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Life Science

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 6 months ago

Design as a clinical practice of the life sciences

Medical Doctor - Learning Doctor? - Communication Doctor? How Doctors Think


The proposition is that the sustainable value creation role of the communication industry - and the practice of design as part of that industry - can be framed as a clinical practice of the life sciences.

Why life science instead of social science


Quantitative changes eventually bring qualitative change

The new communication technology introduced since the 1960's may be said to have reached a "tipping point" when Google went public and introduced a successful business model. By combining different technologies to make a significant change in the communication infrastructure they have become a money machine. As such they are earning the money that can fuel organic growth.


Google's business models, based on the value of accessible information is putting real stress on any enterprise that is based on an information advantage. Most enterprises, governments and educational organizations have grown in a world of information scarcity. The world is taking the first steps into a world of information abundance.


Other media and technology companies are trying to follow, and together with Ebay, Amazon, and many others, the internet is changing the nature of the marketplace in industry after industry. The low hanging fruit - financial services, travel, real estate- have already been picked. As the infrastructure continues to grow it will continue to raise the stress on legacy formal organizations - education and government.


The practice of design

For the last 50-70 years, the greatest rewards in the communication industry were earned creating objects that could sell and entertain. The effects of a growing information abundance is changing the rules of that markteplace.


Selling in a world of information scarcity

Whether an enterprise is for profit, non profit or educational, many earn their income by selling - either ideas or stuff. Non profits sell the idea of their good works and earn donations. Educational organizations sell the benefits and earn tuition or public funding. For profits sell the benefits of their products and earn sales. The selling practice has traditionally centered in the profession of advertising. The primary organizational form was the Advertising Agency. The stress is created by the fact that selling developed in a world of information scarcity, and gets diminishing returns with growing information abundance.


Selling in a world of information abundance

One response for design seems to be to focus on designing better products and designing ways to make it very easy for customers to buy those products. Google, Costco, Starbucks and even Wal-Mart invest a very small portion of their resources in advertising. Instead, they make major investments in improving their products.


It's interesting to note that Wal-Mart has recently set up a 1000 person design department. It's probably not to do advertising. Although I do not have any granular information, the guess is that is most likely that the strategy is to continue their focus on appropriate products and appropriate methods of sales. (Wal-Mart is one of the top four e commerce web sites and has recently beat out Apple for the right to download movies from the major studios)


Creating Entertainment Artifacts in information abundance

Unlike selling, design for entertainment is as old as humankind. It includes the arts in all its forms - painting, dance, music, novels, and has now grown to include new medias - movies, sound, games and websites - as well as others that will emerge.


But stress for the profession is also coming from this corner. As the tools for entertainment creation are moving into the hands of the masses, we are watching the rise of what Alvin Toffler and Apple Computer both call the "prosumer". As the creation tools become more accessible, the protected position of "professionals" is no longer buttressed by accessiblity to creation tools. It is becoming more true every day, that the predictable delivery of a high quality entertainment product is becoming the only defensible advantage for the professional.


Design Education: the solution or part of the problem?

The education enterprises that train design and communication professionals are, for the most part, part of the problem as opposed to part of the solution. Not unexpected as the same forces that threaten every organization built on a information advantage, threaten the present organizational form of education delivery.


Even within most design schools, two closely related practices - fine art and design - are often opposing factions. Fine art and design faculties/adminstrations compete for limited attention and resources. Given this state of affairs, the notion of trust based conversations and activity between design departments and other traditional university departments is hard to imagine.


There is much talk about the value of "breaking down silos" to create a new way to educate. But, any real change requires an evidence based strategy to move people trapped in legacy organizational forms to a new practice. It is complicated by the mutual distrust, disrespect and mismatched skill sets of different disciplines.


In general, the scientists and traditional academics are considered to be the "smart" ones; art and design faculties are seen as income generating professional curriculums, with little value to bring to a common discussion.


The hard fact is that most design faculty, while experts in the fields, have not been selected for their ability to enter a scientific discourse. This is reinforced by a student body that self selects specifically in the interest of not having to engage in language based or mathematically based thinking. For the most part they are visual thinkers and have chosen design school for exactly that reason.


The academics have little or no training in visual thinking or the knowledge creating potential of rich communication. As most of the population, they believe that since they can talk, write or draw, it is a natural skill. They have had little conscious exposure to the knowledge creating capacity of design skills. They therefore tend not to understand the value it could bring to their own practice.


Any attempt to connect these populations without respect and appreciation of the deep differences in learning styles and preferred activities is doomed to either shallow pseudo connection or organizational chaos that devalues both the academic and the design approach.


Is Stanford a scalable model?

It seems that one potentially successful model is the work being done by the d:school at Stanford. While the results are not yet clear, it seems a plausible approach.


But, Stanford is unusual with its rich culture of technical innovation and entreprenuerial incentives for work done in the academic context. Stanford's particular exposure to the market to monetize the value it creates will probably be difficult to scale beyond the very top tier research Universities. Simply put the aggregation of market contacts, recognized brand, and resources in place are very hard to duplicate in the real world.


