Introduction John Thackara
What are the key success factors in setting up design research projects? In November 2004, jointly with Virtual Platform, we organised a meeting in Amsterdam for sixty project leaders from 10 countries to discuss this question. When inviting participants, we focussed on projects that addressed real-world issues or situations, were collaborations between more than two organisations, and which treated technology as a means, not as an end-in-itself. The format was a series of short project presentations interspersed by round tables. We divided the projects into three themes: Tools For Citizen Services; Resource Ecologies (eg Food, Space, People); and Design And Local Knowledge. Running through the day was the idea of project observation as a design research activity in itself. In learning from each others' projects, we also looked for ways to do it better in the future.
Conclusions and next steps
So: What are the ingredients of succes of a design project? Reports and notes from: Martine Posthuma de Boer (Virtual Platform), Hugo Manassei (Nesta), Lorna Goulden (Philips Design), Lucas Verwij (Premsela), Rory Hamilton (Royal College of Art), Simon Niedenthal (Malmo University), Dirk van Oosterbosch.
The context of the project - public, academic, commercial, or a mixture of these- will influence the criteria defined for the project to be succesful.
(Which is why some people talk about "designing the context").
Project Planning And Management
An increasingly complex field. We have to deal with a multitude of factors:
- multi-disciplinary team composition;
- a competitive environment (shrinking pie; more hungry researchers);
- a growing variety of technical means;
- government and other institutes wanting more influence and control;
- the difficulty of communicating the designed processes and solutions back to the funders, and to other stakeholders including the public;
- involvement and engagement of real people, with their own, real problems: this brings projects to life but complicates matters a lot.
Formulating Project Objectives And Criteria For Success
Can exist at multiple levels:
- the project itself;
- the politics (small p) affecting partners and stakeholders;
- the project team and management;
- the design or research process.
- of course all projects need be "innovative" - but be aware that this word means different things to different people; also be aware that the compulsion to be innovative can itself be a constraint on projects (eg if "innovation" is understoodf to mean technical innovation);
- design-in time/space/resources for the unexpected.
- a project ideally needs to deliver something that is going to be used - something with the potential to take on a life of its own in the public domain;
- projects need to meet their objectives; this sounds obvious - but it follows that the objectives have to be carefully designed and understood by all stakeholders at the start;
- brave failures look good on your cv;
- a successful project needs to be sustainable - ie there will be enough time, people and resources to keep it going.
Politics, Partners And Stakeholders
- selecting and engaging partners is itself a design action - and a critical one;
- "only do projects with people you like";
- build projects on the basis of transparency between and among partners; (easier said than done, but vital for success later on);
- assume that projects will involve connecting with and among networks (government, business, academics etc.); make sure that there is enough money/time for this;
- be prepared to manage politics, egos and personalities (ie rather than hoping these will take care of themselves);
- explicitly manage the balancing of the different agendas of parties and people involved (designers, partners, other stakeholders);
- communicate in different 'languages' to different people involved;
- marketing people/departments tend to be good at the above: try to get them involved;
- yes, get top people to sponsor and support the project; but beware of going to the top when troubles arise - this can backfire;
- don't only go for big companies; small entities can be livelier and more fun to work with;
- the CEO or Minister's ambitious young gofer/slave can be an even better ally: he/she will be desperate for a project to impress his/her boss with.
Team & Management
- budget 50 percent of project time for communication among partners, stakeholders, within team, to outside world;
- (few projects budget enough time time and budget for co-ordination);
- be prepared to take on different and fusing roles - teacher, marketeer, psychologist etc.
Process Rather Than Product
- we are increasingly designing processes, rather than services or products = easier said than done.
- how do we measure succes? what/where are "process metrics"?
- how to measure return of investment? How to prove that funding is well spent, when a project deals with more subjective matters?
- what does a process look like? (this is a large design challenge by itself);
- how to deal with intellectual property (IP)?
- a project is a service, you could say, and needs to be designed using service design tools;
- who owns a collaborative process? How do you give respect to the designers of projects that have inspired, but not directly led to, sellable solutions?;
- design in the time and communication of the evaluation at the start (otherwise it only gets done at the end, as a formality, and is often therefore not effective);
- "processes" are about people; never de-populate processes;
- "Empirical measurement is now the main way to create data that is trusted. Empirical data are good for old sciences but design is about people and perception, not numbers." (Jon Rogers)
- "Breaking patterns" and "subversive use of technology" are success factors (Marcus Kirsch on his and Jussi's pigeon project)
- Lucas Verweij: "This is not what I call a project. This is a place, and a problem, but not a project".
- "Why Do This At All?": Do we ask this question enough?
- Public sector = 65% GDP - Skunk Space is vital (Alan)
- Is there a danger of "the tyranny of the useful" (Monica Narula)?
- Is there a design equivalent of "fundamental research"?
- We should have heard more about projects that went wrong
- The Natural Step's funding comes from: 57% Foundation Grants | 16% Individual Donations | 02 % Corporate Donations (!) | 25% Earned Income
Richard Pearce and Peter Harris of USL:
A collaboration of a interactive designer (Pearce) and a architect (Harris). They have just set up a company in London, with as main focus developing buildings that dynamically influence the behavior of the users on a sustainable level. Sustainable architecture up till now has mainly been looking at new materials and innovative uses of them. But the former interaction designer, Richard Pearce believes that dynamic interaction on a subliminal level can also have great effect on the behaviors of its users.
Valentina Nisi over haar interactieve video project en de vraag: "How to evaluate how the project works? What qualitative measurements can be used?", waar ze zich nu mee bezig houdt, druk met het schrijven voor het pHD. ... Jon Rogers heeft daar in de eerste round table nog wet goede opmerkingen over: "Empirical measurement is now the main way to create data that is trusted. But empirical data is good for old sciences. Design is about people and perception, not numbers."
[Ester Polak, een beetje bedroefd dat ze het niet over meta-design van haar project heeft kunnen hebben. Hoopte dat de twijfels meer aan bod zouden komen, maar is bang dat iedereen bij nader inzien dat toch niet zo publiek wil presenteren. Had meer feedback gewild over deze meta-ontwerpbeslissingen. "Werkt het? Waarom werkt het?"... "Techniek maakt zichzelf zichtbaar."]
[Marcus Kirsch over zijn pigeon project, de achterliggende beweegredenen: de duiven als sentinels, "to break the patterns" en de succes factor van het project: dat het op zo veel vlakken aansluit: "subversive use of technology, using animals, massive camera presence in the city, privacy issues automatically raised, RFID tags ... The succes factor is that is relates to so many aspects."
[Lucas Verweij tijdens tweede round table: "This is not what I call a project. This is a place and a problem, but not a project" ... Lucas says he'd seriously research whether or not to do the project at all "Not doing a project is a sustainable project. Not doing takes less energy. Not doing gives a very good result, because things stay as they are."]