Making before Thinking

Bringing out the Wisdom — Week 1

This week kind of felt like I was standing in front of a huge, huge mountain. The snow hits my face while I’m looking up. The clouds are hanging low, I can’t see far. As I’m about to start climbing, uncertainty hits me. Is it safe up there? What path should I take? Am I really ready for this? Should I go alone or bring others? While these thoughts go through my head I realize that the only thing I actually know for sure is that there is a summit. Although I can’t see it yet.

While these thoughts of uncertainty go through my head I realize that the only thing I actually know for sure is that there is a summit.

So how do I go about climbing this beast? Of course I could prepare myself to take away some of the uncertainty. I could study this particular mountain. I could train myself to get mentally and physically stronger. I could also set up my tent at the base and wait for the clouds to disappear.

You know, I could do all of these things to prepare myself, or I could just start climbing. See what happens and adapt on the way and trust my prior experience. Probably I will always feel unprepared to start.

To me, in the design practice, climbing the mountain equals making things. It means physicalizing theory. Building stuff. Whereas collecting existing theory is more like preparing to climb.

To me, in the design practice, climbing the mountain equals making things whereas collecting existing theory is more like preparing to climb.

Reason why I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot is the theory heaviness of my thesis topic. My topic is about tapping into people’s wisdom. I’ve realized that there is so much theory to find about this topic, that it is so tempting to never start climbing.

However to counter this theory heaviness, I force myself to make things. Anything. I make things even before I realize what I actually made. This is what I made this week.

“Hey psst! You have been randomly selected for a fun little experiment.”

On Wednesday morning, about 50 people of my school found something unusual on their desk. To the person behind this desk, it said. Obviously I had put it there.

Inside were some instructions:

  1. “On the card on the right, write down a personal question that you want answered. It could be anything that’s currently on your mind, perhaps something you are struggling with. Remember you will stay anonymous.”
  2. Remove the card from the paper and throw the card in the black box which you find under the stairs that reaches the kitchen.

On Thursday I opened the black box, not knowing what to expect. Would people care about putting in the effort, if they know I can’t trace them? To my surprise I found at least 15 cards in the box. So cool!

It was super exciting to see what was on people’s mind. The questions I found were really diverse, ranging from how to find a room, to how to trust people. With those questions, I asked other people to sit in a room and record their responses through audio. Personal advice, answers, or whatever you may call it.

With those questions, I asked other people to sit in a room and record their responses through audio.

After a while you start to feel good about yourself, strangely a little bit wiser. I started by putting most cards on the “I don’t want to answer” pile. However I answered a few that I was comfortable with, I went back to this pile and starting to answer some anyways.

There were a few questions that I was also questioning. Maybe I want to hear those answers, but I rarely ask these questions because they are really personal.

Just listening to those recordings myself, I found it quite fascinating how everybody brings different perspectives to the same topic. Some advices were more practical, some were more philosophical. I realized that with questions like these there isn’t a single right answer, there are just different ways of looking at it.

I tried recording responses myself as well, just to get this experience. To my surprise, this really made me reflect on how I deal with these topics myself. Just by speaking my mind, things got clearer for me.

Recording responses to these personal questions really made me reflect on how I deal with these topics myself.

Once I had collected about three responses to each question, I was wondering how to give these to the people asking, without me knowing who those people actually are. Because I have given people an unique number, associated with their question, I created a webpage for each person were they could find their unique answers.

Next week I will launch these pages and try to make the person asking the questions to listen to the recordings. Then I will interview them to understand their experience.

So this is what I did this week. Sure, I just built something, but of course this prototype wasn’t entirely random. I don’t think such a thing is possible.

I think that every prototype is a physicalization of some sort of expectation. I expected that audio would be effective in spreading wisdom because it can feel very personal, while a person can remain anonymous. I also expected that anonymity can help people to open up. This entire prototype actually, is built on the expectation that all people can give relevant advice if you just give them space to do so.

I think that every prototype is a physicalization of some sort of expectation.

If you enjoyed this article, perhaps you want to follow me through my Interaction Design Master’s thesis journey. Follow this publication or subscribe here if you want to receive weekly updates and reflections. ❤

Interaction Design Thesis Martijn

Journey of Interaction Design Thesis by Martijn

Martijn van den Broeck

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Designer at Google Chrome for iOS - Interned at IDEO - Umeå Institute of Design Alumni

Interaction Design Thesis Martijn

Journey of Interaction Design Thesis by Martijn