Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Exploring the self and making an image map: DCC Assignment as offered at Gandhinagar and a discussion of the theory that informs this assignment.

Image: Self map: Aditi

All students at Gandhinagar did the quick over-night assignment and several of them were able to share the digital images of themselves in the class. This experience of articulation of an external image and sharing is important sine through this one can discover and express what ones deep interests are and what each of us believes is important for ourselves. This knowledge is quite important for design thought and action since it is best to work in areas of ones interest and the best performances do come from such an engagement since motivation and involvement are a very critical part of the discovery of design opportunities as well as in being able to tackle these complex problems with empathy and sustained effort that can carry the designer and design team well beyond the threshold of frustration which is quite common in such major design initiatives which do not easily get outside sympathy and support till after some kind of visible breakthrough is achieved.

The image of the self and its representation are less important in itself than the act of doing it with intensity and introspection. What it can provide the person doing the reflective representation is a deep insight into the self, provided it is done with the purpose of looking at oneself with the intention of discovering deep seated interests and personal beliefs which would be the motivational drivers for future design action. This could also provide the incentive for learning and other self improvement tasks which one would set to embark upon in the future and if we can see the connections these tasks become meaningful and would be then done with a deeper commitment and participation and not just a chore to be completed. This inner motivation would be the key driver rather than some looking for some external incentive, although these too may be useful in many cases, however the inner motivation is a necessary condition for sustained effort and the platform for imagination to flourish and translate into excellence in design thought and action.

Image: Self map: Akhilesh

Image: Self map: Anil

This assignment at Gandhinagar involved the students in a period of intense reflection about their own life experiences and how these could have shaped their character and belief systems, some which may not be consciously held by each one of us, while other may be painful but still rewarding to reflect upon as a source of learning about life itself. A period of reflection and meditation about oneself and ones intentions are a useful starting point for design learning and for the subsequent engagements in design thoughts and actions. The student is then required to capture their thoughts in a external representation in the form of doodles and words that can capture ones feelings, experiences and emotions and well as specific events in ones life that could have helped shape a particular belief or behavior. To be aware of ones beliefs and taboos would help one in focusing ones energy towards the goal setting tasks at the fuzzy front end of the design process as well as keep ones commitment to the task as the complexities lead to many layers of confusion and conflict which is quite common in dealing with the wicked problems of great complexity and their associated periods of frustration and low emotional sustenance. Working in a team helps since all the skills and abilities that are needed for the various tasks can be shared and in design as in many other human tasks many brains are better than one and so are many hands which make light of many heavy tasks and these would also need a climate of creative leadership to sustain the motivational levels that can contribute to the production of excellence as we have seen in many management case studies.

Klaus Krippendorff, in his book, The Semantic Turn talks of design being mediated by the use of language more that most designers would care to agree. While images are used it is the discourse in language that helps provide a sense of meaning and in sharing the common understanding that needs to emerge between client as well as the team members if the design tasks are to be accomplished with a high degree of quality and fit. In a similar manner the exploration of the self is a discourse within oneself which is aided by the creation of the image which is supported by the story and the words that are invariably used to describe the life experiences and the learning from that experience. So this can be seen as a process of translating a vague feeling of interest into a articulate statement which is rooted in the expressed form of the image and this can then be shared with colleagues and partners as a part of this process of learning from the articulation process.

For Krippendorff, the theory of the meanings of artifacts in language has to be self-reflexive and since designers always attempt to change the world, they must use language creatively as well. Language is not therefore an immutable entity which resides in dictionaries but a living force that is constantly re-defined and categorized by the thoughtful connections made in pun and intentional play through juxtaposition and discovery of new relations. This assignment is therefore a beginning of a journey of the design student learning to engage with the world and oneself which is a part of that world but best known to themselves being the closest thing that they can examine from inside and out, and from this reflective engagement they are required to create a model that can be shared with oneself as also with others in a design situation.

Image: Self map: Arunima

Image: Self map: Charanya

Image: Self map: Gaurav

This kind of model building is at the core of design thinking and action since the process of design progresses from a nascent understanding of an freshly identified opportunity that is triggered by a fact or a perception of a reality which is further supported by an imagination of a possible outcome, however abstract and incomplete it may be when it is first encountered. From this kind of imagination comes an iterative set of initiatives in the form of an exploration that is directed by the intentions of the designer towards a possible goal. This is described in my model of the design journey and the initial stages are those that only the designer can see at first (since they are internal, as a vague sensation in the mind) and unless it is articulated in language or expressed in a visible and tangible model that is further supported by language of description, it cannot be transferred to another person who is part of the forward chain for the realistaion of the design and manifesting it in the real world as an introduced change. This assignment therefore has an ice-breaker effect and helps loosen up many design students to the world of expressed models, especially those dealing with abstract and intangible aspects of design, and what better opportunity would there be for articulation of the known than ones own life and the lessons gleaned from this life.

Image: Self map: Harry

Image: Self map: Madhavi

Image: Self map: Neha

This assignment was developed over the past ten years or so in the DCC class and it has been found to be very useful as an ice-breaker in helping students start a journey of self discovery and in learning from reality rather than from authoritative sources and books as the only way forward. In design we need to trust our senses and our own convictions and these would need to be tested with a degree of open-mindedness if we are to make valuable contributions to both society and culture, which is a real outcome of great design action. The images shown above are a few examples from the 30 that were produced by the students of this class at Gandhinagar this year.

Image: Self map: Ram

Image: Self map: Saurabh

Image: Self map: Suchita

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