Perspectives of Design

A series of blog posts created in the "design methodologies" module at ZHdK, teached by Dr. Joëlle Bitton.

The designer and the design problem

What really makes design interesting for me is the unique approach every designer has to his work. It’s like you could give the same task to a bunch of people and can be sure, that every one of them is going to frame it in their own kind of way, coming up with a very unique way of looking at a situation.
What Jon Kolko therefore concludes in “Exposing the Magic of Design” is, that you can never separate the design problem from the designer. And he states plenty of reasons supporting his statement;

Because designers are usually confronted with so called ill-structured problems (problems with incomplete information and unclear goals), we need to have some sort of guidance to orientate ourselves in the jungle of possibilities. What Jon Kolko then states is that it is extremely important for a designer to stick to ones emotions and experience, to be able to make sense of a complex problem.

That’s where the human intuition plays a big role as well. The reason why for now it is so hard for AI to handle ill-structured problems, is because the machine would need to process and receive an incredibly big amount of data and to be able to somehow classify the information based on given parameters.
Humans in contrary are best at this. Where as machines can spit out errors, there’s never a moment a human being isn’t able to take action. And for me this points out pretty well how humans work. We have the ability to translate those ill-structured situations in something much more simple - it’s emotions.
So for me no matter how rational a decision may seem, it is always based on a feeling and not on a thought. Our mind can abstract and reformulate our feelings, but it cannot act in isolation from them. It is possible to think without feelings, but not to act without feelings. You can check this, by asking yourself what reason drove your last decision making. At the core of it, there’ll always be a feeling.

So I completely agreed with Jon in those points and liked how he further developed his working method based on those findings. Here are some notes that I have taken according to the reading and want to leave uncommented:

  • “we learn, when we make meaning ourselves”
  • Make sense of complexity by doing things!
  • Build connections to understand
  • Emotions and experience are central to make sense of a complex problem
  • The subjective frame = point of view = mental model
  • There’s an ongoing cycle of finding and solving the problem. In between finding and solving, we are modelling. And by modelling we start to understand.

The designing

After we have taken a look at the connection between the designer and the design problem, I’d like to go on with how those findings influences our understanding of the design process.

John M. Caroll seems to agree with Jon Kolko in his book “Making Use” in terms of the connection between the designer and the design problem. He further states that the requirements defined, needed for a certain design system, are strongly influenced by the designers background and knowledge. So that it is common that a designer is looking for design problems matching his skillset.
I think it is really important as a designer to be aware of this, because it will definitely decrease the potential of innovation. That’s why I think it really makes sense to work on “problems” in teams.
For me this also underlines the importance of being curios and have great diversity in skills and knowledge as a designer. Not in prior to be able to handle everything by yourself, but to be able to point out problems of the design, which could affect other people. John Caroll even thought of the designer as a preliminary stage of an anthropologist / psychologist, as you always want to be able to “see” another ones reality. To be able to do your creative work adequately, you want to make sure you’re completely aware of the circumstances you are designing in.
Or to quote John: “by thinking of a design action as an isolated system, we won’t be able to address long term consequences.”

That’s where the term of scenario based design comes into play. As a designer you want to make sure that you’re designing for a specific scenario. So you need to be aware of the context you’re designing in and you should try to anticipate the impact of your moves. You want to keep the bigger picture in mind but also be able to focus on the specifications. You want to be aware of the negative effects of your design, as well as of the positive. You want to be passionately engaged in your designing process but not get yourself captured by it and getting swept into premature solutions. You want to recognise constraints and elegantly work around them. You also want to decompose the situation unselfconscious, which means that you’re trying to discover the interdependencies in the whole organisation of the design problem. But you also want to be self-aware and put your design on your experiences and emotions.

In conclusion I’d like to point out the complexity of designing again. There is no universal recipe to be applied on design problems, making it important to think of the design process as something to be thought of in every design process as well. But it still makes sense trying to find similar patterns in designing and to make use of them. What the main point to be considered really is, is that every design we make states what we stand for and how we position ourselves. Knowing our own values and what we want to stand for is therefore of fundamental importance.


Carroll, J. M. (2000). Making Use: Scenario-­Based Design of Human­Computer Interactions. The MIT Press. “the Process”

Dreyfuss, H. S. (1955). Designing for People. (26-­43).

Dubberly, H. ­(2004). How do you design? Dubberly Design Office.

Kolko, J. (2011). Exposing the Magic of Design: A Practitioner’s Guide to the Methods and Theory of Synthesis (Oxford Series in Human­Technology Interaction) (1 ed.). Oxford University Press, USA.

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