My colleague Jason Toal’s recent blog post on visual thinking exercises inspired me to take the Four Icon Challenge and capture the core ideas from How Things Shape the Mind, Lambros Malafouris’s facinating interdisciplinary exploration of cognitive archeology and material engagement theory.
I discovered Malafouris’ work through Jonathan Bean, Bernardo Figueredo and Hanne Larsen’s fascinating paper at EPIC 2017 on Material Engagement Theory and branding gestalt research.
What is ironic about me completing this exercise using icons from the Noun Project is that one of Malafouris’s core arguments is that conventional semiotics reifies representation and privileges human intention over systematic, dynamic explanations of meaning.
As a literature graduate student in the late 1990s, I participated in a baffling seminar discussion on Lacanian semiotics. I didn’t get it, but an amazing tutorial video from EPIC 2016 prompted me to take another look at the power of visual and verbal cultural analysis.
In April and May, I participated in an online workshop on applied semiotics analysis organized by EPIC and led by Cato Hunt from Space Doctors.
During the workshop, we leaned basics tasks of semiotic analysis, including:
Exploring gaps between intended meaning and experienced meaning
Analyzing cultural assets to create codes
Analyzing tensions to create semiotic squares
Using a residual-dominent-emergent framework to analyze codes
Field work to collect data to inform semiotic analysis
Culture Map of Mobile Learning
Since the workshop, I have been using what I learned to develop a semiotic map of residual, dominant, and emergent codes for mobile learning.
To develop this map, I conducted a visual analysis of many images on Google Images related to mobile learning. I used mobile learning and other broad key terms like “augmented reality” and “virtual reality” and “robots”. I explored a range of geographic markets as well. It was far from a scientific sample, but it was fun.
I used Pinterest to gather the images and Mural as a platform to group and cluster the images.
10 Mobile Learning Codes
Learn Alone Together (Residual)
Access the World From Anywhere (Residual)
Gather Around a Screen (Residual)
Augment how You Live (Dominant)
Simulate a Situation (Dominant)
Augment your Experience of Here (Dominant)
Try Immersive Learning (Emergent)
Wear Your Learning (Emergent)
Integrate Learning into Yourself (Emergent)
Interact with Robots (Emergent)
4 Mobile Learning Spaces
I created the culture map by iteratively positioning the codes on semiotic squares constructed using cultural tensions that emerged through exploring the visual data. These tensions included:
Familiar / Unfamiliar
Augment / Integrate
Create / Consume
Ready at Hand / Present to Hand
Private / Public
From playing with the coded and tensions, I developed the following four quadrants on my semiotic square:
Become a Cyborg (Unfamiliar / Private)
Engage with the Machines (Unfamiliar / Public)
Use the Data (Familiar / Private)
Mediate Together (Familiar /Public)
This thought experiment has been a fun way to apply my learning. Since doing the initial semiotic exploration, a couple of additional ideas occurred to me:
Semiotics aimed at settings has great potential as a tool for analyzing learning settings. I am intrigued by Bonnie Shapiro’s work on analyzing sustainability in learning settings. Laura Oswald‘s case studies on analyzing retailscapes with semiotics points to the potential for using semiotics to analyze learning settings (e.g. programs and learning spaces) in comparison to competitive and aspirational programs.
Where do emergent products like smart speakers, particularly niche products like the Amazon Echo Look, fit on within the frame of mobile learning. They are likely somewhere between dominant and emergent because they are still relatively unfamiliar and sit somewhere on the boundary between public or private?
What might happen if I took an explicitly critical frame and asked how these products vary on their representation of domestication vs. liberation. Most images promise a dream of endless open knowledge, and most images represent scenes of social control (students being disciplined by lessons in formal learning settings or people being domesticated by new technological forms). I recognize my initial sample had scant examples of mobile learning in the context of non-formal learning settings beyond the cliched coffee shop or non-spaces of everyday life (e.g commuting).
The workshop has prompted me to start reading more in the domain of semiotic marketing analysis and qualitative marketing analysis. I have been diving into the work of Laura Oswald, The Handbook of Qualitative Marketing Research, and Tim Stock‘s culture mapping.
If you are interesting in applying semiotics to analyze a learning setting, I would love to hear from you.
