Part 4: SHARED UNDERSTANDINGS:
THE CONVERSATION CENTERED WITHIN A DESIGN
How Does The Designer Establish Shared Understandings?
How Does The Designer Construct Shared Understandings?
A key part of the designer’s role is to interact with the various clients in such a way that construction of the relevant knowledge — assumptions, perceptions, expectations and values and desires — results in shared understandings. Not as difficult as all these big academic-type words sound.
The design process should be partly seen as creating a learning environment. The collective goal of this environment is to elicit shared understandings and feed back this information into all the choices involved with the design.
Design requires that works and words connect. As soon as we look at a design — even initially when that design is merely a fuzzy concept — we impose words on it. The words come from many sources. The designer. The critic. The teacher. The client. The buyer. The exhibitor. The seller. The collector. The user. The student. The public. The intents of imposing these words are myriad. Design triggers words. The designer needs to manage them.
Dialog has to happen between the designer and self, the designer and client(s), and the designer and all the audiences of the client(s) — either real or imagined. Dialog involves
- Exploring points of view
- Challenging perceptions
- Delineating options
- Evaluating the risks and rewards associated with each option
- Anticipating consequences
- Expanding ideas and perspectives
- Sharing experiences and feelings of connection to the project
The specific skills the designer applies include active listening, emotional reasoning, questioning, observing, probing, wondering, thinking out loud, synthesizing, connecting, creating, recognizing, interpreting, pushing and pulling.
The designer needs to know answers to these types of questions. When asking questions, if at all possible, the designer wants to frame them in such a way that they force choices. Examples of forced choices include things like,
- either / or
- this or that
- if this, then what
- organizing and arranging
- specifying criteria for evaluation
So, the designer might want to ask things like:
· What to do and What not to do
· Why this is important and necessary, moreso than what other things
· Why the client needs the designer to do this but not that
· To what degree the piece or project will impact the client under a list of different circumstances
· How and why the client values the designer’s work as well as the finished design above something else, like some other designer’s work, or not having the design at all
· What criteria the client will use to know that the finished design will have the intended value
· What alternative ways might the finished design be valued
· If any task or process or design element can be different or better?
A dialectic occurs to the extent that all parties actively listen to one another and think out loud. The design process needs to be welcoming. It should feel emotionally and cognitively comfortable. People should be free to express thoughts and free to disconnect from them when they change their minds. In a progressive and successful dialog, the participants will begin to shift their assumptions, expectations, perceptions, and values and desires, as necessary for the design project to proceed.
As the design process unfolds, then, all decisions, actions, words, focus and the like derive from these shared understandings. These shared understandings encapsulate ideas about possibility, purpose, and project criteria. They lay out what the designer and client(s) want to do, where they want to go, and how they will do it to the satisfaction of all.
The finished design serves as a permanent record of meanings — those shared understandings — — negotiated and conveyed by the designer and all the collaborators along the way. As a permanent record, it implicitly documents action, purpose, value and desire. It represents a narrative measure of how risks have been traded off with rewards.
The finished design only serves as this permanent record to the extent that the design has been introduced publicly in a such a way that its shared understandings are revealed.
The permanency of this record may be ephemeral and only last for a short time. Although the design itself is fixed, interpretations of the shared understandings underlying it may still change with the different contexts and situations or timeframes users of the design find themselves. The designer’s job, even after completing the piece or project, may never be completely done.
Importantly, all this communicative interaction is how design significantly differs from art or craft. Design is a lived experience.
The designer should be able to
· Distinguish the ideal from the real.
· Be aware of the interplay of the designer’s reactions and those reactions of the various client audiences.
· Discern intent and value, and the degree they are sufficient and enduring, as these evolve over the course of the design process.
· Specify tasks to be done which are truly supportive to the process of design management.
· Create a design process which, in effect, is a learning environment, conducive for the identification, negotiation, development and decision making which revolves around shared understandings.
· Improve their accuracy in becoming aware of client assumptions, expectations, perceptions, and values and desires.
· Distinguish options regarding form, content, materials and approach, assign measures of risk and reward to each option, and prioritize them in line with developing shared understandings.
Effective Risk Communication
One way to define the designer’s role is to view it as risk communication. Effective risk communication involves understanding people and issues. This means an ability to elicit assumptions, expectations, perceptions and values and desires. This means an ability to clarify options. An ability to either soften or intensify. An ability to organize and guide. An ability to prioritize, group, categorize, select among options. An ability to coordinate and resolve. An ability to maintain consistency over what could be a long period of time. An ability to share expertise and insights. An ability to restate things in measurable terms — exact numbers (10 hours of work) or relative concepts (slightly longer than the last project).