A possible approach that draws on the model, but might be more widely applicable, might be to focus on solving interesting social problems that present at a local level. This would give instituions without Stanford's culture and resources, a more protected space to develop the necessary skills, networks and culture that might lead to a portfolio of demonstrable value creation. At the local level, it is much more likely that value creation will lead to earned income. For example, engaging with the problem of high school education in the urban centers of the US, and showing demonstrable success would probably earn significant income from local stakeholders.


Unfortunately, the most natural tendency of top management is often to try to attack the "big problems" that can bring in big dollars and significant publicity. This has the further advantage of quick "results" and significant symbolic gains. In the absence of transparency of resource allocation, symbolic gains turn into real gains for some people, but do little to manage the outcome of complex social systems.


One problem with this approach is the same as that faced by well meaning leaders in government and large corporations. They often act as if a clear enunciation of a goal or a policy will eventually lead to improving outcomes of the organization. Visionary leaders often have neither the time, talent, incentives or focus to intervene appropriately. In the absence of active intervention, social systems continue to grow in response to threats and resources.


In the real world, the system that controls the allocation of threats and resources, determine the shape of organizational growth, and thus organizational outcomes. One might argue that it is exactly the threat of dealing with the allocation system, is a reason that top management decides to spend time in more protected activities. This is often further complicated by the fact that transparency in allocation decisions puts more limits on top executive's freedom of action.


In less developed organizations, resource allocation is often handled by a person or through opaque informal networks, based on ill defined standards and the lack of performance standards. In more developed organizations, there are standards, processes, and accessible information about these allocations.


Another stress producer for design education, as for all of higher education, is that Congress, parents and even students are starting to demand demonstrable results for the $30,000 to $40,000 tuition being charged by private institutions. It's seems plausible that if universities do not supply realistic evidence of what is being purchased, some one else will step in to try to do so.


The design profession and all the other sub specialities that are part of the communication industry have the opportunity to redefine and focus on it's true value creation ability. While the discussion continues, the market place will continue to create stress for legacy organizations and less effective management styles, until they change or find a different place in the market or disappear.




The Role of Design in Knowledge Creation

The graphic design profession grew from book design. Books created value by their ability to make information accessible by decreasing the limitations of space and time. Some argue that the move from verbal communication to written communication and then to printed communication were technological improvements that led to significant improvements in the creation of knowledge and thus the improvement of humanity's chances for a good life.


The practice and principles of graphic design developed to improve the ease and efficiency of information delivery made possible by an evolving print infrastructure. With each new opportunity presented by the technology, designers naturally invented new ways to take advantage of new possibilities in the interest of communicating information efficiently and elegantly. As markets developed for them to monetize the value they created, the earned the income necessary for organic growth of the profession.


As a result of this 500 year practice, there well understood practices that affect the ability of humans to absorb and use symbolic information - presented either as words or pictures. This historically tested knowledge provides the basis for a systematic professional discipline that can be used to communicate. As the delivery mechanism continue to evolve, the underlying principles probably will continue to be useful guides.


Education, health, government

In today's world, it has be argued that the greatest gains in productivity in the public realm will come from improvements in communications. From the "actionable intelligence" demanded by government for security to the need for a "transferable patient centered view" to improve outcomes in the health system, to the need for "transparency and accountablity" in all government service systems, it seems that effective communication is at the center of solving social problems.


The proposition is that many social problems can be redefined as communication problems. Once so redefined, they are amenable to the craft skills and insights of design.


The Challenges and the Opportunity

The best professional designers have the unique ability to communicate, but they do not have the domain expertise of professional science to know what should be communicated to whom, when and how to look for indicators of success.


The best scientists in both the physical and social science disciplines have the most articulate models of the mechanisms of change in human life. But the time consuming practice of basic research into how life works, gives them little time or incentive to apply their models to real life.


In physical and biological sciences there are a well defined paths -including engineers and entrepreneurs - who can earn income in the market to support further research. There are very few sustainable similar arrangements for the social sciences. Since the social sciences are directly related to understanding power relationships and the sources of non market driven income are often from the very power centers that are being studied, this condition should not be surprising.


For designers the challenge is that many of the best of them are engaged in an irrelevent, unproductive, discipline bounded discourse. As with any profession, this discourse is often conducted in a language that is informed by issues of proximate rewards, standing within their own profession and the lack of a deep understanding of non communication issues. While the instinct to be effective in making a better world is commenable, it is often rendered shallow, moralistic and irrelevent by lack of a consideration for demonstrable measures of changed behavior.


For scientists a similar challenge is presented by profession bounded discourse. They too have proximate rewards, status enhancing incentives and often work within organizational forms that have little do with encouraging a discussion that is based on evidence and an open discussion of various models to explain behavior.


While scientists are acutely aware of the need to sell their research to wider to public to be able to earn resources, they tend to be less aware of the knowledge creating possibilities of design practice.


The opportunity of reframing the efforts of both - academics and designers - is that by connecting their practice by a practice of clinical intervention all will receive the benefit of testing thinking in the real world. This should create a body of evidence that is needed to improve both the theory and the research.


A possible consequence is that everyone will be able to spend less time on selling and other time wasting activities, and more time on creating demonstrable value. The theory is that in a context of well formed markets, this creation of demonstrable value will allow both players to earn income to continue their work of knowledge creation.




World That Trade Created

Kenneth Pomeranz


Full Disclosure

the link to google books. You can read it online.







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