Sunday, June 29, 2014

Jim Adams on Design Thinking

Back on July 27, 2011, Stanford Emeritus Professor Jim Adams gave a talk at TEDx Patagonia Education and Innovation entitled; The Effect of Design Thinking on Social Problems.

For those who haven't heard of him, Jim was an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford from 1966 to 1971, Professor of Mechanical Engineering from1966 to 1999, and Professor of Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management from 1975 to 1999.

His book; Conceptual Blockbusting was part of the core reading in the Product Design Program and is still one of the best collections of ideas on how to free up your creative process and overcome conceptual blocks that I've ever read and is still part of my library.

Aside from being older and shorter than when I knew him, Jim continues to be a bright and insightful mind who is a broad and deep thinker and unafraid to call it like he sees it.  His commentary on how Dave Kelley and the got started, is "warts and all", very insightful, and entertaining. 

What is even more interesting are his closing comments, where he admits that as a result of giving this talk, his mind was changed about whether Design Thinking can have a role in solving social problems. 
Along the way, he gives a summary of the DT process which is refreshingly direct, if somewhat anecdotal.

Spend 18 minutes with one of the bright minds who helped lay the foundations for the and shares some of the blame for hiring Dave Kelley as a professor at Stanford in the first place.  ;-)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Sun Tzu, STEM and DT

I recently came across an article that asked the (silly/troll) question of whether women were too emotional to be engineers. My initial response was that sort of feeling you get just before you spit out sour milk. Reflecting on this further, I realized that the national press furor over "gender equality" has risen to a fever pitch. As the court rulings continue to roll, the polarization continues to build. The answer won't come from legislation built on hyperbole and massaged statistics.

The answer will come from being truthful, honest and objective about the REAL differences between men and women, in and out of the workplace and home, and accommodating them.

One area that could benefit from this is the deliberate inclusion of Design Thinking methods in STEM education. We’ve done an excellent job of teaching and applying the deCartesian model of using reductive rational analysis and logic to solving problems and it has produced some truly amazing results. It has also produced some massive failures which were the result of overlooking the impact of human feelings and emotion in the design of systems and products.

True creativity and innovation springs from discovering and exploring the unknown and hidden connections between things and people - which includes both their thoughts and feelings - as well as a firm grasp of the laws and principles that govern the physical world studied by engineers, male or female.

Terri (my wife) developed and uses the STEM framework, teaching at a local elementary school.  As a result, I’ve had the opportunity to see the engagement in a room full of kids who are excited about developing a solution to a problem which they discovered and researched. In terms of intellectual capacity, it doesn’t matter if the child is a boy or a girl, unless gender differences also have an effect on someone's ability to have and apply empathy in their design process. In that regard, perhaps we should be encouraging at least some of our sons to think more emotionally. The educational system is already biased towards teaching both our sons and daughters to think critically and rationally.

Being equal does not imply begin the same, particularly when it comes to ignoring one of the core elements of our humanity; our emotional content. Doing so creates a cluttered world overflowing with things the majority of people neither need or want, bloating our garbage dumps with toxic waste, poisoning the air and water, and even fostering the massive destruction of war.

Sun Tzu may have said it best; War is about deception. Let’s stop treating gender equality like it’s a gender war and STEM like it has no heart. Our future ability to innovate is at stake.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

That "Touchy-Feely" Thing

A young Oliver at Palo Alto High School
Perhaps the two most accomplished of Disney's "Nine Old Men" were Oliver Johnston and his close friend Frank Thomas. The pair met as art students at Stanford University in the 1930s and were hired by Walt for $17 a week, back when he was expanding the studio to produce full-length feature films. Both Thomas and Johnston worked on the first of those features; 1937's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

“Ollie" was born on Oct. 31, 1912, in Palo Alto, Calif., where his father, Oliver Martin Johnston, Sr. was an Associate Professor of Romance Languages at Stanford. 

Johnston Junior once noted that he and Frank were "bound to be thrown together" at the university, as they were two of only six students in the fledgling art department, then led by architect Arthur Bridgman Clark. The Drawing Department's aims were to; " the needs of three classes of students: students who wish training in artistic perception and graphic expression for its general culture value; students who wish to begin professional art study while receiving other university training; and technical students to whom knowledge of representative drawing is essential."