What I valued most about the book is the organizational model and metaphors that Kegan et al. use to explore the dimensions of development: edge, groove, and home. We individually and collectively have a professional edge that is always developing and changing, we get into the groove when we have individual and shared practices that sustain and support the advancement of our personal learning and shared organizational culture.
I am not as persuaded by Kegan et. al’s arguments about adult development and personal psychology as I once was. But I appreciated that the authors acknowledge the psychological bias that informs their work, and they use an integral framework from Ken Wilber to explore the individual, social, psychological, organizational dynamics of culture and change at work. More compelling were the chapters on the many distinct social practices that the three organizations enact to as they use a developmental approach to work and organizational change.
For example, what might be different if everyone at work were assigned to a job that would stretch them personally and professionally? What if organizations embrace personal social learning practices so people don’t have to hide their weaknesses, can address continuous constructive feedback from colleagues, and continuously challenge themselves with increasingly complex tasks? Next Jump, Bridgewater, and Decurion demonstrate that learning and development can be a key competitive advantage.
Organizational development consultants, coaches, and other people leading change processes in organizations will find Kegan et al. a useful summer read.
The book is build around concise descriptions of projects that the Designing Out Crime Research Centre at University Technology Sydney has undertaken over the last decade and brief reflections on design principles and practices that underlie the projects.
If Frame Innovation presents Dorst’s current thinking on public sector and public space design practice for an academic audience, Designing for the Common Good, which is co-written by Dorst and many professional and student collaborators, addresses for a much broader interdisciplinary audience of designers, practitioners, and change makers.
If This is Service Design Thinking is the book that launched the practical service design movement (as evidenced in a metanalysis as the most cited text at the ServDes conference , then I see Designing for the Common Good as a positive sign that the field of design for service and social innovation is evolving. It compliments Lucy Kimbell’s Service Innovation Handbook, which offers a bricolage of theory, methods and cases. It bests Ben Reason, Lavrans Løvlie and Melvin Brand Flu’s Service Design for Business because it does more than share abstract advice and approaches for business professionals with scant examples. Dorst and his co-writers foreground authentic, varied case studies and back them up with evidence-based reflections and methods. Like Kimbell, Dorst and his collaborators offer newcomers to design for public innovation rich, authentic cases and methods to consider, and unlike any design for the public good text I have read yet, Dorst et. al are able to address the interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary nature of public design projects whereas most of the books on design for public project still are constrained by a narrow focus on corporate and business design.
What I appreciate most about the work this work is how it offer practical pragmatic design methods that are informed by solid and intentional design research while also being written to inform practitioners. The authenticity and richness of the cases, reflections and methods distinguish this book from those that are overly theoretical and academic (for example, Making Futures), narrowly focussed on business and management lens (e.g. Service Design for Business). It complements the emerging bodies of work that address design for public sector innovation (e.g Leading Public Service Innovation) and work on design for services at the local or regional level (e.g. Design for Services or Design, where Everybody Designs). An interesting question for the future might be how might frame innovation inform or complement transition design towards particular environmental or social futures?
What I find most compelling about Design for the Common Good is that the authors explicitly address the limitations of their approach and call for the need to augment design with substantive organizational development. Successful projects are bounded by time, space and geography. What might work at Kings Cross in Sydney will likely not work on the Granville Entertainment strip in Vancouver. Having read Frame Innovation and Design for the Common Good, I am itching to design and facilitate a frame innovation project.
For fun, I am participating in Design1o1 Redux, a MOOC that introduces basics of contemporary design. I’ve never been that successful as a student in MOOCs before because of the implicit time commitment they demand and, to be blunt, the poor quality of instructional design.
What I like about Design 1o1 is that the MOOC is playful, creative, and almost entirely based on the open Internet and through social media, mostly on Instagram but also on Twitter. One of the challenges we have in British Columbia is that the Freedom of Information and Privacy laws are particularly strict about sharing personal information across borders, so I it would be challenging for a BC university to pursue such an open approach without wrestling with informed consent and forms.
What I am learning in Design1o1 Redux so far is how to use my iPhone as an instrument for creative expression and design research. I can see how this will be useful not only as I continue to take countless pictures of Megan and Claire but also as I dive more deeply into design research. One of the assignments I had last week prompted me to start thinking how I might use my phone and a few APPS to document service walkthrough and user journeys easily.
