Part 2: SHARED UNDERSTANDINGS:
THE CONVERSATION CENTERED WITHIN A DESIGN
What Does The Designer Need To Know?

Practice-By-Design Series

Image by Feld, 2020

The designer needs to be able to assess and manage shared understandings all through-out the design process. The designer needs to …

(1) Be clear about the role designers should play, and how to relate to the client

Design is an occupation in the throws of becoming a profession. “Design” and the designer role are claimed by three very different perspectives — what are called paradigms — about what the designer role should be about. These ways of looking at things come down to whether designers see their roles as craft, art or design. This can make it a little confusing about how the designer should go about assessing and managing shared understandings, and how the designer should relate to the client. To do so successfully, the designer may have to change their preferred paradigm, that is, how they think through what they should do.

(2) Be aware of the primacy of subjective experiences

How people interact with designs is very subjective. The designer can predict some universal understandings about color, object and placement. But the designer also needs to be prepared to ferret out those subjective assumptions, perspectives and values of the client (and the client’s various audiences).

(3) Be familiar with how designs have shared understandings, and why the development of these shared understandings is a social process

Conception, creation and implementation do not occur in a vacuum. They emerge as part of a social process. The recognition of a design — what it is, how useful it is, how enduring it is — is not wholly determined by that design’s objective characteristics. It is jointly determined.

There are three different paradigms or approaches within which designers operate — Craft, Art or Design. Each paradigm is very coherent and rule- and expectation-bound. Each is a standard perspective and set of ideas.

Each approach seeks to provide the answers to the question: Who Am I As A Designer? Each approach steers the designer to play out their role differently. Each approach leads the designer to make different assumptions about the process, what skills and abilities need to come to bear, how to approach and interact with the client, and how to evaluate the success of the outcome. Each approach provides guidance about the outcome the designer should strive for.

Designing is about making choices. Each approach gives you different advice about the norms for acceptable conduct. It is important to be aware of all this, and if you are to develop the necessary skills and insights for assessing and managing shared understandings, you may have to change the paradigm-perspective you have been operating under.

By far, the most typically-encountered approach is called the Craft Approach.
The design process here is very mechanical. Tasks are reduced to step-by-step instructions, almost like paint-by-number. Things are very systematic. There is a clear beginning where you start your project, an organized middle, and a clear end when you finish it. Tasks are specified and carried out generically, that is, applied similarly over many design projects. The primary focus is on getting the job done with some attention to beauty and appeal.

The Craft Approach assumes:

1. That the designer is either born with creative talents or not. Creativity is not something that you can learn.
2. The only thing that matters in design is to complete the task.
3. Designing is something anyone can do. It requires little to no specialized knowledge that must be garnered through a professional degree program.
4. In unfamiliar or new situations, there are no issues of adaptability. There is sort of a Have-Design-Will-Travel mentality.
5. Disciplinary literacy and fluency result from repetition and practice. The designer learns to be able to produce the same object over and over again.

Some consequences:

a. Since the singular goal is to get the job done, little thought or concern is placed on anticipating consequences and responding to them as they arise.

b. Appeal and beauty are primarily based on simply completing the project — no matter how it looks or feels or holds up with wear or use. It is assumed the project will be functional.

c. The designer is taught to start with a set of instructions, flow-chart or a pattern, and follow these mechanically. The instructions are assumed to be written correctly, need no further clarification, and should not be altered.

d. The better designer is one who has done more and more projects.

e. Easy to define an acceptable outcome — completing the project instructions from start to finish. It is assumed that there are few compositional issues, and that the project will be appreciated universally simply because it has been completed.

A second approach designers gravitate towards is the Art Tradition. The Art Tradition believes that the designer needs to learn a set of rules that can be used to apply to any situation where you are making designs. It is less important that you follow a set of steps. It’s more important to know how to apply art theories — things like color, perspective, dimension, pattern, texture, balance, harmony, composition and the like — to your project at each stage of the process, whatever that process is, and wherever that process takes you.

These art theories detail what defines successful (and unsuccessful) manipulation of design elements — universally and objectively — within any piece of art or design. There is some acknowledgement that subjectivity influences perceptions, but this is minimized. The focus, is instead, on universally accepted ideas about harmony in design. Design is seen as either a subset of painting or of sculpture. It is not seen as having its own discipline and medium, with its own special rules, theories, techniques and approaches, apart from those in art. Design is judged apart from the setting in which it is put into use.