Amsterdam, by A. B. Clark

Regarding Clark's influence on the department, the Stanford Historical Society wrote:

"It is due largely to Professor Clark’s vision, enthusiasm, and untiring effort over nearly forty years that the Art Department was developed from a drawing course into a substantial curriculum in art embracing both practical training in drawing, painting, design, and crafts, and an enlightened appreciation of art as an active living experience. It is hard to realize that with the energy and devotion he put into his teaching and administration of the department, and the concern which he showed for  the problems of his individual students, that he  could have found time to work so devotedly at so  many other tasks." 

When not in that "drawing" class, Frank and Ollie painted landscapes and sold them at a local speakeasy for meal money. Prior to joining Disney, Johnston had planned on becoming a magazine illustrator but fell in love with animation.

"I wanted to paint pictures full of emotion that would make people want to read the stories," he said. "But I found that here (in animation) was something that was full of life and movement and action, and it showed all those feelings." 

That element would become one of the hallmarks of Walt's films; the natural expression of emotion in the characters.

Ollie drew his characters with soft, subtle touches, gestures, and body movements which expressed how they felt.

“It’s surprising what an effect touching can have in an animated cartoon,” Johnston explained. “You expect it in a live-action picture, or in your daily life, but to have two pencil drawings touching each other, you wouldn’t think would have much impact, but it does.” 

Throughout his 43-year career Ollie animated some of the most sensitive and emotional scenes in Disney's stories. Among his best known works are Bambi, Thumper, and Pinocchio,  but he also enlivened Peter in Peter and the Wolf, Alice, Smee, Lady, Pongo, Baloo, Bagheera, Prince John, and Penny.

“I seem to have kind of a reservoir of feelings about how people feel in different situations,” reflected Johnston. “And while somebody else might be more interested in the drawing of the character in that situation, I was particularly interested in how the character actually felt.” 

His particular contribution to Disney animation was the inclusion of emotion and his insistence that the characters should seem naturally involved in the situations demanded by the plot. According to his friend and principal collaborator, Frank Thomas, "Ollie was the only one of the Disney Studio animators who was sensitive to character relationships and how they affected story.'

Ollie was honored with a Disney Legends Award in 1989 and, in 2005, he was the first animator honored with the National Medal of Arts at a White House ceremony.

Ollie was also a huge train enthusiast. The backyard of his Flintridge home boasted a hand-built miniature railroad, and he restored and ran a full-size antique locomotive, the Mary E, at a former vacation home in Julian, California.

Mary E

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

User Interface Design

I came across this today and it was so funny it brought me to tears.  User Interface Jedi take notes:

Thirteen minutes of pure humanity vs. pseudo machine.

Connections and Design Thinking

James Burke - Observer of Design Thinkimg

Every now and then something which I haven't thought about for a long time comes bubbling up to the surface and fills in a gap in the fabric.  That happened last week when I was going thru my iTunes library and came across a recording of a talk which James Burke gave at BYU back in 2006. I recall having enjoyed it very much at the time and was disappointed that I wasn't able to find get a transcript of it.

The talk began with a quote from Mark Twain to the effect that in the real world, the right thing never happens at the right place and time. It is the job of journalists and historians to make it appear as tho it did.  Burke then went on to discuss the interconnections between seemingly unrelated events that led to remarkable outcomes, like how the sinking of the British Fleet in 1707 led to the invention of toilet paper.

Now, I've been aware of Burke and his work ever since I was a student of Product Design at Stanford, but for some reason the implications of his ideas really didn't hit me until yesterday. Specifically, I hadn't seen the bigger pattern in the context of innovation and Design Thinking.

Burke's stories always have a common thread; The way that seemingly unrelated things come together to create magnified outcomes; the 1 + 1 = 3 sort of things.  Burke's latest project, the Knowledge Web, is intended to create a method for students to explore that - retrospectively - using a relational database and a model of nested spheres which display the personal connections between the innovators.

I think this idea has another possible application in the context of Design Thinking.

Some of you may recall James Adam's book Conceptual Blockbusting and the idea of forced associations. It's basically a brainstorming enhancement technique to force relationships between concepts which otherwise might not naturally occur to you. (If you do a search on it there are enough hits that it probably went mainstream years ago.)

I had two thoughts in the context of all this.  The first was how similar many of the ideas which Burke was discussing were to the methods of Design Thinking and the second was how Burke's connection exploration engine might be leveraged from a retrospective tool to a predictive one.

(The third thought was DUH! why didn't I see this before, but we'll leave that one alone for now.)

If you haven't had the chance to listen to Burke's latest talk, you'll be able to view an illustrated version of it here - as soon as I finish it.  In the mean time, here is a link to the talk Admiral Shovel and the Toilet Roll on his blog.