I will have more to say about my learning experience as time goes by. You can follow my progress on Instagram.
What is your take on MOOCs? What have you learned by participating in them? How have you learned to persist?
Have you ever considered how and why a kimchi refrigerator offers users more autonomy than conventional refrigerators might, what constitutes an ideal trip to and through an airport, or why a sophisticated golf simulator might offer a peak form of entertainment? Jin Woo Kim’s Design for Experience: Where technology meets design and strategy, which I discovered in Fjord’s slide deck on design trends for 2016, seeks to dymytisfy the thinking and requirements behind designing powerful product and service experiences.
Kim’s book is useful on multiple levels. I have been so immersed in the North American and European literature on design for service and experience design that it was refreshing to read a leading Korean HCI scholar on experience design. I appreciate how Kim integrated ideas from Confucius, John Dewey and Vitruvius to underlie his exploration of experience design. Lucy Kimbell extolls Vitruvius in her handbook on service innovation, and Dewey is oft-cited in Benz’s edited collection on Experience Design, but I was delighted to read more about how Confucius’s ideas on harmony inform experience design. I also enjoyed how Kim blends detailed technical explanations of design features with supporting narration of his experiences in Seoul, and detailed analyzed a range of Korean and Western products and services as UX examples.
At its core, the book presents a detailed framework of threads, levers, UX factors, and design features involved in designing product and service experiences. Kim breaks down meaningful, valuable and harmonious experience into three interrelated dimensions with associated key conceptual controls:
Kim’s framework is similar to the product experience framework introduced by Desmet and Hekkert and adapted by Silvia Grimaldi, which I discussed in my review of Experience Design: Concepts and Case Studies. What distinguishes Kim’s monograph from either this previous work or a text like Pine and Gilmore’s The Experience Economy is Kim’s detailed analysis and explanation of underlying UX factors and design features. The detailed, careful analysis of case studies and exposition associated UX factors and design features will prove useful to design students and practitioners. If you haven’t thought what vividness or presence or autonomy and automation might mean in relation to an experience or if you having considered which type of information architecture is best suited to the product or service experience you hope to offer, this text explicates these ideas in detail and offers concrete useful examples from both products and services.
What I found most challenging about the book was its focus only on designing corporate or commercial products and services although the principles and concepts will be equally useful for those designing for social innovations or community experiences. I was hoping that Kim might address to the scope of design challenges that Kees Dorst addresses in Frame Innovation (e.g. the experience in a Sydney entertainment district) or the contributors to Benz’s collection do (festivals, public spaces), but Kim situates his framework squarely in traditional commercial product and service design. Nor does Kim address aspects of power, social justice, or sustainability..
Kim ends Design for Experience with a process description to apply the three dimension framework to the example of designing a companion product or service. What surprised me most about this section of the book was that Kim also emphasizes the organizational requirements needed to offer a harmonious, successful project. What I most appreciated about Kim’s text was his case in favour of interdisciplinary design practices informed by research and theory from the humanities and social sciences. Kim advocates for partnership between industry and academia. He calls for not only social science informed design research but also careful analysis of humanities research on relevant concepts like play or companionship depending on the particular design challenge.
Design for Experience makes a valuable contribution to the experience design literature. It offers a solid conceptual framework for user experience designers, information architects, and practitioners to work with as they collaborate.
The protagonists of Tsing’s study are matsutake mushrooms and the human and non-human assemblages that arise with them in forests and rural hinterlands across the Northern hemisphere.
“The thrill of private ownership is the fruit of an underground common.” (p.274)
What I appreciated most about Tsing’s book was its exploration of the cultural practices that arise with matsutake. These communities include the complex camps of pickers who descend upon the Eastern Cascades in Oregon each fall, Satoyama restoration groups in Japan, and emerging Matsutake entrepreneurs in Yunnan, China.
