Thursday, February 28, 2008

Nature of the Design Process: Systems Thinking at NID

Nature of the Design Process: Systems Thinking at NID

Image: Four stage model of the Systems Design process.
Rather than following a single big idea I believe that designing is about following a number of related concepts and in exploring the opportunities that the design space offers you. It is about the insights that your own imagination brings to the surface as you continue the journey while sensing the environment and the situation that surrounds the particular opportunity. This is why the outcomes are so unpredictable but if you persist and remain sensitive to the insights you will eventually develop a set of convictions that will prompt you to act in a particular manner and then subject these explorations to a number of tests as these are evaluated in the progressive stages of the design process.

In my model of the design process, which I teach my students at NID during the Design Concepts and Concerns course, I offer a four stage model where the User Research leads to Scenario Visualisation and this will bring to the surface many ideas and concepts that can be shared with users and others as the work progresses. These concepts and models can be subjected to debate and discussion as well as detailed modeling and testing till you are ready to invest time and effort as well as develop the basis for obtaining the costs to detail out one, two or more of these scenarios and subject these to further testing, all usually done in rapid succession. So, in this way designing is an action oriented work where research is invariably interspaced with action of modeling and discourse as well as a good measure of discussion and debate based on which your insights and convictions would develop more fully and you will then make some decisions about directions and goals that need to be reached. Both goals and possible solutions as well as means of achieving the goals are co-developed or co-evolved as the work progresses.

The third stage is Concept Development which takes a substantial amount of time and money in a business situation. Here the detailing of some promising concepts are taken up in a systematic manner and this can take a good deal of time effort and cost and the fourth stage is to develop Business Models that can help realise the concept in the real world. I have these models on my website and you can download these as pdf files if you wish from the site below from the Design Theory section of the website:

By the way I have posted another story today on my blog about my experience in Madras in 1974. Take a look. This an the previous posts show case studies of design action in the real world and the impact these can have on a business situation, particularly in a small scale industry setting.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Hazel Henderson - 'housewife economist'

"You are exercising the responsibilities of citizenship, and you are setting an example to your children, at the same time that you are working for their health and welfare. Best of all, you are learning firsthand about one of the most exciting frontiers of our growing knowledge and technology - how to manage our natural heritage so that it can support the needs of our increasing population, and at the same time remain orderly and beautiful, a fitting and joyous setting for future generations."
This is what Henderson wrote in a 1966 article in Parent's Magazine, as a young activist mother in New York about her work fighting air pollution in the city. (Rome, A. (2003) “Give earth a chance”) She had just organised Citizens for Clean Air by passing out leaflets to mothers during her daily walks in the park with her infant daughter.

She had no formal university education. She was born in England in 1933 and at the age of 25 she married and moved to New York where she was living with her husband and infant daughter when her life as an activist began. Returning from the park with her daughter she found it took an hour to scrub the soot off her child. Speaking to other mothers at the park confirmed that they all had the same experience – soon a group was formed and a journey began, that eventually led to the passing of the Clean Air Act.

Dr Henderson wanted to understand why the economy did not value the health of children, and why should 'cleaning up the air' cost too much as she was repeatedly told. So she began a relentless process of questioning and research, talking to economists, writing, arguing and so on teaching herself economics, finally becoming a "self-educated futurist, environmentalist, and economic iconoclast” with several honorary doctorates.

She says "I had to teach myself economics, because every time I wanted to organize something there was always some economist telling me it would be uneconomic. I knew I was right in my activism; I felt it in my body. So there had to be something wrong with economics, and I decided that I had better find out just what it was that all those economists had got wrong."

