Let’s start with a retrospective. While studying industrial design in Barcelona, all the way back in the late 80s, some of our class’ courses followed Bruno Munari‘s teachings, whose methodology was captured in “How Are Objects Born?”
A PROJECTIZED DESIGN MEDTHODOLOGY
Munari’s world was introduced to our class as a multifaceted down-to-earth creative. He positioned a so-called “projectized methodology” as a logical sequence of desing operations aimed to maximize outcomes by applying the minimum required effort.
Munari emphasized the merits of painstaking work addressing “objective values” to generate creative outcomes… and strongly dismissed any whimsical and fanciful approach that would shortchange thoughtful due diligence and, therefore, proper design.
In that context, no disciplined practitioner should ignore the fact that discovery and iterative workstyles can lead to modifying and improving any method, as design tools and process also become a subject of design. Why? The set of assumptions, principles and rules deployed a project’s front-end… might not necessarily be the ones delivering successful outcomes at the project’s backend.
THE UNDERLYING THINKING
Munari’s referred to Rene Descartes’ “Discourse on the Method,” which was published 344 years before “How are Objects Born” was released. Most people relate Descartes’ better known “I think, therefore I am,’ statement. At the expense of possibly sounding corny, let’s translate that into “I Design Think, therefore…” for the purpose of this discussion.
In the 17th century, Descartes positioned a proven-fact based approach to problem solving: “true and sound judgements” that we can “intuit or deduce with certainty.” The so-called cartesian doubt involves methodological skepticism: nothing is taken for granted. The Scientific Revolution was taking hold. Earlier momentum generated the Renaissance was taken to new levels of enlightenment.
Descartes taskflow entailed decomposing complex matters down to what become atomic level ones: those are still coherent and manageable enough (cognitively speaking) for us to effectively address. His method calls for solving for the ones that can be successfully tackled first.
GETTING THE DESIGN JOB DONE
Munari’s mind-mapping illustrated a taxonomy of primary, secondary and more granular lower level problem statements as needed, followed by data gathering and analysis. Experimentation ran options assessment.
New discovery was encouraged. Technical and production feasibility considerations being instrumental early in the process so that constrains and implementation choices were well understood. Once testable prototypes become available, iterative user involvement and validation drove improvement and optimization A design prospectus and project file would feature:
- Final design proposal and prototypes.
- Problem mindmap.
- Design specifications sheet.
- Notes on streamlined design considerations optimizing for simplicity.
- Production cost and comparison analysis.
- Use cases, expected functionality and performance.
- Sensory and experiential assessment, accounting for all senses.
- Ergonomics, usability, maneuverability, including health hazards.
- Journey touch points and wear & tear: upkeep, maintenance, serviceability.
- Impact of ad-ons, packaging, and any other attached and surrounding items.
- Aesthetic coherence and modular design components.
- Social value and cultural contribution.
THE GREATER VALUE OF DESIGN’s WHOLE
Back to Descartes, he would point to the need for addressing the integrity of the overall system and, therefore, the higher value of the composite view. This also is about ensuring that no gaps, breaking points, ruptures, weak-links, leaks, and loopholes remain. Basically, stress testing our solution with a “continuous and wholly uninterrupted sweep of thought” as he would put it.
Just a couple of more things about Descartes… in his “Rules for the Direction of the Mind” explicitly he stated that “we need a method if we are to investigate the truth of things” and should investigate “what others have already discovered.”
And in the “Discourse on the Method” he introduced data visualization by means of correlating values with the cartesian coordinate system, which intersected geometry and algebra to become the foundation of analytics geometry.
The Bauhaus’s centenial anniversary, 1919-2019, is worth highlighting. During my industrial design studies, the German Bauhaus‘ lasting influence was quite significant and largely conveyed by professors and program directors with a professional background in architecture. Here is a summary of what that meant:
- Form follows function.
- Less is more: straighforwarness, abstract simplicity, and great refinement.
- Clean design and aestic finesse, all production friendly and scalable.
- Adopting and pushing the boundaries of emerging technologies.
- Designing is not a profession, but an attitude.
- Indivisible unity of formerly separated and indenpendent fields and silos.
- Craftmanship pride and signature designs that make a difference.
The American New Bauhaus influenced the post-World War II culture and settled in Chicago at the Institute of Design, part of th IIT, Illinois Institute of Technology.
Our class was confronted with a compeling Bahuasian approach that could result in highly formal, rigid and austere geometrical configurations while Barcelona’s environment was (and continues to be) a reminder of the contrasting Catalan Modernism of the early 20th century, unapologetically being:
- Abstracted organic shapes, shapes and structures that are nature inspired.
- Carefully crafted eclectic sophistication and visually arresting outcomes.
- Celebratory by mashing up historical elements under a new light.
- Theatrical experiences as people become design’s live audiences.
- Strong sense of cultural change agency.
Also worth recalling that the late 80s intersected Post-Modernism, a movement that featured a wide variety of optics and was a departure from rationalism and, therefore, purposevely confrontational. Subjectivity and and criticism abounded.
DESIGN FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Munari’s “projectized methodology” helped dissect problems and got the design job done while keeping any rushed and whimsical design at bay: no need for the overly and out-of-touch “romantic” stuff as he saw it. Munari also confronted any “luxurious” and “fashionable” design statements, which he qualified as superfluous and frivolous, and the antitesis of design.
But, it did present the sort of shortcomings that can come from applying constrains from the get go. The fact is that freethinking can make a difference at the project’s onset. Applying Descartes’ methodological skepticism would neutralize that. However, relying on Descartes’ rational wisdom alone does not suffice. Damasio’s “Descartes Error” exposes the following:
“Reason may not be as pure as most of us think it is or wish it were […] emotion assists with the process of holding in mind the multiple facts that must be considered in order to reach a decision. The obligate participation of emotion in the reasoning process can be advantageous or nefarious […] when emotion is entirely left out of the reasoning picture, as happens in certain neurological conditions, reason turns out to be even more flawed than when emotion plays bad tricks on our decisions”.
My next article will continue this late 80s and early 90s restropective, which takes me back to my college years. I will switch to my experience in engineering school for the purpose of deliverating about what QUALITY really is about. As an example, I will exchange views on TQM, Total Quality Management, and Operational Excellence… and will circle back to this post to connect the dots to clearly define QXbD, Quality Experiences by Design.
- Damasio, Antonio R.. Descartes’ Error. Penguin Publishing Group, 1994.
- Munari, Bruno. Como Nacen los Objectos. GG, 1981
- Descartes, Rene. Discourse on the Method. 1637
- The New Bauhaus. Opendox, 2019. Accessed on May 12, 2019 https://www.thenewbauhaus.com