#CCK11 – The Bias in Frames are an Integral Part of Design, Innovation and Education

Serendipity drawns me back into the frames discussion, this time through Jon Kolko’s Magic of Design series on the Fast Company Design Blog.  This post also relates to an assertion that the arts are integral to the 21 Century economy.  Most people’s everyday work lives operate in something close to a scientific orientation, but we still need access to a more biased and creative orientation.  Integrating the arts into our social workspaces give us inspiration to add design thinking to this workspace and the process is explained through Jon Kolko’s Magic of Design.

I’ve previously discussed Jon’s first 2 posts on a process for innovation and providing work space to explore deviant ideas.  His last post in this series is about the importance of bringing frames, perspectives and biases to the design process.  The statement: “the true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time” is attributed to F Scott Fitzgerald.  To participate in design processes, the trick is to bring both diversity and this type of intelligence to your processes.  In this case, we can not ignore science as a way of driving our actions, but we also need creative innovation, and in some ways science and innovation are at opposing ends of a spectrum.  Sometimes we need to embrace our biases.  As Jon explains it:

For as a designer stands in front of a whiteboard in a war-room, surrounded by anecdotes, quotes, pictures, sketches, and working models — and searching for a new, innovative, and persuasive idea — she is relying on her ability to connect something in her own life with something in the data she’s gathered. She is purposefully applying a frame of bias to objective, empirical data, in order to produce something new.

This is called sensemaking.  . . . the interplay of action and interpretation rather than the influence of evaluation on choice.”  . . . all of this (design activity) is useless if the people doing the synthesis aren’t very interesting. Synthesis requires a team of varied and highly eclectic designers who are empowered to embrace their biased perspectives. . . . Groundbreaking design doesn’t come through statistical regression testing, metrics, and causality. It comes from the richness of a biased perspective on the world.

Here is the primary Issue: How do we hold the multiple perspective as important and shift between them on an everyday bases?  There is no place where this is more important than in education.  What kind of Environment can help us to function better in this way?

Encouraging Innovation, Demystifying Design

This post is based on Jon Kolko’s Fast Company’s design blog post and follows Jon’s previous post on design synthesis here and a post on playfulness here.

Demystifying design could be a good theme of Jon’s posts.  Today he looks at the relation of playfulness to innovation and the work cultural requirements in three points.

Embrace dynamic constraints.

Any design or artistic endeavor needs constraints to focus participant activities within an endless universe of possibilities.  Jon’s point is that the best art accepts constraints and then selectively finds innovation by stepping outside of those constraints.  Hence, accept constraints, but also accept the possibility that constraint may take on a dynamic character.  Encourage a culture of functional flexibility.

Provide a Runway (Space) to Explore Deviant Ideas

Don’t allow decision processes to squash deviant ideas during design processes, even conflictual ideas.

The notion of being playful is to appreciate and encourage divergent thinking and the shifting, flexing, and removing of constraints. Play is about exploring “what-if” scenarios; that is, dream states. Our lives, jobs, and compensation are so frequently tied to rational thought that we have often forgotten how to actively dream, yet these dreams — the ability to generate ideas, outlandish or otherwise — are at the core of design innovation. Design synthesis embraces this divergent dreaming.

Encourage Flow and Autonomous Decision Making

Jon references psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s idea of flow; an “automatic, effortless, yet highly focused state of consciousness.”   I diverge with Jon on this point.  I like the idea of flow, but I’m going with Hagel’s  knowledge flows, not Csikszentmihalyi’s version, which I think takes us back toward magical thinking.  I interpret Hagel’s flow as much more than a rational process.  It is a social, emotional and unpredictable process that has some similarities with Jon’s approach.  It fits the idea of playful design spaces, but doesn’t depend specifically on a hard to define altered state of consciousness, which may or may not be available when they are needed.

How Do You Innovate

Jon Kolko wrote How Do You Transform Good Research Into Great Innovations? on the fast company design blog.  I would summarize his view as design synthesis which involves:

  1. Visualize your data
  2. Search for Patterns
  3. Develop and experiment with different models (his definition of models = a visual representation of an idea, an artifact)

A good process.  This point is important:

Because these are thinking tools, tools for synthesis, there’s only one wrong way to do this: not doing it at all. Looking at the data and talking about the data doesn’t count. If it isn’t modeled, written, drawn, and otherwise solidified in an artifact, it never happened. (Emphasis added)

Making Inferences about the Use of Artifacts in Practices

This post is to think through what I brought up last post, applying the concept of validity to practice.