The thread of the book I found most challenging was Tsing’s tracing of matsutake from relational, biological object, to representation of individual freedom, to object of economic exchange, to alienated commodity, to highly-valued gift. Much of story Tsing tells explores how humans, fungi, pine trees thrive and live in times of ruin or precarity. But her narrative about supply chains, salvage accumulation and economic livelihoods — without resorting to stories of progress or development — offers an interesting perspective on capitalism. It helped me to appreciate why the Academy of Management and scholars I know are interested in management “after capitalism”, the circle economy, and systemic approaches to corporate social responsibility.
Transition and service design scholars, particularly those interested in participatory design and design for social innovation can seek inspiration in Tsing’s examples of assemblages of scientists, communities, and scholars working together to learn and relearn ways of intervening and tending forests for the benefit on human and non-human inhabitants. Tsing’s vocabulary of “patches”, spores might offer those interested in the challenges of scalability and diffusion new analogies and tools for thinking through next steps.
“Precarity means not being able to plan. But it also stimulates noticing as one works with what is available. To live well with others, we need to use all our senses, even if it means feeling around in the duff.” (p.278)
This book will appeal to adult educators and social innovation change agents because it offers many examples of coalitions of workers, retirees, scientists and students working together to relearn how to tend to forests and unlearn the alienated anomie of urbanized life.
“Rather than redemption matsutake-forest revitalization picks through the heap of alienation. In the process, volunteers acquire the patience to mix with multi species others without knowing where the world-in-process is going. (p.264)
Speaking of transition design, Cameron Tonkinwise’s tweet and link to a New York Times article on a new segment of organizations that redirect returned gifts from landfills strikes me as a retail sector example of salvage capitalism that profits from the byproducts of consumerism.
Tsing challenges readers to question taken for granted concepts like species, immigrant, and forest. She demonstrates the heterogeneity of scientific communities and the patchy sometime incommensurable nature of the knowledge they create. Her focus is on the variation in forest science and the question of whether human intervention adds or diminishes the forest. The answer it seems depends on the pine.
The text is interdisciplinary and multimedia in the best sense. Each chapter begins with an evocative photograph, and I was delighted by the traditional Japanese poems about Matsutake. Tsing blended ethnographic accounts, first person narratives, academic analyses and Michael Pollan-style histories of forests told from the perspective of the forests themselves. She even gives science fiction writer Ursula Leguin the last word.
All in all, The Mushroom at the End of the World was a great book to follow reading Bruno Latour and it reminded me of the value of scavaging for ideas outside of the fields of design, learning and service.
What have you been reading over the holidays that has you inspired?
When I was floundering about in graduate school, I read “Aramis or the love of technology” cover to cover. At the time, I was obsessed by the then state-of-the-art ASRS automated materials storage system that had just been installed at the heart of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre at UBC. Now, of course you can find automated, miniature sorting and retrieval systems at public libraries, and Amazon’s warehousing and delivery systems are Things of public legend:
My first steps into ANT were to ponder mediation, affordances, and the classic Engstrom activity theory model with Mary Bryson.
That led me to think about the assemblage of scholars, librarians, research knowledge artefacts, research libraries, giant climate-controlled storage environments, retrieval robots, computer networks, and the software that connects them. I even delved into the military-industrial history of the development of automated storage by the RAND corporation in the glorious, Modern 50s.
Which brings me to “Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory“. The book presents Latour’s explanation of the basic premises and implications of Actor-Network Theory. Its object is social science in general, and sociology in particular. Latour presents a methodology of activity-network theory. It is a history of ANT and a history of the Science Wars from the 1990s. Strangely, reading Latour brought be back to sitting at my parents’ kitchen table in 1996 as an English undergraduate, listening to an “As it Happens” interview about the Sokal Affair and those long-ago attacks on postmodernism.
I am struck by the sorts questions that Latour offers as a heuristic for courageous analysts to follow:
What controversies? What actants? Where do they lead?
“Where are the structural effects actually being produced” (p.174)
“in which movie theatre, in which exhibit gallery is […The Big Picture…] shown? Through which optics is it projected? To which audience is it addressed? (p.187)
“In which room? In which panorama? Through which medium? With which stage manager? How much?” (p.189)
“How is the local itself being generated?” (p.192)
“Where are the other vehicles that transport individuality, subjectivity, personhood, and interiority?” (p.206)
What form “allows something else to be transported from on site to another?” (p.222)
What happens upstream and downstream of the situation where subject and object arise? (p.237)
I doubt many people outside of academia will want to read this book but it offers a masterclass in how to question the most basic assumptions that most people take for granted, particularly society, culture, nature, science and politics.
