I’ve been thinking a lot about thinking and processes, obviously I have. But I am not sure why, or more specifically, if I am doing it in the correct way, making the correct connections. How does thinking connect to design…yeah, yeah, yeah, Ideo and design thinking, Harvard Business Review and MFAs are the new MBAs and suddenly business wants some design thinking workshops – I get that. But to paraphrase Ernest Rutherford, all design is thinking, everything else is stamp collecting – I think that not Rutherford, to be clear.
Science is always right until it is wrong, which is what makes it so great, but cognitive psychologists can’t seem to completely agree on everything, in fact, free will seems in question if I understand the Behaviourist B. F. Skinner correctly, Malcolm Gladwell believes we actually don’t need to think that long and hard, whereas Daniel Kahneman thinks we should do exactly that more often than we do – And I know Gladwell is a fluffy journalist with nothing to back it up – except, he kind of does, he doesn’t believe intuition is magic but that with experience comes a separate – maybe a System 3 – thinking that has more to do with recognition, but then again Nassim Taleb wants to warn us against that too or maybe Natalie Portman.
By the way, I am writing this a bit later than I usually do, luckily I found this, as seeing as how everyone went down the TED Talks rabbit hols, here is mine, so fingers-crossed it worked.
The Duble Diamond is a fine model, it’s great, and we all use something similar if not identical probably. Certainly, if this course uses it and we are to be successful within it, we will be using it. So if we use the same model, and we are given the same task, what changes the outcomes? Is it our background, our locations, our values, or is it the way we see and observe the world and the problems we face. Do all of the former, and no doubt many more impact the way we define a problem. And in the definition of a problem lies the secret to any solution.
Anyway, to the task, the line drawing of a thinker, I consider many of the classic choices, literally Plato and Aristotle, I thought about Alvar Aalto to tie it back to design, or D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson who believed that ‘the form of an object is a ‘diagram of forces,’ which sums up design perfectly even though he was speaking as a biologist – he wore many hats, mathematician, classics scholar – not sure which colours they were.
Some initial (bad) ideations
Ultimately, I decided on a fictional thinker, Sherlock Holmes, and his deductive reasoning. Except, I don’t think what he does is deductive reasoning, it is more inductive. He is hyper-observant and will remember arcane pieces of information that then handily (it is fiction after all) allow him to solve problems that no one else can. Alone these bits of information are worthless, a rare jellyfish, a type of Afghan tobacco but putting them together to form a new insight is what makes them valuable.
Therefore, I decided to represent tiny bits of information with tiny lines. This also might explain the scale I was working with. The bigger the canvas, the smaller the line appears. I initially wanted to just fill a large canvas with small lines and then have the viewer pick out any patterns, hopefully, based on their personal way of observing a quasi-Rorschach test, and I did do a few tests like that, but it seemed a bit bland. So when I started, I allowed the process to take over a bit and I did not fight the impulse to make them connect, which initially seem so obvious for a Sherlockian piece. I have also been thinking about the experiments of having individuals read the phone book for a certain amount of time and then giving them a creativity test. Could a mundane ‘thoughtless’ task such as making thousands of tiny marks, create some liminal space that would benefit my process – not that I needed it, I already had the aforementioned procrastination bonus.
Something else happened too. I made the first mark somewhat arbitrarily, but the second mark was a mark in relation to the first and the third influenced by the first and the second mark and so on. I tried to not think about what I was doing and that actually generated unwanted patterns and repetitions, and then when I focused on it, I was knowingly making random marks, which is of course oxymoronic. But it also made me think of implicit bias. I wasn’t prejudiced towards certain lines that I had drawn but was there an influence? This along with Daire’s comment and post about empathy made me consider empathy in general and the design process. I think empathy is a bit dangerous. The idea of it is, of course, beautiful, and I am not saying that we should not attempt it. But, it is hard work, and in general, with hard work, we need to rest after a while. In addition, empathy comes easier when it is with individuals that are more similar to me. So the first few male Europeans living in America complaining about a blister on their finger from all the line making, I empathise just fine, but it gets trickier when any of that changes. Not that we shouldn’t try. The danger, surely, is when we think we are trying to be empathetic, but can’t be, and then give up. I, therefore, suggest compassion. I don’t need to understand something fully to validate it and care about it. In many cases, it might also be insulting for me to say that I understand when I have no idea of the hardships or pain or struggles someone is facing. I was thinking about all of this while making these tiny marks about someone famously great at observing and terrible at empathy and compassion. So was I using System 1 at times, and System 2 at others? I am still in two hemispheres about it.
Other external forces played a role, the sharpness of the pencil, the surface of the floor, my position, my comfort level, and also my dog. I would like to think that my outcome this week is not necessarily the final piece – which is impossible to photograph well, but the process itself.
Finally at some point during the process, I was thinking that what makes Sherlock Holmes such a favourite is that his knowledge is Google-
Video of the final piece