Notes from – Reflexive Design Thinking: Putting More Human In Human-Centered Practices

Authors: Barton Friedland & Yutaka Yamauchi

Journal: Interactions, 2011, Volume 18 Issue 2

“To engage in the “design” of an organization means to address and reflect on these rules, whereas designing a technological artifact is done according to laws that correspond to the natural sciences. Because normative rules are reflexively understood and produced by people, any “design” of the rules necessarily involves the
people they affect. Thus, no one can design an organization for someone else. The only thing that someone can do for another is to design representations and constraints such as formal roles, staffing, processes, and hierarchical structures. Designing an organization therefore involves other activities, such as supporting members of the organization in reflecting and bringing attention to the normative rules of their own organization.

… On the other hand, actual professional practices in general and design practices in particular embody reflection-in-action. This means designers face each unique
situation and, at the same time, see it as something familiar. Through this, they frame the situation and test successive frames by taking actions experimentally and reframe the situation based on what they learn. To many in management, this kind of practice appears unstable and subjective.

Solutions are often framed in terms of decision making, where an option among given options is chosen. Design is form-giving, the creation of what has not existed. As such, designers often take a solution- focused or abductive approach, by which they explore solutions and problems together and often use a potential solution to better understand the problem [2, 3]. Resulting designs can vary from situation to situation, from designer to designer. In contrast, an emphasis on analyzing a problem and rationally choosing the best solution occludes design possibilities.

Designers simultaneously pay attention to the whole while designing the parts.

…practicing design differs from the theoretical understanding of what design is. Learning design thinking therefore requires actual participation in designing in which experts can “coach, not teach, learners,” to use Schön’s phrase.

Technology can be a tool for learning design thinking and facilitating cultural change. Instead of designing abstractions such as roles, communication paths, and strategies, they designed tangible artifacts. We believe this played an important role in helping them acquire design thinking. Therefore, to help acquire design thinking, as practitioners we need to constantly challenge people’s assumptions. In this relationship, we are always conscious about our relationship with the client. We do not take our relationship with them for granted and instead try to design the relationship as part of our project. Inherently we become part of the situation that we seek to change. Power is also an issue here. Because we are hired by the organization to deliver some value, members of the organization tend to think of design as our job. They believe they can simply say what they want and we will design it. The new research program should take this reflexivity seriously. In most studies in HCI, computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW), and even participatory design, practitioners are seen as observers outside the situation. Much research is needed in this aspect of practice.

It is not clear in what process clients acquire such skills as design thinking while they initially have no idea and become defensive.

For this reason we would like to call for research that is sensitive to the issues practitioners really face. We propose a research agenda that incorporates a broader organizational frame, taking into fuller account how organizations actually change (e.g., cultural change and power relations), and one that still emphasizes the valuable roles of technology, communication, and coordination.”

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