On Ways of working

[N] (open letter to studios)


(Bear Grylls)

When I am asked about how design students do their project I often speak about the ieid © model.

This is a four stage process – immersion, exploration, intervention, demonstration – which can be remembered by the phrase “that is (i.e.) industrial design”.

I also use this model to disabuse students of the notion that they have some ‘way of working’ – their own design process as it were. I also use this to talk to teaching staff who may be rigid on their particular idea of the ‘design process’. Some design schools teach an ‘official’ idea of the design process. I am in favour of students learning different forms of the design process – so that they are agile in their thinking, resilient in being able to function in different cultures of practice (in different companies, firms, studios, collaborations, countries).

Yes there exists the notion of the design process – but there are many forms this takes, and (like religion) all these forms are legit. And just as we have different forms of design process we also have a critique of the very idea of the design process (for this you can read Chris Jones – who makes a journey into ‘chance processes’) and so the design process is an intellectual domain.

When you learn designing as a TRADE it may be okay to learn one ‘canonical’ process – the right way as it were, the kosher way as it were. When you go to university and encounter the notion of design process you simultaneously encounter the ‘intellectualisation’ of design as design thinking. Which means there is the logic of biodiversity even in design process – so yes there is process that is native to certain habitats (such as a particular species of design practice aka interior or industrial) and yes good design process is one that is adaptive, resilient, changes with change events and contexts and is able to re refashioned in new ways. Looked at another way – you are able to work anywhere in the world, on any topic of project, with any kind of people, and bring richness to that encounter. Have ‘one way’ of working is a guaranteed way for you to be seen as a missionary, a prude, or other rigid pushy type (add adjective sod your won here).

Now to go back to the model I described earlier – ‘this is how it must be’ – your project MUST have only four stages! [:)] then if you want to think about what these stages are:

  1. Immersion: Is about getting into a zone and doing “deep hanging out”. Or similar stuff – so that we are becoming too precious about doing something borrowed from elsewhere – which would happen if we were to term this stage ‘research’. So in terms of nomadicity – this is when you get to the essence of this notion. Ditto for ‘Affordances’ – which I notice you have all neglected to give an account of. Which you presumable did in the weeks leading up to the Intensive.
  2. Exploration: Which you did in the intensive. You explored ways of working. You laughed, you cooked, you let yourself hang-out, you let yourself get excited. In short you were and explorer – Bear Brills, Alfred Russel Wallace, Stapleton all rolled into one – and went forth fearlessly into the unknown.
  3. Intervention: When you returned from the exploration you face the challenge of making something out of your journey till now. There is a real danger that you can become turgid, frigid, and constipated – and then we may well ask: “Hey, where is the explorer I was with some time back gone”. If exploration requires you to be fearless – venture not into where angels fear to tread – Intervention requires you to take risks, to be provocative, to challenge your assumptions, ways of working, stereotypical solutions, simplistic derivative thinking. This too is a fun place – but can very easily become swamped by ‘safe thinking’. This is a challenging space as it requires you to venture in the ‘imaginary’ and be bold with what you produce out of your mind. What you conjure up. You are required to conjure something up! How good then are your conjuring skills? What do you think about how Ai Wei Wei conjures?
  4. Demonstration: The stuff you conjure up needs to be demonstrated to be a viable, stimulating and new contribution. Did I use the word derivative earlier? Yes derivative is not great. If it looks like, sounds like and smells like – then it is. Its a form of redesign. In the contemporary period – there is a place for this kind of work. But mostly in places where this work can’t be seen and become popularly adoptable.


(Alfred Russel Wallace)