Sunday, March 16, 2008

Information Strategies for Research: Their role in Design Thinking and Action.

Information Strategies for Research: Their role in Design Thinking and Action.

A variety of information would be required as we go forward with a particular design initiative. In this case we are looking at water as a subject and at the role that it could have in facilitating people living in the five selected zones across our country. We have taken this as a subject so that as a group we can engage with a process of articulation, clarification and research that would help us understand the field of design and in particular design opportunity.

Water has many forms and numerous uses and it is a critical resource for human existence. However it is not taken very seriously and we are seeing wide spread pollution of our water resources as well as gross misuse by individuals and industry alike. This shows us that there are many opportunities for design action in this space since for each problem that we are able to recognize and articulate we can offer many different solutions with the application of our imagination. The assignment was therefore a method through which all the students could understand how a particular area of focus could be explored by a group and from this how we can discover numerous design tasks that can be done to help solve one or other aspect of the problem. This will of course be seen that the issues to be handled could be small scale and fairly clearly articulated problems or large scale and extremely complex problems. It is only when we have an inventory of challenges along with an inkling of what we can possibly do in this situation do we have the beginnings of a list of design opportunities that deal with this.

While we try and tackle such wide ranging design problems we would necessarily have to deal with many kinds of knowledge as well as many disciplines of design to try and address these issues successfully. Some may well be outside the scope of the fields that each one of us may be capable of handling with our limited knowledge and skills but this does not make the problem either irrelevant or something that cannot be solved. This is where the role of imagination comes in to play and where conventional wisdom gives up we have seen repeatedly the emergence of break-through concepts emerging that can help look at the situation in a new way and this may open up avenues for new classes of solutions. Further, each design discipline could take up a particular design problem and find different approaches to address these towards a lasting solution. For instance the solution could be in building awareness amongst the users and not just in building new tools and processes for society to use. Awareness building could be through addressing the information needs of children with books, illustrations, films, plays and multi-media offerings or through reaching out to policy makers through traveling exhibitions, websites and visually rich presentations that have a real impact on the mind and that can bring a new understanding of the complex situation at hand and therefore help in a decision to be made. At this level the design actions can be very political while at other levels it would be seen as the application of the skills of composition, colour and form in a sensitive manner that the designer is always expected to do by virtue of their training and sensitisatioin to issues and outcomes that are desirable.

The information needed is quite varied and can come form many sources and each source would require the design student to develop a different skill in managing during research. Research from books would need the skill of working with keywords and in the use of indexes and library resource maps such as access books and encyclopedias and dictionaries. A good place to start research is in text books from a particular field and in some cases when the subject is unknown to the researcher it may be wise to start with childrens books on the subject and move from there to the more specialized and scholarly works. One could make a list of thought leaders in any given subject and today it is very easily provided by a quick review of the intrernet resources and in this case the Wikipedia could be a great source to start research with a set of key-words as a starting point. In the age of information getting new data is very easy but making sense of data is the real challenge. This is where meetings with users, subject experts and domain level experts could be a great help. Students could go out of their class and meet real people who are likely to provide insights about the subject and in design this is more important that tons of information. All the information thus collected by the students working in groups would need to be organized and structured into an information model that can be shared with all the class.

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