The Influencers

There is a small list of design researchers I want to include as major influencers on my research from the beginning. If you’re new to this space, I encourage you to explore their  body of work, watch their videos and dig in. Your mind will be expanded — sometimes even blown — just don’t forget your highlighter or post its. They contribute amazing content to the world – you’ll refer back to them time and time again.

Richard Buchanan

“For I believe that is what has happened to design; it has become the new learning of our time, opening a pathway to the neoteric disciplines that we need if we are to connect and integrate knowledge from many specializations into productive results for individual and social life” (Buchanan, “Design Research and the New Learning” 7).

His article in MIT Press’s Design Issues titled “Design Research and the New Learning” was what started it all for me. I don’t even recall how I ended up with it in my hands – but the second I started reading I knew the trajectory of my career would not be the same. Up until this point, I had felt a tension between my prior work experiences, my education as a designer, and my anticipated future applying my studies in a career. I credit him with putting concrete words to the complex (and sometimes contradictory) feelings I had been having about design for years; without this article and some of his other works/speeches, I would not be where I am today.

Meredith Davis

“All of these definitions suggest that student projects in college programs must be grounded by the potential for sustainable impact in complex systems…. They must be accountable to measures different from those of function, appearance, and client satisfaction. And they must recognize the processes for making change as interdisciplinary and collaborative, not as individual authorship” (Davis).

At a time when I was feeling a bit lost and overwhelmed in my thesis, Meredith Davis wisely pointed me in the right direction and gave me a much needed reality check. Her contributions to AIGA’s Design Futures is an essential read, especially for students looking toward our careers, unsure of where we might fit in the future of design.

Don Norman

“Designers are interested in major change, in major effects. Designers do not need to know the exact optimum setting of parameters: they need to satisfice, not optimize… Designers are only interested in big effects, not the tiny ones studied by the scientist. Our methods do not have to be perfect; they have to be good enough. Design needs experimental methods that are appropriate for the practical world. These methods do not exist: the design community will have to invent them” (Norman).

It was within Don Norman’s Core77 2010 and 2011 articles “Why Design Education Must Change” and “Design Education: Brilliance Without Substance” that I first encountered the concept of satisficing in the application and exploration of design. Though he was not the first to create or apply the term, it was his explanation of its use in these articles that provided me the terminology I desired and changed my perspective about what is “wrong” with today’s design programs to what could be right. Prior to this I felt a tension with my love of design; his thoughts and reflections in these articles helped me move into a more positive approach – what is great about design and how can we make it even better.

Hugh Dubberly

“Somewhat paradoxically, just as the field of cultural studies is making its material turn, design practice is making a turn of its own—an immaterial turn—focusing less on physical things and more on connections between them. Increasingly, design practice is concerned with nodes and links—networks, systems, and communities of systems” (Dubberly 1).

I credit Hugh Dubberly (and his website) with giving me the topic (conversation) that allowed me to reduce a bloated and overly ambitious thesis into a manageable one – as well as introduce me to the concept of cybernetics, which up to that point, had seemed like a weird 1940s pseudo-science. (Boy was I wrong about that presumption.) From these two authors, I was introduced to thought leaders I had never heard of before – like Ranulph Glanville. Their anticipation of the role designers would have as “connectors” within system design is a major inspiration for this thesis.

Maggie Breslin

“And from all of this, I feel qualified to stand here in front of you today, and tell you what good health care delivery looks like… it looks like a satisfying conversation. Which is to say it looks like people, relating to each other through the exchange of thoughts and ideas, towards achieving a goal” (Breslin).

In 2008 a groundbreaking article was published in Design Issues, investigated and written by Maggie Breslin, it was titled “ZIBA Design and the FedEx Project.” While design had already been changing and adapting over the prior years, this study was the first to showcase how exactly design was showing up in new, exciting ways. She writes: “In setting out to solve new problems, or solve the same problems in a new way, designers will find they need different tools, different media, different people, and different ways of talking…” (Breslin 54). This article was so important because it really drove home to me how brave designers need to be in carving out the future of our work.