Designing Problems are for the Lazy

January 2, 2008

Art is code. So when Nick compiled a list of his top 10 programmers, mainly based around game deveopment, he raised the issue about why great coders are aspiring.

For me, a good coder is like an artists who aspires towards a career in art. The paycheck for ‘production’ becomes their foundation. They shift cliched objects around a virtual space, solving problems based on to them – may they be client change requests, a project managers fuckwit shortcut to deliver or another lazy attempt to entertain the user.

For me, Ward Cunningham, is possible one of the most valuable coding minds we have seen. Ward infamously invented the Wiki model back in 1995 through a need to be self organised but (being lazy) without wishing to do the heavy lifting himself – instead he ‘saw’ the ability of a community to do they organising – aka Crowdsourcing.

This pulls him in-line with Paul Graham, author of Hackers and Painters.

Ward, like Paul, are artists who play with Language. Like, my hero, Lawrence Weiner. Here we are at the opening of his first Retrospective: As Far as the Eye Can See at the Whitney in November this year.

Lawrence’s ‘art’ defined the opening of conceptual art. Alongside Daniel Buren, they helped creativity manifest itself as the play within language; a play that sought to overcome the burden of meaning – eroding time into an object, usable to dissolve language’s grasp of context.

Here’s a nice statement from Lawrence, that I swiped from http://www.personalstructures.org, here.

When we speak of time, especially since so much art since, I can almost say, since Mondrian, is involved with the passage of time – not the reflection of time, but the passage of time, reflections of times or nostalgia at present. And that’s all we have in our lives. Time is relative to expectations, and it’s based upon the real-time needs to fulfill those expectations. We have no other means of judging the value of time. Essentially, to be really vulgar, it can’t be about lifetime, it can’t be about lifespan. It’s the same problem that all artists have. We all make movies, and yet, a movie is the great imposition on another human being, because it asks them to give up their real time. Your real time is making a movie. I don’t know if their real time is watching a movie, because it’s an imposition of time.

Necessity may have been the mother of invention for many, but the harsh reality is that it is idle meddling that attempts to make a problem out of nothing which leads to invention, understanding and ultimately language regression.

This meddling leaves seeds of curiosity for us all to pick over, accidental hybrid, trade and profit from. Stuff is built not by design, but by constructing problems that arrest us.

Haacke is for me, is the artist that has taken the operations of ‘conceptual art’ and successfully hacked the MarComms businesses, politically and aesthetically. His installation at Der Bevoelkerung stands testament to this. (If someone knows an English transaltion to this project online – please let me know.)

This is why I think the consensus of architecture is flawed. Design-to-build removes the participation of creation that is essential to the constructs future affordances. Imperial casts of iconic skyline buildings shadow the genius of ‘squatting‘.

The best programmers, like artists, seek to unlearn. That’s how they build inventions. Innovation is something we can live without, it has no use value. Only the doing of thinking constructs. The Thinking of Doing collapses the use value.

Why I’m still in awe of Ward Cunningham, well, he’s still playing. Last year, the Graffiti Research Lab drop kicked in the LED Throwie. Ward has hacked this concept with the Talkie Throwie. By programming the LED with Morse Messages, the Throwies now talk. In turn, the race is on to build video recognition applications that LISTEN to the messages.

Forget HD TV, forget AI, forget meaning. Let objects ‘talk, listen and build.’ They ‘mean’ nothing to each other, yet inspire us to react, redo and rediscover. Language is a stepping stone, not a destination. Have a look at “Les Deux Plateaux” by Buren, for example.

Working for a design company, my comments about using design to find the problem are usually met with a sharp in take of breath, at best. Designers, on the whole, have a fixation with makig stuff look and act great, nah, brilliant-fantastic-charming-clear.

BUT, we live in a world where design has to be used to enclose the audience, to help them find a space to occupy, NOT try to satisfy them with aesthetics du jour.

Apple, a design company that uses technology well, is possibly the biggest culprit in closing down progression in the use of aesthetics. Sure the products have charm, I picked up an iTouch recently – it’s a genius product, but it doesn’t need the Appleness for it do it’s job. If anything Aqua and Web2.0 screen furniture are failed languages, they’ve prevented a evolution where Useful (User) Experiences should have diversified and spawned languages; instead we are left with cliches. Interface design should not suffer the same inadequacies of architecture that induce the Stenna chairlift need.

Ben and Karsten are the smart practioners of design. Ben’s Hackable Aesthetics for Interesting2007 are about reuse values within existing cultures as a platform for innovation.

Whilst Karsten is playing between software (Processing) and hardware (Arduino). As a designer, the tool set is never essential, it’s the consideration is expanded when your tools have a broad affordance.

But for both to operate like this, the Ingredients of Data, have to be understood. Artists have always understood their material, from marble (Michangelo) to language (Weiner); today, in the realm of Being Digital, understanding how data is constructed has to be the basis to any designer/artist/creative.

