As our last batch of students (Future of Retail in India) struggled to model and structure the material generated from their brain storming, I began wondering what are the characteristics of good models and what does the process of building them really entail.
Over the years we have worked with many groups of students as they wrestle with the information – it always takes many cycles of doing and redoing, many conversations, disagreements, many cups of chai, late nights and intermittent enthusiasm and despair. Finally it gets done, remarkably or flat – but the learning is always staggering.
This group laboured more than most and so I began questioning what more do they need to know so that they can get a grip on the task.
One of the challenges of being a designer is having to work in unfamiliar areas where one has no background knowledge. One of the ways to overcome this is to model what we know about the subject area through a process of gathering data, structuring the data in several ways, synthesizing and representing it with structure and form. It becomes evident through this process that the mode of structuring the information has bearing on the content and the point of view. While this process helps map the boundaries of the subject area and the relationships between entities within, it also reveals the areas of ignorance and directions for further investigation. In time, it becomes second nature for designers to launch into such a search when confronted with unexplored territory. The assignment is intended for students to experience and apply this process.
Students work in teams. This is an exercise in collaborative meaning making. Increasingly this is also a characteristic of design work. Design tasks that address complex 'wicked' problems call for designers to work in multidisciplinary teams.The experience of developing a shared understanding through the process of building models is a valuable lesson in team work.
Each group was also having its own set of 'team' problems – varying levels of commitment, vocal leaders, silent bystanders, cliques and sub plots, rigidly held positions, resistance to admitting mistakes, communication failure,and so on.
The goal of building a model is seldom to just organize the information and get it all down there. It is really about building a tool, a navigation tool or creating the compass for way finding. So getting it all down – visible in one view, is invaluable because then there is the team's shared understanding of the subject space expressed as an artifact that can be seen and shared with others, expanded, altered, built upon. Good models, while mapping what is also carry the suggestion of what could be. Through emphasis and suppression, inclusion and omission models hold in their belly a point of view.
So what can we share about how good models might be built? New methods will always be built as you go along – this is my bag of tricks
Assume Autonomy – so you are at once empowered and responsible, to take charge, obtain information, take decisions, act
Yield to the collaborative process – include diverse voices, co-create, 'none of us is smarter than all of us' (Japanese proverb)
Listen consciously – drop your defenses, have an open 'don't know' mind, let go old ideas and respond afresh to what is actually there. Question.
Get in touch with your core values – they are our organizing principles and will evoke what is of value in the context under consideration, which in turn will be the organizing principles for your structure.
As teachers, i believe we may need to describe at the outset in more detail the sequence of assignments that will follow so that students are clear about the big picture, and do not feel, like some do, that they are marching to a drum beat but to where they do not know.