The client’s opinions are influenced by trust in the credibility of available risk information. This could relate to little things like identifying why one color might be a better choice than another. This could relate to bigger things like identifying what location sales should occur which might be better than another. Or like what to perform better in-house, than not.
There are many such risks which must be assessed, measured, conveyed and agreed upon in the design process, including, among others, …
· Making tradeoffs between beauty and function
· Resolving conflicts between designer values and desires with those of the client
· Over-doing or under-doing the project
· Choosing the wrong materials and techniques
· Mismatching materials with techniques
· Determining a stopping point for the project
· Incorrectly anticipating the context within which the design is to function
· Managing the design process over a period of time, without losing motivation, commitment or focus
· Handling budgets, administration, marketing tasks
How is this trust established? First off, the designer’s competence and expertise should be on display. Next, the designer should be able to demonstrate empathy, honesty and commitment. The designer should be able to delineate options for each task or goal. The designer should be able to understand and accept the developing assessments of risk in the choices to be made. The designer should be able to explain why something would not be a concern. Finally, the designer should be organized and prepared, a good communicator, and show a willingness to coordinate or collaborate, if need be.
Designers, then, communicate the levels of risk involved with any choice. All choices have consequences. Making one choice usually negates the opportunity for making alternative choices. Subsumed within any choice are sensations about workability, implementability, worth, some measure of risk relative to some reward. The choices could be about selecting materials or techniques. They could be about which design elements to use, and which ones not. They could be about which tasks to perform and when. They could be about criteria for determining whether a project should be judged finished and successful.
There are some keys to successful, adept messaging about risk. These include,
· Having a clear purpose and educating others about the purpose (both designer’s and client’s), how these relate to assumptions, expectations, perceptions and values, how to gain consensus
· Reducing all possible options to three or perhaps four major ones
· Supporting the pros and cons for each option with two to four facts
· Being up-front about uncertainty and possible consequences
· Detailing and explaining your preferences
· Explaining important conclusions about possible impacts with supporting reasons and details
· Tailoring the language to the client; working with the client to translate possible risks into language and measurements more familiar to that client
· Identifying things not yet known, such as having to learn techniques, or finding materials, or developing new forms or arrangements, or specifying a time frame for when you might be finished with the project
· Linking the project to past experiences or other things which the client might feel connected
· Asking the client to pre-test things and provide feedback and evaluation
· Keeping in regular touch with the client
· Being prepared for skepticism, controversy, misunderstanding, miscommunication or misdirection
· Being flexible, open to new ideas, and ready to suggest alternative solutions and ready to negotiate
· Not overlapping design projects; keeping things separate and compartmentalized
· If the overall project is especially large, breaking it up into a series of smaller projects; the project should be small enough so that risk and reward can be easily assessed and measured, and choices can be concise
· Having clear criteria for evaluating the project (and its continued value to and desirability for the client) at each increment of the way; allowing the criteria to grow, change and evolve, as necessary, without fostering disagreement
Literate, Fluent and Flexible in the Discipline of Design
When designers think like designers, they demonstrate a degree of leadership skills which goes a little beyond those of basic management. The fluent designer has the courage to have a vision and the wherewithal to stick with it until it is a finished product design. That designer has the courage to help others share understandings about the vision and how it will fit with their desires, as well. And that designer brings along that Designer Toolbox of strategies for adapting to unfamiliar or new situations.
Designers literate in design create learning environments within which communication and dialog flourish. These environments must allow for the free-flowing exchange of ideas, the expression of feelings and thoughts and values, and the emergence of shared understandings.
The fluent designer attaches concepts to design elements. Meaning to compositional arrangements. Transforms assumptions, expectations, perceptions and values and desires. Comfortably adapts to new or unfamiliar situations. Anticipates the future, and strategically brings this knowledge to bear when defining current tasks and setting priorities. Is very aware of their own thought processes and is not afraid to share them, modify them or completely change them. Or, conversely, to respond to or re-shape those of others.
Designers literate in design are metacognitive. They are aware of their thinking and how their thoughts play out and impact any situation. They are aware of how their own thinking and their client’s thinking is reflected back in the things they have designed. If the designer does not provide a sense of the underlying intellect in their designs, others cannot appreciate or anticipate what the designer was trying to accomplish.
Fluent designers are sensitive to what knowledges and skills they currently possess, which ones they do not, what ones they need to learn to complete the project at hand, and how to go about learning these.
