IDSA Innovation Intro - Spring 2010

What is Design Research?
What design research really is varies depending on who you ask. There are diverse design disciplines involved; many product management, marketing and planning functions engaged; and product and experience categories concerned that think of and deploy design research differently. We use the term all the time, but you can't count on two people to share the same concept.
Design has always had a research component—whether it was a lone quest for inspiration or a complex study in search of unmet needs or desires. It is a conscious act of design to follow your own insight or to search for and integrate insights from outside sources. Whether it is foolish or courageous to do the former is an enjoyable debate. There are many examples where breakthroughs come from a flash of insight versus formal inquiry. Of course, an onslaught of cases show how disciplined design research has discovered previously unseen opportunities or uncovered what could have been catastrophic weaknesses in a developing design.
What consistently inspires me is how great teams have adapted and innovated in design research, and the awesome contribution this has had to the bottom line of many businesses.
The combination of great design thinking and great research has cleverly designed research. This reinforces that design applied to almost any discipline can yield repeatable process innovation. Whether you call it design thinking, design process or just design, a diverse set of disciplines, principles and tools have been creatively applied to evolving problems and forged new opportunities for business and design alike.
Design research is also rapidly changing, being reshaped and combined to achieve even greater results. Marty Gage, our guest editor, has pulled together a snapshot of a field in motion. I think you will find many useful insights and approaches from the contributions that he has carefully assembled.
This is my first issue as executive editor of Innovation, and I am excited to participate in a journal that is so highly valued by our membership. Innovation is consistently cited as one of the highest benefits of membership, and yet we know that there is a need to continue to evolve. That said, Innovation is among a very few magazines that our members keep on their shelves and archives. The yearbook is a valuable time capsule, and each issue has deep knowledge about design, and designing.
Since Innovation is really by the members and for the members, please help to keep the content fresh and relevant by getting involved in future issues. In addition to the yearbook, upcoming issues will focus on experiencing interaction design and frontiers of design. Visit www.idsa.org to see the editorial calendar, and consider contributing your experience and knowledge to a future issue or promoting your work with advertising.
We would love to hear your feedback any time. Just send email to innovation@idsa.org.
Alistair Hamilton, IDSA
Innovation Executive Editor
Subscribe to Innovation at www.idsa.org/innovation


design tools...

This set of drafting instruments was made by Stanley of London around 80 years ago. The pen handles, rulers and protractors made of ivory and the metal parts are electrum, a durable alloy of copper, nickel and zinc which replaced brass as the material of choice late in the 19th century.

The technology of the instruments is fascinating, but so is what they were used to create and document, and the interface between the mind and the 'page', so to speak. It is hard to imagine how we cannot be more prolific today as the barrier between thought and expression has been lowered in so many ways. I had to learn how to ink a drawing in school, and there is no question that the time spent trying to create the documentation is time lost from more creative acts. Or is it? Is it possible that these obsolete tools also provided the time to reflect,escape and quiet the mind?

Matthew Mays writes about the long period of slow alpha brain waves that precede the quick burst of gamma waves which EEG enabled neuroscientists equate with the "aha moment" in his recent book In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing

Perhaps our modern tools that slow us down are as powerful as those intended to speed us up?

For a more emotive, and downright inspirational expression of a similar notion watch It Might Get Loud and listen to what Jack White has to say about instruments ease of use and creativity. 
These belonged to my Grandfather, Robert Tough Hamilton, a civil engineer. They are housed in a leather bifold box, with a small plate engraved with R T H  28 : 2 : 25.  This set looks like the fourth down on a page from David M Riches' incredible private mathematical instruments collection.  His site is like a trip to the museum...who knew there is still such a thing as a Slide-Rule Circle ?!


strangers to ourselves...

Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious

Jerry Swartz, the founder and former CEO of Symbol Technologies simply called this "Wilson's Book". One day he said to his assistant, "get Wilson's book for Alistair"...and she reached into an overhead cabinet where a dozen of these hard-covers were stacked.

Jerry believed passionately in intuition, and as a physicist I expect he felt he needed this proof to his, well, intuition. How else would he counter the data carrying MBA's that questioned his "gut"?

I admit I started burning out at the half-way mark...but Timothy Wilson changed forever how I thought about thinking. He uncovered a world of adaptive unconscious perception (not subconscious) that is always happening in our brains, and the separation of our self awareness versus our true perceptions, motivation, and behavior.

A few years later, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a brilliant, somewhat similar, and more finish-able version of the book entitled Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. It bothered me that Wilson was only a passing reference in it.

I think of this book as Blink for psychologists. Pedestrian interlopers such as myself have to be content to take from it what is meaningful to what we do. In my case a humbling but broadened awareness of the complexity of human behavior. A small slice of Wilson has fed me for several years.

I would point hopeful novelists to chapter one, where the narrative of war, coincidence, drugs, doctrines, and blunders that spotlit Freud and set the course for psychology is worthy of a screen play and musical score.