Let's start with coffee. We use this coffee pot several times every day, and it consistently works brilliantly. Which is to say, it keeps the coffee warm, is good to lift and pour and doesn't break. Which are the fundamentals, to my mind.
As most people with them do, we regularly broke the glass jugs of others we've had, then couldn't easily find the right replacement. We would be reduced to pouring hot water through the grounds and a kitchen towel pushed into a funnel to make coffee until we got the elusive proper jug. Strange that the glass ones are so prevalent - glass being a poor thermal insulator and very prone to breakage. Duh.
OK, so it does the job, but there's more to it than that. Like most things that do what they should quietly without fanfare, the whole thing just feels right in use. You might think it wouldn't matter much if the proportions were different, or the handle was a bit thicker or thinner, but it does. Mightily.
These are readily available and cost about £21 (1 litre capacity). Especially economical when a replacement glass jug for the same size is around £8-10.
There are, no doubt many places to get them from, but if you are inspired to get one, you can look at it on Amazon by clicking here . Don't do that yet though, because you might be tempted to read some reviews, as I always am. I can save you some frustration by imparting that most of the negative comments on there are about the capacity - "This certainly doesn't fill 8 of my cups!" for example. Last time I checked, 'cup' was not an SI unit of measurement, and it must be obvious to most people that they come in many different sizes. Duh again.
Professional sports competitors are totally committed to excellence. Their success is measured by how often they win, and by how much. They will do anything to get a tiny advantage. Its worth it because their life is all about winning. They do it because next time they will be better. Being OK is not good enough; they must strive to be better, even by a tiny margin. Nobody, sports fan or not, would ever think that that's not worth doing.
What about design then. The kind that's about making stuff work well for people to use. How many things do you own that work really well; that are a delight to use? The classic examples are traditional tools like scythes. Perfectly balanced, shaped just right. For a 12-hour day working in the fields. I love stuff that works really well and my list comprises my bike, some hand tools, a bottle opener and a couple of pencils. These will be the subject of occasional posts under 'things we like'.
Now whether these items have been finely honed to make them work slightly better is something I probably won't be going into. But however they got to be how they are, the principle is that someone will have decided they're just right like that, after several improvements along the way. Except for the ones that aren't, which I will also be writing about from time to time. I suspect a pattern might emerge...
Maybe a better title would be 'How to find out if it can be done, and if so, how, exactly?'. You decide. This isn't about getting through your list of things to do, being more efficient in your doings, but a wider picture. I downloaded a design toolkit a while back, for what sort of design I can't recall now, but possibly planning engagement consultations. That might have all the answers I am planning on posing now. I'll check when I've finished writing this, and report back.
So, imagine an idea for a local project, maybe setting up a Community Interest Company (CIC - pronounced 'kick'). Perhaps for local renewable energy production. Start with a feasibility study, of course. But that probably covers the defined aspects - where does the money come from, where do the benefits go, what about planning, other grants etc. And maybe a management structure. That's the sort of stuff you need, but wouldn't it be good if you could establish early on how likely it is that the system will work, and how?
Design Thinking. I've been a bit presumptuous in thinking that I know what that is, being a designer myself. Plus I do some thinking. The way we, as a species (designers) approach solving problems is just how we do it, almost without thinking, as it were. That process, in its entirety, might be beyond the comprehension of non-designers. I'm wondering if there is some way to distil it down to a simple & adaptable system, without losing the product. The product, in this case, being the proposal, with all details being addressed, albeit as placeholders in some cases.
The detail is the thing, of course. You need all the detail, and you need to know what 'all the detail' comprises. Detail has a hard time of it. Either loved or hated, maybe it's in need of some rebranding. There are many examples of everything working, except for one little detail that doesn't, and it all goes wrong. Or at least not as right as it might have. Someone will have decided it was a minor detail to be sorted out later, but thinking of it as minor is a big mistake.
Coming back to the example of getting things done locally, it takes people with time just to start it off. But at that stage they don't know what it could look like in 6 months, 2 years, whatever. Similar examples won't be fully applicable. What they need is a toolkit, and a project manager. From somewhere else. So the PM + Toolkit would establish a robust & flexible framework that would work right through the project. Comprehensible to all, and useful throughout.
Because if you want something to work well at a local level you need to make sure everyone can understand what its all about and give their thoughts and feelings in the way that suits them, and not get bogged down with detail. By which I mean the wrong sort, at the wrong time, delivered by the wrong person or group. Setting the framework out right at the start, on the basis of what needs to be set up by when, and how that might be done, and how to overcome obstacles, means it could be examined in terms of objectives and how they are achieved. Process and product, in design thinking. It would be a way to abstract local decision-making process to provide a more cohesive product. And maybe sidestep the amorphous impediments to getting stuff done.
