the new rules for design & science
A bit ago, Tim Brown from IDEO wrote a post called “Design Renews its Relationship With Science.”
My own view is that the latter half of the twentieth century saw a steady decline in designs interest toward science and technology as engineering inserted itself between the two. This is not a criticism of engineers who, in places like silicon valley, performed wonders with the new technologies of micro-processors, storage, networking and software to create the products and services we rely on today. The same is true in other fields such as aeronautics and bio-medicine. No, my criticism is of the designers and scientists who have relied on engineers to provide the translation between their two fields. My concern is that in this translation much is lost that could benefit scientists, designers and the end user.
I think “design” has gotten clique-ish. We hear the term designer and we think artsy, creative types who hang out in art museums and doodle in their margins. We’ve mistaken creativity for quirky stereotypes.
I saw a friend of mine last week at the Cherokee Club who is a designer by training, and he remarked that he didn’t know I “design.” And it’s true: I have no background in graphic design, I’ve never taken a course on fabrication, I like my margins neat and doodle-free, and although I like museums of all sorts, I have no appreciable ability in sketching or drawing (well, I can draw a mean stick figure). I am more science than I am art.
I try not to feel bad about calling myself a designer. But no matter what you call it - design, ethnography, imagineering - design is about how people interact with things. How we can create products and systems that interact with people the way people need to be interacted with. And that’s what I’m interested in.
The lines are blurring between design, science, and engineering. Here are some new rules about navigating the gap.
1. Function first, form to follow. The world is full of designs that beautiful, but not useful. Don’t just sell products. Solve problems. In a world full of “stuff”, it’s irresponsible to create something beautiful that isn’t also useful…
2. Form does not have to be sacrificed in a functional device. … and it’s ignorant to create a highly useful device that people aren’t attracted to. As our lives get more complex and our experiences richer, we tend to seek out services, systems, and products that engage us and satisfy us on many levels. We are trained to seek beauty in our lives.
3. Good design doesn’t cost more than bad design. Good design just takes perspective and presence to observe how people behave in the world, and to listen to their experiences with the things that they use.
4. Listening is underrated. As a design tool, as an ethnographic method, as an engineering talent. The best way to understand what it is that people need is by asking the question and then shutting up long enough to actually hear the answer.
5. Designing a product is just as important as designing a procedure and a system of use. What good is a medical device if you can’t get it to the bedside? If you don’t have an appropriate channel strategy, distribution network, or carrier, no matter how clever the science or useful the product.