Trust me

I don’t visit Designer Observer as often as I should, so today’s visit was a particularly pleasant surprise. Michael Bierut has a really nice piece about the real processes involved in doing creative work as opposed to a neat schema such as, “This project will be divided in four phases: Orientation and Analysis, Conceptual Design, Design Development, and Implementation.”
This is his version of what an honest description of the process might look like:
“When I do a design project, I begin by listening carefully to you as you talk about your problem and read whatever background material I can find that relates to the issues you face. If you’re lucky, I have also accidentally acquired some firsthand experience with your situation. Somewhere along the way an idea for the design pops into my head from out of the blue. I can’t really explain that part; it’s like magic. Sometimes it even happens before you have a chance to tell me that much about your problem! Now, if it’s a good idea, I try to figure out some strategic justification for the solution so I can explain it to you without relying on good taste you may or may not have. Along the way, I may add some other ideas, either because you made me agree to do so at the outset, or because I’m not sure of the first idea. At any rate, in the earlier phases hopefully I will have gained your trust so that by this point you’re inclined to take my advice. I don’t have any clue how you’d go about proving that my advice is any good except that other people — at least the ones I’ve told you about — have taken my advice in the past and prospered. In other words, could you just sort of, you know…trust me?”
Follow the links and read the whole thing, it is well worth your time.

Valuable no value

Abe Burmeister, raise an interesting dilemma in a recent post. He has three bikes and thinks he should get rid of one. The problem he poses is this:
“From a purely bike riding perspective its an easy question, the one I call my neighborhood cruiser has practically no value at all, it’s worth more as parts than as a complete bicycle and those parts are not worth much. It shouldn’t be too hard to part with, should it? But that is exactly the problem. I live in New York City and this bike is actually tremendously valuable based on the sole fact that it has no value.
This is a bike I can lock up on the street and not stress about in the least. I can, and do even leave it out overnight. From an economic standpoint this creates quite an interesting situation, a value that can not be monetized, for the very act of this feature taking on a monetary value would eliminate any value that existed. A bike with a real monetary value is worth stealing and that translates directly into both financial risk and psychological stress for a bike owner.”

This reminds me of a similar problem faced by my son and some of his friends when they were younger. Wearing many of the popular brands of sneakers and clothes made them potential victims of street crime, so they had to evolve a style of dress that felt OK to them, but didn’t scream ‘rob me’.
This concept of the valuable no value looks to me one that is worth further exploration.
As a kind of PS, I would also urge you to take a look at his book, “Nomadic Economics”, written under the name of William Abraham Blaze.

The trouble with blogs revisited

A little over two year ago I wrote a short piece,”The Trouble with Blogs”. In it I said:
“Now I don’t know if this is just me, but the problem I see with the blog as a form is that the focus is always on the latest entries. There is little to encourage you to explore the site as a whole. I know if I arrive at a blog and there hasn’t been a new entry for a while, I tend to move on somewhere else. Of course, with some blogs this makes sense, their focus is very much on the current, on what’s happening now. But with others, this makes less sense. Something they talked about three months ago, or a year ago, or even longer may be equally as interesting as something they are talking about today. So I guess the question I end with is how could a blog look more like a web than a diary?”
I had been prompted to write that by reading Grant McCracken’s blog, of which as I said at the time:
“Grant McCracken is on a roll, scattering ideas and insights in his wake. I have linked to him before when I pointed to a piece by him on welcoming difference and another on modern identity. But thinking about some of his more recent entries, highlighted for me what seems to be a problem with the blog as a form. McCracken’s site is rich in ideas and things to think about.”
I was reminded of this entry by remembering some stuff McCracken had written about creativity, in particular, a piece called, “Creativity and a tennis ball”. I’ve put in a taster below. Well worth a read and maybe, if you find it as interesting as I did, it will encourage you to explore some of his back catalogue and then with that as an exemplar to do the same on some other blogs. You can start that process here:
“Back to the tennis ball. I don’t know which one of us found it and first kicked it. But the moment it emerged from the rough grass of the hotel lawn, it was “in play.” The world had changed in a very little but very distinct way. And the other two players accepted the new presupposition of our interaction and “fell into” the game. No one much cared when they did well or badly. The official idea was to move the ball forward at something like at a pedestrian pace. The unofficial idea was ‘to see what happened” and to be party to this little act of chaos. I remember being struck that there was no hesitation to engage in the game or to continue playing it, despite the fact that we did it badly.. And I think this must be one of the characteristics of creativity, especially group creativity, and most especially of group creativity dedicated to thinking about dynamic phenomena. It is dynamism about dynamism. It is, in a phrase, spontaneous, selfless, tentative, reflexive, propositional, experimental, constantly forming, and utterly open source.”

The Italians have word for it

John Thackara has found a great Italian word for the lunancy infecting too many of our public services:
“ ‘managerialita’ – … the obsession with process and targets that so mesmerise politicians and officials. I recently started working with the UK public sector for the first time in thirteen years. The application to what is basically a cultural project (Dott 07) of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), evaluation protocols, and risk assessment has been, to be frank, bizarre. The fact that everyone around me finds this stuff to be normal is almost as scary as the stuff itself.”
In all a great piece about service design and what it could be and an even better diatribe about the control freak nonsense that gets in the way of providing real services.

So far, so good

Just heard this morning, that thanks to all those of you who voted for my proposal, I have been invited to submit a first draft of my manifesto, “Purposive Drift: Making up it as you go along”, to Change This.
I’ll let you know how I get on.
Once again, thanks to all those who voted – much appreciated.