I found discovering Hazel Henderson's life story as inspiring as reading her writings, for more absorbing and detailed accounts: and

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Village Economy Models: Brainstorming and Articulation

Image: Team Kerala Rainforest: Structure of the Village Economy shown with a Banana Leaf as their Metaphor

Image: Team Himalayan Foothills: A Board Game as Metaphor

Image: Team Northeast Hill Villages: Assam Tea garden as Metaphor

Image: Team Desert Rajasthan: Camel Ride as their Metaphor

Image: Team Coastal Maharashtra Village Economy: A shoal of Fish as their Metaphor

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Hazel Henderson’s concepts to guide students in the field

Image: Books by Hazel Henderson on Evolutionary Economics
Yesterday we met as a group to discuss the forthcoming Environmental Perception course that will take all 75 students of the NID Foundation programme to the Dolka Village/Town in Gujarat for a one week stay in the field along with their teachers as part of the course. The Environmental Perception course was evolved and innovated in 1976 by Professor Mohan Bhandari who was the then coordinator of the Foundation Programme at NID. It emerged out of the interest that NID faculty had for providing real life exposure to our design students to both urban and rural India at an early stage and as a context for the design process course that would be the culmination of the Foundation inputs at NID as well as for the project based education that was to follow.

The Foundation Programme in those days extended over one and a half years across three semesters, nay four, since each year had three semesters, two major and one summer semester as well. We had a number of meetings in those days away from NID to discuss the content and impact of the Foundation Programme and I was fortunate to be one of the teachers invited to participate in these meetings since I used to teach the course in Geometry for the foundation in those days, which was then called “Geometrical Construction”. The intentions of the meetings was to explore how the NID student could be sensitized to be a good designer as well as a wholesome human being who had the empathy to deal with the complexities of the Indian reality and we felt that the Foundation Programme would be the right place to start this journey. The other teachers involved in these meetings were Profs. Kumar Vyas, S Balaram, S Sethuraman, Mahendra Patel, Vikas Satwalekar, Helena Pehentupa, J L Naik, S M Shah, P M Choksi, NN Patel, Gitto Patni, Aditi Shirali, and myself. The meetings were facilitated by the Academic Administrator M G D Nair and moderated by the psychologist, late Prof Pullin Garg of the IIMA, Ahmedabad. In later meetings the group included Dhimant Panchal, Suranjana Satwalekar, and Krishna Patel who also started teaching in the Foundation in later years. Mohan Bhandari as coordinator had to balance a tight rope of many views and suggestions from the faculty participants and these meetings were a great source of learning for all the teachers involved.

This year the Environmental Perception course is being anchored by Chakradhar Saswade and Swasti Singh with the field involvement of Dilip Oza and Bhadresh Shukla. As the teachers of the Design Concepts and Concerns course we were requested to include in the first session of the course some elements that could help prepare the students to learn from the field. This brief also extended to the Science and Liberal Arts module that is offered to the students before they depart for their field study experience. This year we shared a paper by Hazel Henderson titled “21st Century Strategies for Sustainability” which I introduced to the students yesterday in class in a brief lecture that was part of the group briefing session about the objectives of the course as well as matters of logistics and behaviour that was expected from the students in the field. Hazel Henderson is a futurist, writer and economist who has written many papers and books which can be broadly called environmental and evolutionary economics and she is the creator of the Calvert-Henderson “Quality of Life Indicators” which looks beyond the scope of conventional economics at social and ethical issues at the heart of such a debate. Born in 1933 in Bristol, England she has been an advocate of evolutionary economics that is modeled on biology and deals with complex interdependencies and resource constraints which would help inform our students and provide them with an adequate framework to look at an Indian village and the social life therein. This is important since most of our students are from urban settings with very few who have life experiences from a village setting.

