Monogamous Book Club – Forward

book on table with tea cup and fireplace in background

Pavan Trikutam

About a month ago Jim Groom posted an invite on his blog, Bavatuesdays, to join a monogamous book club. The underlying idea being that sometimes you need a little motivation or a reason to carve out specific time to get to your reading list. I know I need that anyway. The idea of this monogamous book club was to submit a book idea, we will each read the book, and then we will have an hour or so webcall to discuss.

I had participated in an online book club while I was in grad school as something I stumbled upon on Twitter. It was the Understanding Media Reading Group and it worked pretty well. I can guarantee that I would not have made it through Understanding Media without the members of the reading group, and we each had to blog a bit about assigned chapters. The format worked for me. So needless to say I was excited to see Jim’s invitation and jumped right in.

I proposed the book Adversarial Design by Carl Disalvo. This is a book that I brought with me to a major ed tech conference back in 2015 or so not knowing what I was about to get from the book, or the conference. As a young instructional designer at the time I don’t think I was quite ready yet for either event, which I’m hoping to point out throughout this series of blog posts. I chose this book again because I never actually finished it (shame), I think the cases are really interesting and I want to revisit it with new experiences, and knowing that Jim is also reading the book is motivating me to read it and blog! (two things I don’t do as often as I’d like).

Series Forward

A designer by any other name…

Ken Friedman and Erik Stolterman introduce the series and this specific book by highlighting (briefly) types of design, where design has come form, and where it might be going (along with challenges). There has certainly been a resurgence in the interest in design, and the term/label seems to be everywhere in popular discourse right now. I think this newly (re)established interest in design as a term was summed up in a recent 99% Invisible podcast where Roman Mars interviewed a graphic designer who designed graphics for use in film. She was describing her process making old written documents (very old documents) and bumping into the issue that there were no “designers” in say the 11th century. So in order to complete her research she had to delve into a number of other terms for the workers that created the works she wished to reproduce. One that came up in the interview was “scribes” for example.

Compare that idea to the list of design disciplines/labels that the editors put forth on page x:

  • industrial design
  • graphic design
  • textile design
  • furniture design
  • information design
  • process design
  • product design
  • interaction design
  • design leadership
  • design management

They also go a little beyond to list a few other types of design that aren’t necessarily what I might refer to as “modal design” (adj design): architecture, engineering, information technology, and computer science. It’s worth pointing out, for me at least, that learning and education have been left out of this list of mentions. This seems to be a pretty common omission when in more traditional design contexts. I can still remember, vividly, visiting with other attendees at a local design morning lecture series and being asked if I was a designer. Before I had a chance to reply a mutual friend of ours jumped in proclaiming, “oh JR? No, he’s in education”. It may not be considered a traditional design discipline, but for the purposes of this blogging series I will include instructional design and learning design in my examples and thought experiments. The editors draw on Herbert Simon’s definition of design as, “[devising] courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones” (p. x).

Ten current challenges uniting design professions

The other half of the forward that I think will be worth reflecting on as I read through the book are the 10 challenges the editors lay out that “[unite] the design professions” (p. x). They break them down into three catagories:

Performance Challenges (p. x-xi)

There arise when designers:

  1. act on the physical world; (I’m going to add the virtual world as well here)
  2. address human needs; (e.g. in instructional design there are several human groups for every project who we must consider, particularly the learner) and
  3. generate the built environment (again, I’ll specify physical and virtual here)

Substantive Challenges (p. xi)

This list articulates what I’ve noticed about ID work even in the last five years:

  1. increasingly ambiguous boundaries between artifacts, structure, and process; (off the top of my head an example of this might be “outcomes” versus learning as a process)
  2. increasingly large-scale social, economic, and industrial frames; (insert obligatory MOOC rhetoric here)
  3. an increasingly complex environment of needs, requirements, and constraints; and
  4. information content that often exceeds the value of physical substance

Contextual Challenges (p. xi)

Where complex problems, and simple ones, are thrown into a shoe box and shaken up:

  1. a complex environment in which many projects or products cross the boundaries of several organizations, stakeholder, producer, and user groups;
  2. projects of products that must meet the expectations of many organizations, stakeholders, producers, and users; and
  3. demands at every level of production, distribution, reception, and control.

With any luck I’ll be able to keep some of these in mind as we progress through the book.

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