design into the larger contexts of business, science, and engineering.

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