What is nice about the Art Tradition, is that the goal is Beauty and there are issues of choice to be solved. The designer is not encumbered by having to follow specific steps or patterns. Nor is the designer encumbered by the structural and functional properties of all the pieces she or he uses — only their beauty. The designer does not have to compromise Beauty for Functionality.

The Art Tradition assumes:

1. While different people have different creative abilities, everyone has some creative ability, and can be influenced in how to apply these creative talents.
2. What matters in design is how you approach the process. It is irrelevant whether the designer is deliberative or spontaneous. It does matter whether the designer has applied the rules intuitively and correctly at each increment of the way. The end result will be a very beautiful piece of jewelry.
3. Design as art is really a form of sculpture or painting, and should be judged by the rules of sculpture or painting. The focus is on how you think through the process and make it intuitive.
4. The designer can achieve universally-accepted combinations and arrangements of design elements incorporated into any specific design piece or project.
5. Disciplinary literacy and fluency result from rehearsing theories and applying them over and over again until they become intuitive for any design choices you make.

Some consequences:

a. Little thought is given to issues of wearability or usability or durability.

b. The beauty of the design is as if it had been painted or sculpted. This is paramount.

c. The designer is taught that design is a matter of making choices, there are smarter choices to be made, and there are consequences when making any one choice. There is recognition that the designer may need to adapt to new or unfamiliar situations.

d. Design requires professional training and development over time.

e. Success results from universal understandings about how design elements should be combined and arranged so that they are harmonious, preferably with a bit of variety.

f. The full attention is on managing composition. Little attention or concern is placed on managing construction.

A third approach to design is called the Art and Design Perspective. This paradigm recognizes the importance of the Art Tradition, especially in understanding the design process as the culmination of a series of choices, each sensitive to the context within which they are made, and each with elements of risks, rewards and consequences. This approach adds, however, to the types of choices the designer is seen as making beyond those involving beauty and appeal. These include such things as functionality, usability, durability.

· Design creates its own challenges which the Art Tradition either ignores or cannot meet.

· Designs function in real (or virtual) 3-dimensional spaces, particularly sensitive to position, light/shadow, volume and scale.

· Design must stand on its own as an object of art, while simultaneously interacting with the people around it while they are using or utilizing it. Design alters people’s relationships to it in the moment, across situations and settings, and over time.

· Design has to succeed where the responses to it are primarily subjective, even quirky. It serves many purposes for many wearers and viewers and users and responders. Some are aesthetic. Some functional. Some social, cultural and/or psychological.

In the Art and Design Perspective, designers learn their roles developmentally. That means, certain steps and rules should be learned before others, and that continual learning keeps building upon itself. While many designers initially learn their profession in a more shot-gun, less-than-organized way, it is necessary for them to, at some point, return to some basics and begin that developmental, hierarchical process. Only in this way will they truly begin to comprehend how everything interrelates and is inter-dependent.

There are many things to know and learn that present themselves in the design process — some art, architecture, engineering, behavioral science, social science, psychology, physics, mechanics, planning, marketing, administering, many techniques, many different materials, perhaps some computer coding and technology management, and the list goes on. The only way to become to become fluent in design is to gain an intuitive understanding how all these things are integrated, inter-related, and inter-dependent. That means developmentally learning how to become a design professional.

Designers work backward. That is, they first assess the shared understandings of all their clients involved, and how they anticipate the design project will be understood as finished and successful. Then the designers begin to clarify what tasks they need to perform to get there. How deliberate they are in specifying and following through on the ordering of the tasks to be performed will vary, depending on their personality, experience and comfort level. They may not do everything a full scientific management approach might suggest if there is no cost-benefit in the use of this time and the materials; that is, if their assessment of shared understandings informs them that particular tasks are unnecessary to do.

The Art and Design Tradition assumes:

1. Everyone has creative abilities, but for most people, these need to be carefully groomed and attended to developmentally. Expressing creativity is not a matter of turning a switch on and off. It’s a process that can be influenced by ideas and situations. The challenge is to teach people to become more intuitive in expressing their creative abilities and ideas.
2. What matters in design is that your project be judged as a work of art. In this case, the definition of “art” is specific to the design, in anticipation of how it will be used or utilized. Design can only be understood as “art” as it is put into use.
3. The end-user — the wearer or viewer, the buyer, the seller, the exhibitor, the collector, the student, the interactor, the inhabiter — responds to design mostly in a very subjective way.
4. Disciplinary literacy and fluency result from continual learning, rehearsing, and applying sets of integrated skills in different situations.