I remember hearing in school validity asked the question: “does the test measure what it’s intended to measure”?  The problem with this type of approach is that it leads you in circles, both practically and epistemologically.  Messick changed this to a question that was quite literally more consequential.  Is there evidence that the use of the test brings or contributes to the results you intended?

If you view a test or assessment as an artifact imbedded in a practice, you could apply the same type of logic to any artifact that play an active role in that practice.  In artifact creation like in Holmstrom’s article, the logic of validity could be applied as a guide.  Although there would still be an artistic element it would not be random or unsupported.

There is an evidentiary aspect to this way of considering artifacts.  Validity is all about evidence. Theoretical evidence, process evidence, empirical evidence, consequential evidence, generalizability evidence; this is all about validity.  In fact, validity theory can be a way of accounting for evidence from all type of methodology.  Random Controlled Trails are still the best way of judging validity for certain types of research questions, but any type of method can contribute to evidence.

Summary: Validity is a well-developed body of though that can be applied to making inferential judgements about evidence supporting the use of assessment or other active artifacts in the context of a specific practice.

Problem-Based Artifact Creation Process

This post extends my thinking about the last post. The concept of validity is as applicable to practices as it is to tests. When I develop an assessments and protocol, I think about validity from the get go, not just after the fact. Similarly, when designing a process or practice, it is good to add a validity perspective. That is what I’ve done with Holmstrom’s problem-based artifact creation process; add where content, theory, and data should be considered. Here is a prototype process map:Design Sci Map

Combining Evidence and Craft for Successful Practice: No False Dichotomies

Evidence-based (in all its various permutations) is a construct that needs to be carefully worked out.  If evidence-based practice was self-evident, we would have achieved it through the success and extension of operationalism*, but, that wasn’t to be the case.  Participating in a practice requires evidence, craft and experience combined in a way that is fraught with complexity; but improving practices of all kinds is dependent on meeting this complexity.

I recently came across two ideas from Wampold, Goodheart & Levant (Am Psychol. 2007 Sep;62(6):616-8) that go a long way to clarifying this evidence-based construct.  Their first clarification is a definition of evidence and the second is to counter the false dichotomy of evidence vs. experience.

Evidence and Inference

Evidence is not data, nor is it truth.  Evidence can be thought of as inferences that flow from data.  . . . Data becomes evidence when they are considered with regard to the the phenomena being studied, the model used to generate the data, previous knowledge, theory, the methodologies employed, and the human actors.

This is not a simple positivist conception of evidence, but reflects a complex multimodal aggregation.  In addition, I would add that the primary concern of practitioners is really the validity of the practices they are conducting.  The validity of practice is supported by evidence, but it is dependent on the use of practice in context.  We do not validate practice descriptions or practice methodologies, but rather the use of practice in its local contexts, understood by reference to phenomena, models, knowledge, theories, ex-cetera.  I’ll have to look back at validity theory to see if I can get a clearer description of this idea.

Evidence and Experience

A second insight expressed by Wampold, Goodheart & Levant is the integrative nature of evidence and experience as they relate to practice; where any opposition between experience and evidence is considered to be a false dichotomy.  The ability to use evidence is a component of practice expertise including the ability to collect and draw inferences from local data through the lens of theory and empirical evidence or in the ability to adjust practices in response to new evidence.  It’s experience and evidence and evidence as a part of experience.

Evidence and Craft

I find it somewhat serendipitous that I have been drawn into conversations involving design management and evidence-based management.  It is because I believe that the success of each one depends on the other.  The positivist agenda of running the world by science is not tenable.  The world is too complex and there are too many relevant or even distant variables for a positivist program to be sustainable.  Science cannot do it all, but neither can we be successful without science, evidence and data.  We need a bit of craft and a bit of evidence to engage in practice.  That may often include craft in the way that evidence is used and it may entail craft that is beyond evidence. It just should not draw false diochotomies between evidence and craft.

