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Sometimes I Wish That It Would Rain Here

Thursday, March 16, 2006

theory objects of design

back in January, Julian Bleecker gave a talk here at UCI on designing mobile social software in which he used the term "theory object." this made me go check out his blog, on which I found an interesting post about why he blogs. basically, my distillation of it is that the intent is to make explicit all the brainstorming that goes into creating a final design, because this process of creation is just as important as the final product. in fact, in order to make better designs, it behooves designers to understand not just the final product but also this evolutionary process, all the intermediate artifacts it creates, and the transitions between.

I think I'll buy that, at least, for the most part. I like it, particularly his idea about writing it up as the introductory chapter(s) to a thesis or dissertation, because it makes explicit some of the personal and historical stuff that is usually laid bare in humanities type work, like anthropology, but not so much in the sciences (be they social, physical, computer, or whatever). all that personal and historical stuff has an impact on the sciences, but we don't really make it explicit, because, I suspect, society at large doesn't view science as a social process. so, there's an important take away point there.

however, there's also this interesting idea that making the process explicitly available to others will aid everyone in the design task. this is potentially true in the example Julian gives, a guy who knows a lot about airplane body design but needs to know about wing design. however, I think there's more necessary than just making open the design process. if I'm fuselage engineer, I might not understand the wing design process; I'll need someone to explain the various stages, decisions that were made, and why. maybe I've missed understood, and that's part of what he's calling for, in which case I'll definitely concur.

however, everything that one would expose in such a manner seems like it would be applied design - the process of going from idea to thing in one specific domain (airplane wings, mobile social software, etc.). however, I'm not really sure it tells us anything about the science (and/or art) of design. for that, you might have to abstract from design enacted across many domains. but this approach sort of assumes that there is an overarching process to be found. and maybe there's not one, thinking about design as if there were one would help us design better. not really sure. it feels like this opening up of the design process is a step in the right direction, but that something's missing, some other explication needs to occur, not just exposition.

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