Interview With an Idea

Idea As Artifact:

This exercise comprised tracking an idea as an artifact, from its initial inception and over the course of a few weeks, its transformation and journey through life. As a method for thinking from the point of view of the artifact, I “interviewed” the artifact with ethnographic interview techniques to gain a unique perspective.

Q: Mr. Idea, could you tell us a bit about yourself, how you got started in life?

A: Well, I guess you could say that the seed of me, as an idea, started before I was born. A team of video ethnographers captured some observations of a family shopping experience as part of their research project. This video tape eventually found its way back to a design research company, where a project manager and a designer viewed the tapes.

Q: So, when were you born exactly?

A: That’s kind of hard to say, but I believe I came into the world as the project manager and the designer were coding the video — looking for bits of information in the observation data. It may have happened simultaneously, but I do recall showing up in at least two forms in the beginning: as a thought in the project manager’s head, and also in the designer’s imagination.

Q: What did you look like at the time?

A: Well, I did not actually have physical form yet, at least not until I felt myself being expressed as some handwritten notes in a notebook, and then soon after, I also took the form of a quick sketch on a small, square piece of paper that had a semi-sticky surface on the back. Very soon after, I remember that I also took form as words in a discussion about me between the designer and project manager.

State transition of an idea. Source: Douglas Look

Q: That sounds pretty exciting, could you describe your journey from there?

A: Sure. I sat there in the notebook and on that square note pad for a while, then I remember someone else coming in the room and documenting me as words on another sticky note — I think they called them post-its. I was part of a general discussion for a while.

The designer took me and kind of re-positioned the post-it note that I was on, kind of forming the notes into a grid — so I guess I was sitting on the table alongside another bunch of ideas. I’m pretty sure there were some relatives of mine, related ideas who were residing in the notebook and also on adjacent post-its.

Then the designer took the post-its and placed me on a big wall surface, and started moving us around in relation to one another. There were a few other people in the room who stared at me, made comments, and sometimes suggested that perhaps I be moved to another location.

Q: Did you stay there on the wall for long?

A: Not really. After the meeting was over, the part of me on the notebook was carried to the project manager’s desk, where a bunch of stuff was piled on top of the notebook (with me inside). The part of me on the post-it note was carried by the designer back to their team area, where I was transferred to another wall. I think I remember seeing a bunch of other pictures, print outs, schedules also on the wall.

Q: Could you describe what happened next at the project manager’s desk?

A: Well, eventually the project manager opened up the notebook and looked at me again — but this time he started to scribble some additional notes in the margins and he also started typing me into his laptop computer — so I really transformed again, this time into bits in computer word processing program. I’m not sure I remember all the places I traveled, because I was starting to exist in so many places all at the same time. I do recall being sent off as bits in a digital file to be saved in a centralized computer server.

Q: How about the activities at the post-it board?

A: After the designer posted me up there, he just kind of left and did not really take much notice of me for awhile. In fact, no one really noticed me again for a few days — it was pretty interesting though, as there was a constant influx of new pieces of information being posted, and new ideas were being generated all the time. Well, except between the hours of 9 pm and about 8:30 am — though once I think I popped up as a part of another thought, linked together with another idea in the designer’s imagination — he may have been home at the time.

Q: Any other exciting activities?

A: Well, I guess I was pretty excited when one day I popped out on an 8–1/2 x 11 sheet of paper — turns out the project manager printed me out as part of a storyboard. Then I was posted alongside other print outs in the project team space.

Eventually, I was included with some other ideas into a digital slideshow and was projected on a wall. Designers, researchers, and some other folks sat around and made comments about me — some were nice, some were not so nice. In fact, some folks didn’t think I should exist at all! I did see some other ideas rejected and thrown away — that was scary. I guess I was lucky that the project manager and the designer felt I still played a role in the overall project.

Q: So far, what’s been the highlight of your life as an idea?

A: I guess I’d have to say I’m most proud of the role I played as part of a presentation to a group of about a dozen clients. I was formatted nicely, accompanied by some great looking pictures.

“And the project manager talked about me in very positive ways — that was fun, especially when all the clients seemed to appreciate me for what I believe I am, an innovative, great idea.”

Q: What happened after the meeting?

A: Well, it was back to the project space again. This time I got moved around on the post-it sheet a bit. New ideas joined in as well. I think somebody even scrawled some additional information on me with a thick black pen.

Q: Thanks so much. Is there anything else that you’d like to tell us? Did we forget to ask about anything important?

A: I think we have covered it pretty well. I would say that it’s pretty exciting and yet sometimes frustrating to be an idea. I think it’s particularly hard to have to be part of so many people’s thoughts, taking so many forms, and even sometimes getting lost in with a bunch of other (bad) ideas. Anyway, it’s fun being an idea, especially in this environment, where ideas are accepted, nurtured, and developed.

This story reprises an assignment that I completed for Professor Judith Gregory’s class, Cultural Human Factors, while I was a Master of Design Methods student at the IIT Institute of Design.

Thinking about ideas from multiple points of view, it’s what I try to do every day — Douglas Look, Business Solution Architect, Autodesk.

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