The goal of operationalism “was to eliminate the subjective mentalistic concepts . . .  and to replace them with a more operationally meaningful account of human behavior” (Green 2001, 49). “(T)he initial, quite radical operationalist ideas eventually came to serve as little more than a “reassurance fetish” (Koch 1992, 275) for mainstream methodological practice.” Wikipedia (Incomplete references noted in this article, but it seems trustworthy as I’m familiar with Koch’s work.)

The Integration of Design and World: More on Design Thinking.

This post responses to Anne Burdick’s invitation concerning the presentation: Design without Designers (found in the comments of my last post).  I will address the question, why would educational theory build on design concepts or how do I see the relation between education and design? I will look at three areas:

  • Erasing the distinction between art and science
  • Artifactual cultural aspects of psychology
  • The trans-disciplinary nature of ideas

Erasing the distinction between art and science

I see general changes in the practice of science along the following lines:

  • The critique of positivism (for promising more than methodology could ever deliver)
  • The critique of postmodernism (for fetishizing certainty; i.e. If positivism fails than scientific judgement cannot be trusted at all.) and
  • More acceptance for addressing real world problems (where problems tend to be interdisciplinary and often involve mixed methods).

The result is that many of the walls and silos of science have been reduced including the distinction between art and science.  In example, I often refer to judgements based on validity.  Although validity uses rational and empirical tools, building a body of evidence and achieving a combined judgement is more like telling a story.

Artifactual cultural aspects of psychology

The work of (or derived from) Vygotsky is popular in psychology and education.  It has also proved consistent with, and complimentary to the recent findings of the “brain sciences”.  While there are genetic and hardwired aspects of psychology, the structure of our minds can be said to reflect, to a great extent, the structure of the social and artifactual world that we live in.  The design of the world is more than just a decorative environment to an autonomous mind, it has an impact on who we are in both development and in how we interact with it in our ordinary lives.

Our delineation of the subject matter of psychology has to take account of discourses, significations, subjectivities, and positionings, for it is in these that psychological phenomena actually exist. (Harré and Gillet, 1994, The Discursive Mind and the Virtual Faculty)

The trans-disciplinary nature of ideas

Ideas never seem to respect the traditional academic disciplinary structure the way that methods and theories did during most of the 20th Century.  In the mid-90s a graduate school mentor pointed out that you could read many books at that time and have no clue to the discipline of the author without reading the back cover.  Psychologist, educators, literary critics, philosophers, sociologists and yes, designers, they all often seem to be speaking in the same language about the same type of things.

In Conclusion

  • The distinction between art and science is dissolving.  Method is important, but it does not rule.  Achieving a scientific break-through is analogous to creating a work of art (even though it still uses rational and empirical tools).
  • The design of our world is not just decoration, it reflects who we are and who we are reflects the design of the world.
  • Tools (artifacts, concepts, theories, etc. . .) are needed to act on the world.  Where these tools come from is less important than our ability to make use of them.

So in the above ways, design and design thinking is everywhere.  I do think designers should be more present in my own thinking as both a technical adjunct and as a foundation of both my thought and of the academic curriculum?  Yes, I do!  What do you think from a designer’s perspective?  How does the thinking of designers and current design curriculum fit into the above ideas?

Cartesian Problems in Communicating about Designing and Design Thinking

Interesting article – Thinking About Design Thinking – by Fred Collopy blogging for Fast Company.  Fred considers, “As (Design Thinking) is a way of talking about what designers can contribute to areas beyond the domains in which they have traditionally worked, about how they can improve the tasks of structuring interactions, organizations, strategies and societies, it is a weak term”, because it makes a “distinction between thinking and acting.”

As Fred points out Design Thinking is beset by the Cartesian Mind – Body problem, which is frequently being rejected today.  One form of rejection is found in the idea, “thought” has it’s genesis in “action”, like how you learn to walk and then you learn to think about where you want to go.  A similar idea (attributed to Bakhtin) is that Cartesian thinking unnecessarily divides being from becoming, where the abstractions of disembodied thought never fully capture either the actions of our lives or the moral aspects of those actions.

This is especially important for education that often has it exactly backwards, trying to teach you how to think in order to go out into the world to act.  Education would be so much more valuable if there were no dichotomous walls. (i.e. classroom/world, schooling/working, or even the idea that education = a 4 year quest for certification instead of an ongoing quest for knowledge.)