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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Design discussions without the designers

Sometimes, when there is a product review, the reviewers focus more on features than on design when calculating a products rating.

Design and discussion of design is not mainstream. I do not think it will ever become main stream, unless it is enveloped into something else (like business, marketing, or historical context jargon among others...).

Design discussions are absent from non designers because the design vernacular is absent from main stream. I might say that most do not know how to rationally communicate why they don't like something or why they prefer another design over another, aside from mere preference because their individual contexts are different and non transferable. Perhaps within "erudite" design discussions, contexts are equalized so that various design principles and elements can be discussed somewhat rationally.

So, the problem here (which might be extrapolated to other philosophical areas) is one where design discussions become meaningful only to those people that are not necessarily the people the design is intended for. For example:

Say I am designing a product for company X. In our design requirements, we have identified (perhaps even based on early research) that the product should be a modern contemporary design. Through iterative processes, we (as designers) discuss various elements of contemporary design, such as color, radii, proportion, as well as ergonomics and manufacturability. Say we even come up with what we perceive as a successful design among designer's circles and win some design awards. Despite all this "good design", a consumer can come up to the product in the store and immediately (and rightfully) reject the product because of bad design. What if the consumer wanted a playful product that looks like an animated character and is intended for children and not the parents?

The context of the designers and those of the consumer can be different. A major problem here is that the number of contexts vastly outnumbers the designer context.

The reason why designers might have problems describing what it is that they are expert is because of the lack of words that can translate through these various contexts.

So what can designers do about this translational challenge?

Designers continue to try to develop the story about a particular product in the context of the end user. But even the idea of "telling a story about a product" is something that is foreign to most consumers. I can imagine how well it would go over if I stood in the store beside the products I designed and told potential buyers why my product has better surfaces, radii, and proportion than the others.

Dr. Machael Drout, a philologist at Wheaton College has a theory that explains how tradition and culture work to influence language and literature (among other things). His Meme Theory as it is called talks about how tradition is composed of many persistent big and small concepts that flow in and out of heads until the congeal and become a tradition or recognized pattern that can be used symbolically to represent the idea. This requires a little more editing here.

The reason why this theory is interesting to product design and development is because it attempts to explain how complex ideas can navigate through a culture under an intuitive course, as apposed to more complicated overreaching theories.

In design, I would adapt the theory as follows. Art is a type of language (despite what some Post -Minimalists might think). If it is a language, then there are certain traditions that are becoming largely canonical. Maybe cotton-gin, steam engine, q-tips, post-it notes, i-Pods, bics, etc... designs that are ubiquitous and classic, or becoming such. We even have periods of design that are popular enough that people have heard of them. Victorian furniture, modern architecture, handycraft, etc.... Perhaps what designer need is to be more explicit in soliciting the already culturally accepted memes of design.

This is starting to want to push toward a categorical division of design elements and principles, which is something that designers will not do. Designers resists definition. So we are back at an impasse.


What to do.