Information & Communications Technology. It's all there in the initials. A while back we changed our bank because we told them what we were going to do & did it, whilst they told us what they were going to do and then did the opposite. The direct debit for one of our mobiles got left behind when we moved the account elsewhere. Either of the two banks concerned could have told us that it wasn't transferred. In fact they probably weren't that concerned. Orange however, would have found they weren't getting the money they were expecting. Being all about communications, you might think they could easily and effectively communicate the information to me by means of their own technology. But no. What actually happens is my call is interrupted and I am informed by a recorded message that my service will be restricted unless I pay soon. This always happens at an inconvenient time, say when I'm out or having to make several calls. OK, so I could set up a new DD, or set a reminder to pay monthly. But now I am annoyed and resentful. A timely text would mean I could sort it out at a convenient time in the office instead of the car or wherever else I always am. Plus, Orange would get the payment on time. Why oh why oh why...
I see quite a lot of new technologies, mostly via twitter feeds. Some look interesting, many irrelevant to me, and a few like they could really improve on some aspect of life. There does seem to be a reliance on the technology part though. Only the newest, however. One app, if I recall rightly, would remind you to get up and do some exercise at the optimum time for maximum benefit. As assessed by the bio-monitor which would read your state of body by means of the phone being in your pocket.
Today I wanted to get a quick idea of how feasible and economical it would be to have some specialist electronics designed and made up. I'm sure there's stuff in cyberspace that would tell me exactly what to do and how. Probably a YouTube channel devoted to it. I thought of calling the local Maplins for names of people to discuss it with, but it costs 50p a minute. So I did an internet search for small electronics firms nearby. The first one I called understood what I was talking about and recommended a designer. I called him, had very fruitful conversation, and got some good ideas I hadn't thought of. Estimate of costs about right for our budget. Exactly what I needed. In fact, better than I expected. All done by means of technology about 120 years old. Except for the virtual yellow pages. But the paper version would have done, if I could find it. I got to talk to a person about some kit we need. We communicated the information about, and by means of, various technology. It was fuss-free, very efficient, and hugely enjoyable (to me, at least - he might have a different view). That should be the aim of all ICT, but it rarely achieves a reasonable score in even two of those three bits.
'Mixed media' is usually seen on labels adjacent to artworks. Application of the appropriate technology - not necessarily the newest - would be well described by that phrase. And getting things done right, and well, without avoidable waste would be easier to achieve. And better all round.
I found this post that I published elsewhere almost a year ago. I was prompted to find it because someone more famous wrote something similar last week. I thought it could do with a second airing, with a bit of editing.
My children ask 'why' a lot. I'm glad they do, and try to give a full answer - to their obvious dismay sometimes. But it got me thinking about its use as part of the design process. When you know how to do something its easy to apply the rudiments subconsciously. But nobody fails to get something important from proper consideration of the fundamentals of their discipline from time to time. This is a way to do that.
Asking 'why?' at the right time can save a lot of bother and help get things right. Why put cooking instructions on food packaging? - so people know how to cook it properly and don't get poisoned by it. It has to be readable, otherwise it's useless. In this case the answer is "so people can read it". When they can't, because the text is too small or not contrasting enough, it doesn't work. Can't read the instructions, cook it wrong, doesn't taste good, won't buy it again. Everyone loses.
I look around and wonder why this seemingly simple question isn't asked more often. Maybe it's that it gets asked at the start and gets lost somewhere during the process. The design develops and requirements are refined - hey, what were we trying to do again?
In my first week at architecture school, my tutor told me I had to explain all the decisions I made during the design process. I was flummoxed at the time, but soon learnt to make up something to suit. "Because it looks good" wasn't a legitimate answer. Apart from the fact that it didn't look good - it was my first week after all.
I hope for a time when 'why?' is thought and heard more than 'why not?'. 'Why not open an account/give us a call/make an appointment today?' How different it would be if that not was not there. It would mean you do things with good reason, instead of doing them without a good enough reason not to.
Why is design is such a difficult concept for people to grasp? The word is bandied about without question as to what it actually is . I'm a designer and I ask a lot of questions. This one has bothered me for a while, and although I don't expect to find a simple answer, I need to think about it awhile.
In 'Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance', Robert M Pirsig asserted that whilst everyone knows what 'quality' is, it is impossible to define. 'Design' is perhaps the opposite.
For me, design is solving a problem. So a thing that does a job has been designed. You can assess how well it does the job by asking 'what is this supposed to do?' and 'does it do that?' Tin opener, jet engine, centrifuge, all do something that can be closely defined. So what about a wallpaper? It would stick to the wall irrespective of the pattern, or design imprinted upon it. Its function is independent of the decoration. A beautiful tin opener that doesn't work is useless. And annoying - I have one.
The process of making a decorative pattern is so different from making a functional thing that it warrants a discrete word. Fashion designers need to make sure the clothes are wearable, but their true function is to attract attention in varying degrees. There are lots of ways to do that.
I'm not saying decoration and fashion aren't of value, but that they don't utilise 'design' in the same way that, say, a mechanical engineer would. We need a good word meaning 'make it look good'. I'll leave that with you...