Hazel Henderson has in her very distinguished career written seven books on her ideas about economics and her papers and books are now available at NID for use by our students and faculty. Her concepts of the Economics of Love that accounts for unpaid work done in any economy by women and children usually are in most cases ignored by the rational economists who look at the GDP kind of metrics which may not give a correct view of village economics and therefore our students were advised to look beyond the obvious and at data below the surface with empathy and a sensitivity that would not upset the village folks in any way. This learning would go a long way to bring both sensitivity as well as the humility to deal with user groups and their particular issues and concerns and help the design student orient themselves to be of service to the complex needs of our rapidly changing society. Hazel Henderson’s papers can be downloaded from her website at the link below. Her Quality of life indicators include: Education, Employment, Energy, Environment, Health, Human Rights, Income, Infrastructure, National Security, Public Safety, Recreation and Shelter. Students could keep these indicators in mind when they draw the village environment and the activities that they see in the field and when they get back to the campus for the documentation and reflection phase they could model all these relationships from their first hand data rather than just from the books and newspaper reports that they would otherwise have had access to.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Work in Progress: Rural India Models scheduled for Sunday

Images: Self reflection images on the class softboard that have been up for review and discussion as the class goes forward.
The first assignment that had most of the students articulating their life experiences and self reflection as a composite image was very exciting and provided a rich tapestry of image styles and disclosure levels all embedded in the A3 size paper images that have been on the softboard for the past three days now. There has been much discussion about each image in small groups of interested students and we will have a group presentation in class using projected digital images so that a large group can appreciate the story that would be shared by several of the students when we assemble again as a group later next month.

The students who braved and toiled to work on a holiday are here to share their unfinished models of their respective regional village economy models. Some I am told missed the photo session since they had crashed out having worked at night or that they had taken flight to meet their parents in the age of cheap air travel which brings Pune and Delhi within easy reach for some of them.

The final presentations for this assignment are scheduled on Sunday (tomorrow) at 10.30 am and we have proposed to have ice cream for all participants to celebrate the extended cold wave in Ahmedabad as well as the end of the first week of this module of the DCC class for the Foundation students. Those missing the presentation will also miss the ice cream and the great learning experience that the show and tell sessions provide. All students will now spend one week doing SLA classes (Science & Liberal Arts) and then another two weeks in the chosen village as part of the Environmental preception class. We hope that they will be able to test their groups models with the reality check that the field visits will afford them and that they will use this opportunity to speak to the "experts", people who live and work in the rural areas in the numerous occupations that they will see and interact with during their stay in the village in Gujarat. Although each group is dealing with a different part of the country, they will be able to get a fiirst hand feel of the issues and concerns of rural India and use these insights in their work and learning at NID in their move to becoming designers who are sensitised to the needs and concerns of a large part of India.

The five groups and those who were present in the class today were captured on camera and their semi-finished work is shown below with a brief caption to identify the region that the respective group had brainstormed and categorised all based on their own life experience that was available to the collective as a starting point for their journey during this course.

Image: Model and metaphor of Rural Desert Rajasthan

Image: Kerala Rainforest as a location for rural culture

Image: Coastal Maharashtra and its dominent rural ecology

Image: Foot Hills of the Himalayas as a reference for rural design opportuinities

Image: Notheastern Hill Region as a base for design action in India.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Design Opportunities in Rural India: DCC2008 for Foundation students at NID

DCC2008 for Foundation students at NID began this week and we have chosen to look at trades and occupations that can add value and create wealth in rural India through design in the age of the creative economy.

Image: Exploring and reflection of the self and the rich picture models produced by the students.
The time is here once again to start the Design Concepts and Concerns course for the batch of students in the Foundation Programme at NID. This year we have 75 students in the class and we have decided to look at trades and occupations that could be enhanced and value added by the use of design. Design can be applied to the creation of new products and services and it can be used to improve the efficiency and comfort levels of the people involved in the trades itself and also to the services offered by each of these. With the arrival of the creative economy we are sure that many of our traditional trades will reinvent themselves with the use of design and offer high value to both the practitioner as well as their clients. Some of these ideas are discussed in more detail on my blog called "Design for India".