It may seem dull, but understanding how a carrot grows is essential to a farmer. Understanding how Photoshop works is not necessary to use it, but to get the best from the system-as-application, knowing more about the under lying code is more important than understanding complementary colours. That’s why Rob’s Minara is such a smart way to think about the relationship between design and software.

But non of this is of any value unless you wrap in the role of the user/audience/participator. The viewer has a role in a designers work – they are the interpreter – regardless of what ‘message’ you are trying to send. The User centricity of User Experience, covered in length by Armano, has resulted in some pretty lame executions – any web2.0 application that claims to do one thing well, has sucked in 37signals ‘Getting Real’ manifesto. The reality is that no one wants a singular experience, like Photoshop or Illustrator. The ‘I Want to Be Alone’ singualrity of the creative is way past being useful – like Twitter, designers must have Peer Appreciation. By this I mean that conversation between likeminded, non-likeminded and the resulting audience must be in the pre-production, production and the execution.

As soon as designers can get out of the Ivory Tower and get with the participation that has made their technology based tools possible, then we might just get an industry that is more interested in find the real problems for creativity- and I think it’s based in Error Handling.

Ward Cunningham’s thinking evolved Pattern Language.

A pattern language is a structured method of describing good design practices within a field of expertise. It is characterized by

  1. Noticing and naming the common problems in a field of interest,
  2. Describing the key characteristics of effective solutions for meeting some stated goal,
  3. Helping the designer move from problem to problem in a logical way, and
  4. Allowing for many different paths through the design process.

Think about his Throwie Talkies, think about the mentality of design that encourages Stateless Communications, and then remember the Gorilla Advert. Think how utility can become fun – fun as in learning – education through creation.

None of these modal approaches to design were borne out of necessity – they were evolutions from seeds of boredom. Programmers, like artists, like some designers, hate the thought and practice of spending their time producing the mundane. If they don’t mind – you should question the people on your team – and juniors who do the ‘grunt’ work should consider getting the hell out of there.

Laziness is the vision of the apathetic creative upon the inventions that are being played out by the beleaguered designer.

Architecting, designing, creating, erm, even planning, needs to be used to find problems, not solve them. In return the final product will be as interesting to the audience as it was to you.

I think I’m trying to nudge over Johnny’s Branded Utility concept, as Russell notes, It’s just Utility, and that’s agreeable a bit dull. Schutz and Webb are having a good play around with this too. But for me, as soon as the object-as-utility is defined by it’s use, it’s polydimensionality collapses and so does it’s longevity. Equally, the age old question ofwhat is ‘Brand Experience’, which for me is a simulation of a Brand, and really needs to step up to accountable transactions to be allowed to have the word Brand anywhere near any notion of Experience.

And it’s a bit too easy to point at Twitter and state it’s the way forward. It does have a superb mentality towards poly-dimensionality, but what makes it so? Evan and Biz knew, after Blogger, that the audiences interests were the operating system, and the technology just has to do the heavy lifting between them. It’s the Solow rule of ecconomics. What needs to be examined is the process of design for problem excalvation that’s benificial to the participants.

So, I want to recap on what I think the ‘user pathway’ translates to as a design, production and delivery process.

Previously, I explained that I see a user experience in 4 stages:-

1. Inspiration: Attract the User
2. Aspiration: Get the user to ask what they want
3. Insight: Deliever the request
4. Acquisition: Participate in a trade for the request

Mapping on some of the ideas above, I think the process for the ‘producers’ looks like this:-

1. Inspiration : Peer Appreciation
2. Aspiration: Hackable Aesthetics
3. Insight: Ingredients of Data
4. Acquistion: Useful Experiences

I’m still thinking this through; it’s being written on the wiki, so when I have a better idea about all this, I’ll update in another post.

If I can get this right, I think it’s the key to defining a model for Accountable Transactions for Engagement.

9 Responses to “Designing Problems are for the Lazy”


  1. You’re welcome Ben.


  2. [...] Designing Problems are for the Lazy « Zero influence It may seem dull, but understanding how a carrot grows is essential to a farmer. Understanding how Photoshop works is not necessary to use it, but to get the best from the system-as-application, knowing more about the under lying code is more important than understanding complementary colours. That’s why Rob’s Minara is such a smart way to think about the relationship between design and software. – Designing Problems are for the Lazy « Zero influence [...]


  3. [...] Zero influence – Designing Problems are for the Lazy “Architecting, designing, creating, erm, even planning, needs to be used to find problems, not solve them. In return the final product will be as interesting to the audience as it was to you.” (”What’s wrong?”) ;^) (tags: ***** design designthinking totaldesign criticaldesign wrong) [...]


  4. [...] Designing problems are for the lazy [...]


  5. [...] are just convenient descriptions of the current states of that data having anticipated the ingredients of that [...]

  6. RK Says:

    FYI “Der Bevoelkerung” is a take on the inscription on the German Bundestag “Dem Deutschen Volke” – more info here: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Der_Bev%C3%B6lkerung


  7. Somebody necessarily help to make severely articles I would state. That is the very first time I frequented your website page and up to now? I surprised with the research you made to make this particular put up extraordinary. Great task!


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