Students of higher education will enjoy how Latour uses the example of a university professor lecturing in a lecture hall to explore how cognitive abilities assemble and are shaped by the scripts, forms, capabilities, and materials.
Despondent graduate students wrestling with theses can take solace from Latour’s perspective on academic writing. In a nutshell, write the 40,000 words and move on to the next challenge. One text does not a career make. Academics can also learn a lot from Latour about writing. Even though his text is complex, Latour is also entertaining, self-aware and humorous.
Thoughtful designers may want to consider Latour’s analysis of the relation between local, global and context in connection with the recent practical scholarship on context for post-thing design. For example, part of me wants to reconsider Andrew Hinton’s “Understanding Context“, Resmini and Rosati’s “Pervasive Information Architecture” and Thomas Wendt’s “Design for Dasein” with Latour in mind. If the aim of service and strategic design is to co-create pervasive information architectures and meaningful assemblages of digital and embodied experiences, then should one deploy, stabilize, and compose the social in the context of design before designing solutions or platforms. Furthermore, reading Latour made me wonder what ANT might offer design for social innovation. social innovation should embrace concepts like cosmopolitan-localism and rely on “sociologists of the social”, as Ezio Manzini suggests.
If the aim of service and strategic design is to co-create pervasive information architectures and meaningful assemblages of digital and embodied experiences, then should one deploy, stabilize, and compose the social present the context of design before designing solutions or platforms?
Manzini is a leading design researcher and theorist, particularly in the field of design for social innovation. Manzini applies many of the sociological theories about risk and the life course that I had read with Lesley Andres at UBC in 2003. Manzini’s answer to the risk, uncertainty individuals and communities face is designed collaborative organizations and encounters.
This most useful section of the book, I think is the chapter dedicated to “Collaborative Encounters”, which draws on Martin Buber and theories of participation and social ties to demonstrate how to map services. The last section of this book work through the practical steps of representing collaborative designs and creating the conditions for social innovations to flourish.
Another theme of the book is the relationship between professional design and co-design with publics. Unlike Dan Hill and Thomas Wendt and other design theorists, Manzini seems less critical of design thinking and more conciliatory in his view on the relationship between expert design and diffuse design.
My favourite concept in Mazini’s book is “cosmopolitan localism“, which he borrows sustainable development. Since I read “Design, When Everybody Designs”, I’ve been working through Bruno Latour’s “Introduction to Actor-Network Theory”, which will merit a future post of its own. But for now I note that Mazini is relying on many studies that would fall into the category of “the sociology of the social”, and I wonder what the notion of design for social innovation might look like through the lens of Actor-Network Theory, which resists the global-local binary and questions the existence of macro social theories and models.
Watch Manzini introduce “Design, When Everybody Designs earlier this year at the University of Malmo:
Read Cameron Tonkinwise’s review of “Design, When Everybody Designs”
“Making Futures” is a wide-ranging poly vocal collection of case studies of participatory design work undertaken by design researchers and a multiplicity of partner community groups, governments, and private sector players in Malmö, Sweden.
Two concepts that sticks with me from “Making Futures”. infrastructuring suggests designers (or other change agents) need to foster long-term working relationships with partner community organizations rather than adopting a project orientation. The other concept is friendly hacking, which seems to also be circulating in the design for policy literature.
A key consideration in both books is the issue of scale and the question of how to create the conditions for collaborative innovations to flourish in neighbourhoods, cities, regions and across countries.. “Making Futures” tackles the political and power dimensions of collaboration between academics, government, community organizations and private sector organizations head on. Both books also consider how assemblages of people working together can collaborate to design and create scapes, places and interventions in the places which people inhabit.
Both books offer designers interested in collaborating with clients,and partners to bring social and community-based social innovations to life plenty of ideas for addressing complex challenges and enabling communities to flourish. For those who are tired of reading service design method cookbooks, either book will infuse your practice with a hearty dose of theory and critical perspective.
If you have been reading either book, let me know what you find most useful or interesting in them.