Image: DCC Blackboard with the discussion on the area of models and their role in design research and action.
This time our course has been truncated to one week in the first phase and to three and a half weeks in the second phase with a gap of three weeks when the students will do the SLA course in one week and have two weeks in the field for their Environmental Perception course. We have therefore modified our course offering and packed two assignments in the first week, one dealing with exploring and expressing the self through a process of introspection, reflection and expression in the form of a composite image which can be used to share their own story as a rich picture model. This is the first of the many models that the students would build during this course. Most students did not know what we meant by the word “Model” in the context of design exploration and this gave the teachers an opportunity to explore the concept and all its dimensions in a lecture discussion session in the class yesterday after a brief introduction to the various dimensions of design as we know it today. The DCC Blackboard seen in the picture will show the gist of the discussions in class and the words were contributed by the students as the discussions progressed, they quickly grasped the meaning of the term and the use of models in the design of new and innovative offerings.

Image: Rich picture representations of their self image on display in the class softboards.
The students made rich pictures of their self-reflection and expression assignment. These are displayed in the class and each student was asked to share their story with three other students over the next three days. Based on this sharing they would be able to develop a text that each would send to one close relative (an uncle, aunt or even parent or friend) as well as to the teachers of the course and to some of their classmates and all of these would be documented with the digital image of their picture and be made available to all the students in the class. We hope that by doing this they would be able to appreciate the role that each one of us plays in shaping the design directions by the value systems that we hold dear and how these would shape the decisions that we made on behalf of others in our design journey. The design journey is one of exploration and research that leads to the gathering of numerous insights that are based on these current and past explorations and insights. Insights get accumulated over the journey and these provide a certain degree of conviction based on which our design decisions are invariably taken. These are not just based on facts but also on feelings and convictions that would be influenced by the philosophy and ideology held by the designer. The paper and the model on the Design Journey that I had written earlier this year was circulated to all our students and we will be discussing this paper in class as we go forward with the learning in this course.

Image: Students of the DCC2008 class attending the lecture discussion session on day two.
The second assignment is based on what the students already know in their conscious and sub-conscious mind about a given topic. This year we have decided to make the first week a sort of preparation for the field work that would be undertaken as part of the environmental perception course when all the students will be visiting a village near Ahmedabad and using this visit to sensitise themselves to design opportunities in the rural sector as well as give them a first hand exposure to the India reality on the ground. In this assignment they are divided into groups of fifteen students and each group has been given the task of exploring amongst themselves their understanding of an Indian village and its challenges and opportunities based on what they already know deep in their collective minds. The groups have been assigned the following five regional situations and the context that is established by the very incomplete description of the village type and location in the broadly defined regions mentioned below.

Coastal Maharashtra
Himalayan Foothills
Kerala Rainforest
Northeastern Hills
Desert Rajasthan

Image: Brainstorming session in progress
Students are expected to brainstorm and identify all the attributes of the village type in question and try and capture in as rich a picture as possible without necessarily doing any external research from books or interviews with experts which is reserved for another stage in the course. Based on their brainstorming and the key-words that the group identifies they are expected to sort and categorise these into an agreeable structure that would be meaningful to the group in the form of key-words and hierarchies that make sense. The structure needs to be as complete as possible and the areas of ignorance too may be identified at this stage. The students would then develop a metaphor that could be used to express the structure in a memorable format and that which has a contextual relevance to the team as well as one that would make sense to most viewers as well. They are then required to make a presentation and tell about their journey as well as their findings to the rest of the class in a well prepared presentation and show and tell session that would be done in the class on the scheduled time. This presentation is now planned on Saturday morning at 10.00 am in the classroom at NID. The sequence of presentations would be decided by the teachers. Besides these inputs in class as well as the papers that were distributed we have set up a server based resource on the NID server for digital resources that are available on the net. Links to world thinkers and experts in fields that impinge on the subject at hand are made available through this channel. For instance we have links to hazel Henderson’s website and to her papers on development economics which the teachers feel are very relevant to the task at hand. Similarly, the links to DOTT07, the Design Council UK, Kaos Pilot, NextD and PhD-Design list are some popular design and inspirational resources that are shared with the students in the class. We will add resources as we proceed with the course and students too would be contributing new links and resources as we go forward with the course.

Image: Student reflection about themselves shared on the softboard as part of assignment one, Self Image.
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