They are critical in that they recognize the tradeoffs between risks and rewards of any choice — large or small — that they make vis-à-vis any project. They are able to articulate their critiques and raise questions about the project or process.
Relinquishing Your Design To Others:
A Rite Of Passage
One of the most emotionally difficult things designers do is saying Good-bye! to their designs as they hand them over to their client or otherwise expose their work publicly. The designer has contributed so much thinking and has spent so much time to the project that it is like ripping away an integral part of your being.
This is the moment where you want to maintain the conversation and engage with your audience, but look at this from a different perspective. Your relationship with your design is evolving and you need to evolve with it. Its innate intimacy is shifting away from you and getting taken over by someone else.
But you still have needs here. You want that client to ask you to design something else for them. You want the client to share your design with others, expanding your audience, your potential clients, your validation and legitimacy as a designer. And you want to prepare yourself emotionally to take on the next project.
Relinquishing control over your design is a rite of passage. At the heart of this rite of passage are shared understandings and how they must shift in content and perspective. Rites of passage are ceremonies of sorts. Marking the passage from one status to another. There are three stages:
You pass your design to others. You become an orphan. You have made a sacrifice and want something emotionally powerful and equal to happen to you in return. Things feel incomplete or missing. There is a void wanting to be fulfilled. You realize you are no longer sure about and confident in the shared understandings under which you had been operating .
(2) Transition (a betwixt and between)
There is a separation, a journey, a sacrifice. The designer is somewhat removed from the object or project, but not fully. The shared understandings constructed around the original project become fuzzy. Something to be questioned. Wondering if to hold on to them or let go. If they remain relevant. Pondering what to do next. Playing out in your head different variations in or changes to these shared understandings. Attempting to assess the implications and consequences for any change.
These original shared understandings must undergo some type of symbolic ritual death if the designer is to move on. Leverage the experience. Start again. As simple as putting all the project papers in a box to be filed away. Or having a launch party. Or deleting files and images on a computer.
The designer redefines him- or her-self vis-à-vis the designed object or project. The designer acquires new knowledge and new shared understandings. There is some reaffirmation. Triumph. This usually involves a new resolve, confidence and strategy for starting new projects, attracting new clients, and seeking wider acceptance of that designer’s skills and fluency in design.
The designer has passed through the rite of passage. The jewelry or other designed object or project has been relinquished. The designer is ready to start again.
But as a designer, you will always be managing shared understandings. These most likely will have shifted or changed after the design is gone. And new ones will have to be constructed as you take on new assignments.
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.
Continue Reading With…
PART 1: What Are Shared Understandings?
PART 2: What Part Does The Designer Need To Know?
PART 3: How Assumptions, Perceptions, Expectations and Values Come Into Play?
PART 4: How Does The Designer Establish Shared Understandings?
Other Articles of Interest by Warren Feld:
Adamson, Glenn. Thinking Through Craft. 2007.
Baker, Jamie Feild. What is Shared Understanding? 6/24/2009. As referenced:
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:
Cheung, Chung Fai. A Connected Critic: Can Michael Walzer Connect High-Mondernity with Tradition? Understanding, 2006. As referenced:
Clark, Garth. Shards. Ceramic Arts Foundation and Distributed Art Publications, 2003.
Cooper, J. David, Robinson, M, Slansky, J.A., and Kiger, N. Literacy: Helping Students Construct, 9th Edition, Cengage Learning, 2015.
Dunlop, Cole. You Are Not Worried Enough About Perceptions and Assumptions. May 7, 2014. As referenced:
Feld, Warren. Backward Design Is Forward Thinking. 2020. As referenced:
Feld, Warren. Jewelry Design: A Managed Process. Klimt02, 2/2/2018. As referenced:
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:
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:
Murray, Kevin. US VERSUS THEM IN THE CONTEMPORARY JEWELRY WORLD, 06/18/2018. As Referenced:
Norbeck, Edward. Rite of Passage. As referenced:
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:
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:
Spool, Jared M. Attaining a Collaborative Shared Understanding. 7/3/18. As referenced:
ThoughtWorks Studios. “How do you develop a Shared Understanding on an Agile project? 2013. As referenced:
Unumeri, Godwin Ogheneochuko. PERCEPTION AND CONFLICT. Lagos, Nigeria: National Open University of Nigeria, 2009. As referenced:
Verwijs, Christiaan. “Create shared understanding with ‘What, So What, Now What’ 8/4/2018. As referenced:
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:
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