User Tools

Site Tools


A List of Provocative Ideas

Productive Use of Failure

Dean Kamen, inventor of the Seqway and the the prime movers behind the FIRST Robotics Challenge} has this to say in a 2011 {{|article in Forbes

Q: You've said teachers should let students fail. Is that so they can learn from those failures?

A: I think teachers should encourage them to work on really big, really hard, really tough problems – the consequence of which, compared to giving them the safe road, they probably will unfortunately fail, and fail again, and fail again. The teachers need to give kids enough self-confidence so that they realize it's the project that failed, and not the student.

Students need to learn enough from their failures so that they can be re-energized, refocused, and with their new knowledge and new experience and new scars on their back, they can go out and succeed.

I don't think there are any big wins that aren't the result of a lot of losses. I think teachers need to let students know that in order to make the really big wins, they're going to lose a lot of battles, but they'll win the war.

Instead, I think we've created a society that is so risk-averse that kids are taught–“Whatever you do, don't fail.” A consequence of being unwilling to fail is that you'll never try really big, bold things. Once you define success as loss of failure, we've lost innovation, we've lost our edge. (emphasis added)

The whole article recaps what he's been saying for years. It is worth a read.

General Comments on Design

From the examples in the list of provocative ideas, it should be clear that there are many definitions of the creative process called design. Showing you the breadth of these examples is not intended to overwhelm you. Rather, it is to remind you that there are many paths to success.

So are all design processes equally useful? Not at all. The utility of a design process depends on the complexity of the problem being solved and the number of people involved. You obviously do not need a complex or structured design process to organize your sock drawer. On the other hand, designing a new, multistory, energy efficient building with mixed use occupancy will require a good process to manage the complexity of the project and the large number of people influencing and dependent on the final outcome.

Why bother with a design process? Why not free creative people to let their inspiration be their guide? That may work for a solitary artist, but for teams of participants and sufficiently complex problems, the lack of structure leads to chaos and a lack of accountability. Furthermore, failing to use a broadly understood process will reduce the likelihood that the team will learn from its mistakes. To build on success and refine the process, there needs to be a process that is explicit and that can be described without ambiguity.

Design processes emerge when participants in the design develop a shared narrative for the work being done. In most professional environments the process is not merely emergent. Rather, it is imposed on the participants by the organization with the goal of efficiently obtaining a desired outcome. An explicit design process is a way to structure communication about the creative act of solving a shared problem or developing a new possibility. The sharing of a common language and a common set of ideas about a process provides stability for creative individuals to work within their own domain of expertise.

The following sections provides additional commentary on the individual articles or video segments listed above.

TIDEE Presentation on the Engineering Design Process

The TIDEE (Transferable Integrated Design Engineering Education) design process video was in Pullman, Washington. The slides provide information typically used by engineering seniors in their Capstone design experience.

The TIDEE process is more general than what is needed to complete the desktop fan project because the fan project was fairly well constrained from the outset. For example, the class was told to use parts from the Sparkfun Inventors Kit; the class was told what to build with the kit; and the class was told what raw materials and manufacturing processes to use. Furthermore, the class was shown a YouTube video of a working example of desktop fan using the same parts and materials. Those preconditions and constraints do not invalidate the experience as design, but it does reduce the need for a highly structured design process.

The TIDEE process is superficially linear. The five step process appears to proceed from the start of a project to its logical conclusion in apparently sequential process.

  1. Information gathering
  2. Problem Definition
  3. Idea Generation
  4. Evaluation and Decision Making
  5. Implementation

This apparently linear process actually has multiple feedback loops. It is iterative, especally for larger and more complex design problems.

Despite the narrow scope and short duration of the fan project, it would be helpful to identify how each of the preceding steps occurred as you developed your solution.

Seth Godin's, It's Broken is a humorous and insightful presentation that documents examples of bad design. Although Godin does not prescribe how to make a good design, he makes it clear that bad designs are abundant.

The Cult of Done

The Cult of Done Manifesto is terse and focused on action. This process may work for individuals and may inspire small groups to experiment freely. It is not a design process, per se, but more of an attitude toward design that is fearless and more focused on trial and error than systematic process.

Dubberly's Compendium of Models

The extensive report on design methodology by Dubberly is a tour de force of design process documentation. It would be helpful to read the first part of the book up through the list of Contents on page 9. Of the specific design processes described in the book, consider these:

  • Michael French's Engineering Design process (p. 31)
  • Alice Agogino's process models (pp. 50-53). How does the simplest model (on p. 50) relate the Cult of Done Manifesto by Bre Petis?
  • IDEO process (p. 65). We will use the IDEO process in EAS 199C.
  • The Pugh process (p. 120) is close to the process used by the ME Capstone classes (ME 491, 492, 493) and is similar to the TIDEE process

For humor, which is needed for any difficult and frustrating task like design, consider the processes documented on p. 60 and p. 66

Paul Hughes Photostream

The photos from Paul Hughes are the most abstract and visual representations of design in this collection. These photos are unlikely to give you any immediately practical guidance. Instead, these photos chould (I hope) inspire you to tap into the visual metaphors for the creative process. I would hope that one outcome of looking at these photos is that you feel more freedom about using inexact sketches to explore ideas.

lecture/design_comments.txt · Last modified: 2013/11/04 22:36 by gerry