Future of Design #futrchat follow up

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Last Thursday, I co-hosted the tenth Association of Professional Futurists (APF) futrchat on twitter. Since we set up the Profuturists posterous blog, I haven’t been cross posting those chat blogs here. I should have, especially given this month’s topic, the Future of Design. Maree Conway was my co-host and Design Intelligenceserved as the first geo-host. They were simply fantastic, thank you both!

futrchat experience
In one hour, ninety people from eleven countries posted over 800 comments. Participants came from many backgrounds, futurists, foresight professionals, architects, designers, planners and emergent thinkers of all types. Big business like IBM and Cisco, media like Architecture Record and Reed Construction Data, and institutions like American Architecture Foundation, American Institute of Architects, and International Interior Designers Association came. Plus a slew of brilliant individuals.

And we had a blast. It’s hard for me to describe the onslaught of asynchronistic, collective intelligence experienced at this firehose wide-open pace. You simply cannot digest it all during the chat. Now the ebook seems very calm, orderly. and takes only a bit of time to skim. In contrast, the futrchat experience is not orderly; it’s flat-out chaotic. Yet relevant, useful ideas emerge. You can find patterns and threads. It’s a window into many other worlds through links and exchanges. And ultimately, it simply gives you insights and perspectives from so many people that would be otherwise impossible to access without extreme effort.

We covered design in the broad sense of design and design thinking that applies to objects as well as organizations and issues. One of the questions even dealt with economics – Can design shape future economics? 

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Future of Design ebook

Here’s the ebook of the conversation. I generated a table of contents and list of links that were mentioned, indexed participants names/twitter accounts at the back and highlighted some of the best comments, although not all, there’s many others that are equally valuable.

You can read the Future of Design futrchat in the cool ebook format (which I recommend as a higher quality reading experience, and regrettably cannot be embedded here) or by pdf below.

Thanks to all that came to the Association of Professional Futurists futrchat. Next month’s futrchat will be Thursday 18 August 4:00-5:00pm ET/NYC; 9:00pm BST/London; Friday 6:00am Sydney. It’s open to all.

More resources
Before the event, I posted a blog about the future of design on the Profuturists posterous.
After the event, I posted a follow-up blog on the Profuturists posterous.
Previously on this blog, I’ve covered design futures.
And I have a number of links about design on delicious that are worth seeing.

Your ideas — 
If you had been there, or if you were there, what would you say about the future of design? Do designers need to be futurists, or do we even have a claim in that space? Are futurists necessarily designing? Is design innovation essential for us to survive on this planet? What do you think?

image: Seed Cathedral  detail, UK Pavilion Shanghai Expo 2010 by Thomas Heatherwick architect
Bourdeaux Water Gardens by Catherine Mosbach 

1107_futrchat_design_pdf.pdf
Download this file

 

Design Thinking: What If We Built Cities As Prototypes?

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A lot of talk about design thinking is circulating, particularly on broader uses in organizational and social change.

I got to thinking about how design thinking is used by architects compared with other types of designers. Last year I participated in a panel hosted by the Association of Professional Futurists at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena that included people from industrial and gaming design, plus architect Neil Denari and me. Yet only now am I deconstructing how what we design affects our thinking.

Industrial designers learn from prototypes and mass produce success. In contrast, architects create each building brand new, unique to its situation.

Industrial designers* usually make products for mass production. Experimental by nature, prototypes are expected to fail initially and push boundaries in order to improve the ideas in the long run. Products are far more carefully designed and detailed because of this process. To mass produce, they have to be as finely tuned as possible so pushing hard and finding limits are critical.

The rule of prototype design is: fail fast and often.

Doing it wrong once is ok and frankly, there’s a positive kicker – you’ve found a flaw. Doing it wrong a thousand or a million times is a product recall and wildly expensive. Bad products can hurt people. Through improvements, surprises are essentially designed out, re-tested and fixed. Even final products are considered temporary. That is, eventually they will be replaced by the newer model or used as a vintage edition.

On the other hand, architects typically create one-of-a-kind solutions. The only full scale prototype is the final building; we see it for the first time when it’s built. Consequently, I have always been surprised by something during construction and I bet other architects would say the same thing. Some are incredibly exciting; others are a headache or a missed opportunity. Once people move in, they come up with even more lessons.

Failing is penalized with the fear of enormous penalties.

There’s professional, legal, financial liabilities. People can die or get sick. Cities are diminished. Clients can sue. The entire planet gets damaged.

Instead we try to learn from drawings and models. But representations lack in reality, the experience of material space. It’s a system fraught with danger that ultimately does not allow us to test and improve through fast and frequent failures. We move onto the next project, wiser from that experience but not necessarily sharing our newfound knowledge in any systematic way.

What Can Architects Learn from Industrial Design Prototyping?

Why can’t we build buildings, neighborhoods, and even entire cities with more finesse and refinement? If you look at a car or a computer, the attention to detail is astonishing (although not always in a good way, but that’s not my point.)

We are approaching a time when prefabricated and preengineered buildings will likely become a greater part of the urban fabric. Are we prepared to learn from industrial designers about how to use prototypes to improve our work?

If we can’t always build prototypes – many projects will remain uniquely constructed – then maybe we can learn from each other?

Think of each building as a prototype for others. A supply chain of building knowledge that creates each project as a prototype for others. Call it a learning chain that makes an entire network of lessons learned.

While we haven’t had the tools and metrics in the past, BIM and social media are changing that.

Rather than building a project and moving on, we can readily share data on building systems, costs, and lessons learned. Each building, street, or district become prototype designs with clearly measured efficiencies, narratives of experiences, and definite contributions to the city. Every project builds on the rest.

1) To create more regionally distinct, sustainable cities, track the architectural characteristics, environmental qualities, local materials, and building technologies into a design database.
2) Develop metrics to demonstrate how efficiencies and environmental qualities improve the bottom line for businesses in terms of productivity.
3) Over time, we will develop greater knowledge, using one completed house or building or detail to create a more refined version next time. The database and our collective intelligence will grow.

Eventually, if we interconnect our ideas, knowledge, case studies, lessons learned – our individual experiences – we could have a connected brain of information that would improve our work, our buildings, and our cities in a continuously interactive process. Building users, owners, contractors, and designers can contribute to the virtual database. Over time, a virtual twin will emerge where we can experiment, fail, and try again.

Rather than a rigid, dead city, we make one very large, continually tweaked prototype – granted, a city makes a truly gigantic model.

Resources:
Excellent references on design thinking: The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley; Change By Design by Tim Brown (both of IDEO).
Architizer is essentially creating a design database that is completely open source; a BIM database would tie together all planning, building design, and construction fields.

*Designers specialize in all types of objects from architecture to products, games, vehicles, clothing, furniture, graphics, web sites, and so on. I use industrial designers as a general type and the one most closely related to architecture.