Weekly Learning: Design Methods, Research, Blockchain, and Original Sin

Much Ado About Methods

Enough Design Methods provides a spearing critic to our obsession with methods.

“We seem to be more focused on pseudo-scientific, quick paths to shallow solutions, rather than an immersive depth of creative craft.”

Firstly, there is a reason for that obsession:

Methods reinforce that we are in control and can tame the complex world around us. Employing this rigorous approach adds a sense of sophistication to design activities, separating them from art–a discipline with a reputation for being less serious or important–and elevating the perception and value of design in the eyes of business and government.

Do you sense the security and certainty you feel when you’re told design thinking has exactly 5 steps, each with clearly defined methods? Yup.


…time has shown that a top-down approach to design activities frequently results in failure…

So the problem is that, the sense of security and certainty is an illusion:

We designers were unable to “science” our way to a clear and concise solution because our systems include people, and people don’t behave according to top-down rules. They behave in irrational ways, causing the system to operate in strange, unintended ways.

Design methods, whatever they are, are not exact science:

Alexander recognized this and eventually rejected the entire movement, declaring “I have been hailed as one of the leading exponents of these so-called design methods. I am very sorry that this has happened, and want to state, publicly, that I reject the whole idea of design methods as a subject of study, since I think it is absurd to separate the study of designing from the practice of design. In fact, people who study design methods without also practicing design are almost always frustrated designers who have no sap in them, who have lost, or never had, the urge to shape things. Such a person will never be able to say anything sensible about ‘how’ to shape things either.”

Case in point, IDEO’s method cards:

I’m not cherry picking these; most of the methods have a similar approach to creativity. They’re troubling because they’ve positioned themselves as legitimate instructions for “how to do design”–follow the instructions, and you become a designer. It’s that easy.


I think some of the people making the card decks recognize this as well. The deck from IDEO warns that “these cards aren’t meant to be prescriptive nor exhaustive ‘how to’ for a human centered design.” But the cards exist nonetheless, and their rich aesthetic and simple language make them feel like a ‘how to.’ The d.school’s guide comes with no warning, and instead explains that the “methods provide a tangible toolkit” that, along with the other materials in the guide, are “vital attitudes for a design thinker to hold.”

The author Jon Kolko summarizes the challenges of design methods:

Methods are watered down instruction, offering only the thinnest description of how design works. It’s not as easy as 1-2-3. It’s a profession that takes time and practice.

Methods imply that experience doesn’t matter, and that anyone with a card can be a designer. […] Experience trumps method every single time.

Methods are overly prescriptive, indicating that “design should be done like this” and that there is a right and wrong way to go about solving problems. […]

And most importantly, methods make design seem scientific, when it is experimental. […]

And the nature of design explained:

Design is not just a directed, purposeful activity, it is reflexive, as is much creativity. We lose ourselves in the work, and the work talks back, and out of the creative process emerges magic. This is not a science of the artificial– it is an exploration of the artificial.

A final piece of wisdom:

“Methods” won’t fix the world’s most difficult problems. Only hard work, perseverance, and a lifetime of experience can drive the real change-making we strive for as designers.

Typography in 10 Minutes

Become a typography nerd in under 10 minutes is a neat and concise introduction to typography.

Maybe don’t be a nerd. Understanding typography can be life-saving.

Design Research Maturity

Design Research Maturity in Five Questions asks, well, five questions:

1–To what extent is it safe for anyone in your organization to admit they don’t know something?

2–To what extent does inquiry start with identifying the question before picking a method?

3–To what extent is identifying and sharing questions across disciplines and departments an organizational priority?

4–To what extent is the basis of decision-making clear at every level?

5–To what extent do the insights that emerge from systematic inquiry inform decision-making?

And I’d say this is the spirit of research:

…anything worth doing is worth questioning to verify whether it’s actually worth doing.

WTF is Blockchain?

WTF is Blockchain is a brilliant piece of introduction that tells you WTF blockchain is.

With that understanding, you’ll probably much appreciate the even more brilliant article, Blockchain, the amazing solution for almost nothing.

I can’t emphasize enough how important understanding blockchain is. Not that blockchain is important, but that the technologies and theories behind it are.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere, deepfake and blockchain are twins.

Tech’s Original Sin

A Nude ‘Playboy’ Photo Has Been a Mainstay in Testing Tech for Decades introduces an important, lesson-learning piece of history.

And yeah, you really should watch the documentary, Losing Lena.

The Child in Us

Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek reveals something fascinating in an interview:

“What we didn’t realize was the non-family appeal that a service like Disney Plus would have. In fact, over 50% of our global marketplace [subscribers] don’t have kids, and that is the big difference,” he said, adding shortly after, “When 50% of the [subscribers to] Disney Plus don’t have kids, you really have the opportunity now to think much more broadly about the nature of your content.”

There’s always a child in us. Remember that when we grow up.

Inclusive Design

Microsoft’s inclusive design site is pleasurable, useful, and insightful.

You have no idea how hard it is for me to praise Microsoft. So you know I’m dead serious when I say you really should take a look at their great resources on inclusive design.

How to Create Better Ideas

How to Create Better Ideas (BIS Publishers)

The new book from BIS Publishers, How to Create Better Ideas, introduces an easy-to-understand design process, along with several super useful frameworks and enlightening examples.

This is a book for everyone who wants to create better ideas in their work.

Yes you do.


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