Some consequences:

a. This approach focuses on design issues. Beauty and appeal, along with functionality, wearability, durability, context, movement are all key considerations in selecting parts and interrelating these parts in a design. Very concerned with how you select parts and materials.

b. The beauty of the piece involves its construction, its lay-out, its consistency with rules of art theory, and how it holds up (physically and aesthetically) as it is worn in different situations. The focus is on how you organize your construction, piece by piece.

c. The jewelry designer is taught that design is a matter of making choices, there are smarter choices to be made, and there are consequences when making any one choice. Choices involve making strategic tradeoffs among appeal, functionality, and contextual relevance. There is recognition that the designer may need to adapt to new or unfamiliar situations.

d. Design requires continue professional training, development and re-training and re-development over time.

e. The full attention is on managing composition, manipulation and construction, and making hard choices where strategies conflict.

f. An acceptable outcome is one where the design maintains a sense of itself as art, as the piece is worn, inhabited or otherwise utilized. The piece or project should feel finished, usable and resonant to its intended client audience. The piece or project should reflect the designer’s hand while at the same time reveal its intimacy with the client.

In design, we play with, organize and arrange design elements and objects, some of which are universally understood, like color schemes, and others in which clients respond to in very subjective ways.

For things universally shared and understood, we do not have to take the time to delineate and convey all the relevant information. Some of the relevant information is already understood. Designers do not have to spend a lot of time trying to anticipate and assess these universal and shared understandings.

These universals typically are predetermined. Sometimes by biology where our brains are prewired to either approach or flee. Universals are things which we approach. Other things we might have to interpret and figure out, perhaps deciding to flee. Othertimes, by culture or society, where we learn automatically to recognize various symbols, objects and meanings, and play out certain roles. And, yet, still othertimes by psychology, where we make certain assumptions, interpretations and value judgments where we accept things as fact without needing further proof.

Most things we will encounter, however, are not universals. They are subjective. Our work, our interactions with clients, our marketing our products and services all revolve around interpretation. Interpretation is subjective and judgmental.

What designers do need to figure out, when working with any client, is how that person’s assumptions, perceptions, expectations and values will impact the design process and the resulting piece or project so designed.

About the Shared Understanding Series…

For any design, it is a long journey from idea to implementation. This journey involves different people at different times along the way. People will not use a design if their agendas and understandings do not converge in some way. They will not buy a design or contract with the designer unless there are some shared understandings about what should happen and when, what will happen, and what the risks and rewards of the finished project will be. Shared understandings are about recognizing intent and risk. Design is both an outcome as well as an instrument for new shared understandings, new relationships, new behaviors, new reflections. As such, any design represents a commitment to a conversation — between designer and self and designer and client. The conversation allows for the management of shifting assumptions, expectations, perspectives and values. Better designs show the designer’s conscious awareness of all the things affecting shared understandings.

Other Articles of Interest by Warren Feld:

Disciplinary Literacy and Fluency In Design

Backward Design is Forward Thinking

How Creatives Can Successfully Survive In Business

Part I: The First Essential Question Every Designer Should Be Able To Answer: Is What I do Craft, Art or Design?

Part 2: The Second Essential Question Every Designer Should Be Able To Answer: What Should I Create?

Part 3: The Third Essential Question Every Designer Should Be Able To Answer: What Materials (and Techniques) Work Best?

Part 4: The Fourth Essential Question Every Designer Should Be Able To Answer: How Do I Evoke A Resonant Response To My Work?

Part 5: The Firth Essential Question Every Designer Should Be Able To Answer: How Do I Know My Design Is Finished?

Doubt / Self-Doubt: 8 Pitfalls Designers Fall Into…And What To Do About Them

Part 1: Your Passion For Design: Is It Necessary To Have A Passion?

Part 2: Your Passion For Design: Do You Have To Be Passionate To Be Creative?

Part 3: Your Passion For Design: How Does Being Passionate Make You A Better Designer?

Adamson, Glenn. Thinking Through Craft. 2007.

Baker, Jamie Feild. What is Shared Understanding? 6/24/2009. As referenced:

http://reverbconsulting.blogspot.com/2009/06/what-is-shared-understanding.html

Bittner, Eva Alice Christiane, and Leimeister, Jan Marco. Why Shared Understanding Matters — Engineering a Collaboration Process for Shared Understanding to Improve Collaboration Effectiveness in Heterogeneous Teams. Year: 2013, Volume: 1, Pages: 106–114, DOI Bookmark:10.1109/HICSS.2013.608.

