Form follows knowledge-weaving follows function follows knowledge-weaving ad nauseum

By | January 14, 2023

When thinking about the design process, people forget that the map is not the territory and assume that new product development pathways always follow the linear process represented by textbook diagrams. Instead, its a complicated and iterative process to arrive at the clarity necessary to write a good design brief for the form-givers of the product – often in the form of a solution to an identified gap in needs.

Unlike any other discipline, design teaches its students how to weave together multiple strands of knowledge systems and data flows in diverse media formats (what Kolko, 2010 calls design synthesis, a peculiarly embodied skill of a well-trained industrial designer) that to crystallize the synthesis of understanding in the form of a tangible outcome of this creative problem-solution fit-finding process (see Cross, 1997 for example, and Cross & Dorst, 2001).

Damien Newman made this squiggle in 2006, and shared in the link in the comments section of my blog Perspective, while we were both inhabitants of the Bay Area in northern California.

I have yet to find a more aesthetically pleasing representation of the designer and design researchers initial process of concept development. As my portfolio – heavily curated – shows, I have tended to specialize in concept design that is grounded in layers of understanding built up over time on an operating environment with very different characteristics from the one that dominates my own professional work. One outcome from those years is this visualization of the three lenses for innovation, adapted for more diverse conditions and designed to be as inclusive and democratic as possible.

As commenters have suggested, the diagram needs to communicate complexity, chaos, uncertainty, and volatility, in order to better represent the difference in operating conditions. Today, one would say that what one requires is the metadesign of the tool that allows for key attribute localization for different geographical contexts and levels of industrialization and stages of development. Working with the same tools for the same operating principles in rural Finland has made me aware of the similarities and differences, and can help explain why solutions from one context do not fit without localization and adaptation to another context.

This is an area I have specialized in research and testing ever since I first joined the Design Factory in Finland back in early 2009. In these past years, I have not only adapted methods and tools for better fit for purpose in different operating conditions, but can now recognize the patterns of what I do for adaptation. This allows for more robust and generic insights for improving fit between tool and audience. This skill was tested during the dissertation research project 2020-2021.

The dominance of the disciplinary expert’s mindset based on traditions of knowledge generation and acquisition from the western academic system was found to be the weak link in researching the barriers to project sustainability after donor funding ends. This project was for the Dutch ministries involved in sustainable trade development based in the Hague. From this perspective, the best work around for the current situation is to enhance the creative facilitation skills of the traditional beneficiaries of projects in order to boost their own capacity to make their needs known and voices heard to inform program design. The era of top down programme and intervention design and implementation management is over.



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