An Evolving Map of Design Practice and Design Research

Written for Interactions magazine by Liz Sanders. Edited by Hugh Dubberly.

Design research is in a state of flux. The design research landscape has been the focus of a tremendous amount of exploration and growth over the past five to 10 years. It is currently a jumble of approaches that, while competing as well as complementary, nonetheless share a common goal: to drive, inspire, and inform the design development process.


Design in The Age of Biology: Shifting From a Mechanical-Object Ethos to an Organic-Systems Ethos

Written for Interactions magazine by Hugh Dubberly.

In the early twentieth century, our understanding of physics changed rapidly; now, our understanding of biology is undergoing a similar rapid change.

Freeman Dyson wrote, “It is likely that biotechnology will dominate our lives and our economic activities during the second half of the twenty-first century, just as computer technology dominated our lives and our economy during the second half of the twentieth [1].”

Recent breakthroughs in biology are largely about information—understanding how organisms encode it, store, reproduce, transmit, and express it—mapping genomes, editing DNA sequences, mapping cell-signaling pathways.


Learning Curves for Design

Written for Interactions magazine by Hugh Dubberly.

When businesspeople discuss growth, they often refer to S-curves or “hockey sticks”—diagrams depicting quantity changing over time, typically units sold per month or quarter. Growth begins slowly and gradually increases to an inflection point; from there it accelerates. Eventually, growth begins to slow and tapers off, for instance, as a market saturates or a system stabilizes at a new level.


The Experience Cycle

Written for Interactions magazine by Hugh Dubberly and Shelley Evenson.

In this article, we contrast the “sales cycle” and related models with the “experience cycle” model. The sales cycle model is a traditional tool in business. The sales cycle frames the producer-customer relationship from the producer’s point of view and aims to funnel potential customers to a transaction. The experience cycle is a new tool, synthesizing and giving form to a broader, more holistic approach being taken by growing numbers of designers, brand experts, and marketers. The experience cycle frames the producer-customer relationship from the customer’s point of view and aims to move well beyond a single transaction to establish a relationship between producer and customer and foster an on-going conversation.


The Analysis-Synthesis Bridge Model

Written for Interactions magazine by Hugh Dubberly, Shelley Evenson, and Rick Robinson.

The simplest way to describe the design process is to divide it into two phases: analysis and synthesis. Or preparation and inspiration. But those descriptions miss a crucial element—the connection between the two, the active move from one state to another, the transition or transformation that is at the heart of designing. How do designers move from analysis to synthesis? From problem to solution? From current situation to preferred future? From research to concept? From constituent needs to proposed response? From context to form?

How do designers bridge the gap?


Toward a Model of Innovation

Written for Interactions magazine by Hugh Dubberly.

For the last few years, innovation has been a big topic in conversation about business management. A small industry fuels the conversation with articles, books, and conferences.

Designers, too, are involved. Prominent product design firms offer workshops and other services promising innovation. Leading design schools promote “design thinking” as a path to innovation.

But despite all the conversation, there is little consensus on what innovation is and how to get it.


Simple for beginners, rich for aficionados: How Starbuck’s drink framework and ordering language 
engage customers at all levels

Starbucks Drink Platform

Starbucks has grown to be a world-wide brand with over 15,000 locations. Its extra-ordinary success is often attributed to providing a high-quality customer experience.

An important aspect of the Starbucks experience is customizing drink orders. In order to support a high degree of customization, Starbucks has created a deep and flexible framework, and a language for describing the framework and progressively introducing it to customers.

This article examines the Starbucks drink framework and the language that describes it. 


The Making of Knowledge Navigator

Originally published in Sketching User Experience by Bill Buxton, 2007.

We made the Knowledge Navigator video for a keynote speech that John Sculley gave at Educom (the premier college computer tradeshow and an important event in a large market for Apple). Bud Colligan who was then running higher-education marketing at Apple asked us to meet with John about the speech. John explained he would show a couple examples of student projects using commercially available software simulation packages and a couple university research projects Apple was funding. He wanted three steps:

  1. what students were doing now
  2. research that would soon move out of labs, and
  3. a picture of the future of computing.

He asked us to suggest some ideas. We suggested a couple approaches including a short “science-fiction video.” John choose the video.


Cybernetics and Service-Craft: Language for Behavior-Focused Design

Written for Kybernetes by Hugh Dubberly and Paul Pangaro

Argues design practice has moved from hand-craft to service-craft and that service-craft exemplifies a growing focus on systems within design practice. Proposes cybernetics as a source for practical frameworks that enable understanding of dynamic systems, including specific interactions, larger systems of service, and the activity of design itself. Shows development of first- and second-generation design methods parallels development of first- and second-generation cybernetics, particularly in placing design within the political realm and viewing definition of systems as constructed. Proposes cybernetics as a component of a broad design education.

Key Words
Cybernetics, design, design methods, hand-craft, interaction design, politics, rhetoric, service, service-craft, service design, system.


Why Horst W.J. Rittel Matters

Full article originally published in Design Issues: Volume 23, Number 1, Winter 2007

Memoriam originally published in 1992 in University of California: In Memoriam a publication of the Academic Senate, University of California, under heading: “Horst W.J. Rittel, Architecture: Berkeley 1930-1990, Professor of the Science of Design,” edited by David Krogh.

Horst Willhelm Jakob Rittel taught design and architecture for over 30 years, yet he never designed a building or otherwise practiced as an architect. (We might now recognize him as a design planner.) Even so, Rittel changed the field of design—linking design and politics—and started a line of inquiry which continues today in the field of computer programming and information science—design rationale.