Canel, Melissa. The Role of Perceptions in Conflict. April 9, 2016. As referenced:

https://prezi.com/auvtd6yylkkf/the-role-of-perceptions-in-conflict/

Cheung, Chung Fai. A Connected Critic: Can Michael Walzer Connect High-Mondernity with Tradition? Understanding, 2006. As referenced:
http://www.emonastery.org/files/art/critic/2understanding.html

Clark, Garth. Shards. Ceramic Arts Foundation and Distributed Art Publications, 2003.

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Dunlop, Cole. You Are Not Worried Enough About Perceptions and Assumptions. May 7, 2014. As referenced:
https://www.authoritylabs.com/worried-enough-perceptions-assumptions/

Feld, Warren. Backward Design Is Forward Thinking. 2020. As referenced:
https://medium.com/@warren_29626/backward-design-is-forwards-thinking-design-in-practice-series-6f9a9f4f8cd9

Feld, Warren. Jewelry Design: A Managed Process. Klimt02, 2/2/2018. As referenced:
https://klimt02.net/forum/articles/jewelry-design-managed-process-warren-feld

Hector, Valerie. The Art of Beadwork. NY: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2005.

Kroeger, Andrew. Prevent Conflict By Knowing Your talent’s Needs, Expectations, and Assumptions. n.d. As referenced: https://leadthroughstrengths.com/prevent-conflict-knowing-talents-needs-expectations-assumptions/

Mausolf, Judy Kay. How To Avoid 4 Communication Pitfalls:
Assumptions, Perceptions, Comparison Expectations and Commitments. Spring, 2014. As referenced:
https://www.practicesolutionsinc.net/assets/docs/communication_pitfalls.pdf
Progressive Dentist Magazine

Mazumdar, Pravu. All Art is a Critique of Reality. About Critique. Interview with Pravu Mazumdar. Klimt 02, 6/25/18. As referenced:
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Murray, Kevin. US VERSUS THEM IN THE CONTEMPORARY JEWELRY WORLD, 06/18/2018. As Referenced:
https://artjewelryforum.org/us-versus-them-in-the-contemporary-jewelry-world

Norbeck, Edward. Rite of Passage. As referenced:
https://www.britannica.com/topic/rite-of-passage

Ravick, Joseph. The Role Of Assumptions, Perceptions And Expectations In Conflict, n.d. As referenced: https://adm.viu.ca/workplace-conflict/assumptions-perceptions-expectations

Saylor Academy. Understanding Culture, Chapter 2. 2012. As referenced:
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Skinner, Damian. ALL THE WORLD OVER: THE GLOBAL AMBITIONS OF CONTEMPORARY JEWELRY. 6/15/12.

Schultz, Quentin. Servant Leadership Communication is Shared Understanding — Not Transmission, Influence, or Agreement. 9/25/17. As referenced:
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Spool, Jared M. Attaining a Collaborative Shared Understanding. 7/3/18. As referenced:
https://medium.com/@jmspool/attaining-a-collaborative-shared-understanding-dc70cf03f98f

ThoughtWorks Studios. “How do you develop a Shared Understanding on an Agile project? 2013. As referenced:
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Unumeri, Godwin Ogheneochuko. PERCEPTION AND CONFLICT. Lagos, Nigeria: National Open University of Nigeria, 2009. As referenced:
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Verwijs, Christiaan. “Create shared understanding with ‘What, So What, Now What’ 8/4/2018. As referenced:
https://medium.com/the-liberators/create-shared-understanding-with-what-so-what-now-what-6dda51d5bcf9

Vilajosana, Lluis Comin. Connotations and Contributions of the Maker: The Value of Jewels. 6/26/18.

Wiggins, Grant and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design, 2nd Edition, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005.

Yusuf, Bulama. Understanding Shared Understanding: 5 Ways to Improve Shared Understanding in Software Teams. 12/8/2019. As referenced:
https://dev.to/bulsyusuf/5-ways-to-improve-shared-understanding-in-software-teams-1f62

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I hope you found this article useful.

Also, check out my website (www.warrenfeldjewelry.com).

Enroll in my jewelry design and business of craft video tutorials online.

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Beading and jewelry making have been wonderful adventures, from custom work, production work, and teaching. *Design is about the ability to make smart choices.

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