Richard Buchanan is professor of Design, Management and Information Systems at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University.
Thank you all very much. I appreciate the group from Ethos coming over to spend time here. You’ve given me great face and I’m grateful for that. I’ve introduced and keynoted many conference over my career; I’ve never keynoted two conferences at the same time. And I’ve gotta tell you, it’s a challenge. When I was invited to the COINs conference I wasn’t sure exactly why I was being invited to begin with. I’ve gradually come to see but it was a malicious — a mischievous idea you had to do that. But I also realize the connection with Ethos is pretty serious and I have many friends over on that side. Terry, John and so forth. But the challenge of bringing these together is pretty great.
I come at this not from the geeky side, although there has be a lot of discussion of engineering and software development on one side. I’m not exactly a graphic designer, though I’ve worked in a variety of communication design over my career. So I’m trying to think, “how do I blend these things together?” and I finally decided that what I have never done before is explain why I’ve gone to the Weatherhead School of Management. And I realized that is very relevant to what these two conferences are about. So I’m going to indulge myself in a little bit of a personal story. And maybe this personal story will have some connection for you, and then also for the conference themes. Because I’m deeply interested in the themes of both sides of this conference and it turns out that my migration to the Weatherhead is relevant.
I’m a Professor of Design, Management and Information Systems. That’s a mouthful and going into a business environment — well, wait a minute. We don’t have a business school; we’re a school of management. And that’s different. That’s significantly different. And I’ll try to explain that in a minute. But let me tell you how I got to go there.
I began my work in areas of Communication Design and Industrial Design, teaching some — I taught in the Department of Visual Communication at the Art institute of Chicago and other places. When I went to Carnegie Mellon I had to combine together an interest in Communication Design and Industrial Design because we had two strong groups in those areas. Really powerful groups. While there, the groups discovered Interaction Design. The third great field of design practice in our time. The third great field. Significance continues to unroll tremendously. But Carnegie Mellon had one of the first if not _the_ first interaction programs in the world, and I felt very pleased and proud about that.
And you have to understand that Interaction Design comes from the concern for information and communication within what’s called graphic design — more effectively termed communication design, but that’s a quibble. It takes the information and communication through signs, symbols and images and combines that with the whole body experience understood by the industrial designer. This is Bill Verplank’s notion, to combine these two. That this is the way to explain what we do in interaction. And he’s right. Bill is always a wise and insightful man and he caught it this time too. Because Interaction Design needs the other forms of design practice. But what happens is that those forms are transformed. They’re transformed in that what used to be a small part of Graphic Design; a little concern for time tables called “Information Design” suddenly expands and becomes the medium of human interaction. Information is the flow that connects us together. That transcends the older limitations of information.
The whole body experience is tricky in this. During my time at Carnegie Mellon and other places I have to say, I encountered lots of folks who like to live on flatland. The lived on the computer screen. Whoa, I’ve got one here — staring at me. They lived on flatland. And they thought the way humans related to computers was through interfaces. And now their idea of an interface, you have to understand this. Interface — you can only use that word if you have two things facing each other. And to have them facing each other they’ve got to be things. But you know, suppose you don’t think of this as a conflict or a bumping of things. Suppose a human being is not just a thing but is something else. More complex and rich. Something deserving another kind of respect.
That’s where we transform “interface” into true human interaction. We talk about transactions of people. We talk about the human interactions of people. But we get off of flatland. The computer screen is only effective as it supports the interaction of people. Interaction Design is study of how people relate to other people through the mediation of products. We’re mediating right now, through the microphone. Those bright lights in this room. The camera that’s shining its light at me. We’re interacting through those mediated elements around us.
So this is where that idea of the “whole body experience” is terribly significant. We have gotten away from concerns for flatland. Some people still have to worry about those, and thank God they do; I’m really glad. But the problems of design lie elsewhere. And in fact, as we developed it at Carnegie Mellon — as we’ve seen it unfold at many other places — interaction is not fundamentally about interaction with computers. I’m sorry for our friends in Computer Science, they like to think it is and we have a group at Carnegie Mellon who’s big on this. They call it the Human Computer Interaction Institute, and that’s fine. HCI. But you know, most interactions are not about computer interactions — it’s a small part of our lives. When you start to realize that we might design the way human beings interact in all sorts of situations; we might give thought to how people relate together. Not letting it happen by chance; serendipity or the whims of circumstance. We might be thoughtful about how we get together and do things together. When you start to form that idea you’re in another world.
Now one of the spin-offs of this is what we call, most recently, “Service Design.” And, in fact, three or four years ago we had the first Service Design conference in the United States. In fact we had two of them. Shelley Evenson had a nice role in that and she deserves a lot of respect for that. Service Design has sprung up all around the world. I was in the far east not too long ago and learned about a program already under firm development in Seoul. Excellent program; good thought. Run by a Japanese designer. Interesting. But service also is only a part of the picture of what we’re trying to develop around interaction.
The more I worked with interaction, the more I realized I was not concerned simply with the interaction of one person and one person; individual interactions. I became increasingly interested in collective interactions. How we interact groups, in communities, in organizations. So in fact, one of the last courses I created at Carnegie Mellon was called “Design, Management and Organizational Change. And it came about for this reason: we had a group of students who developed an excellent idea for the city of Pittsburgh. It was terrific. Wonderful work. They went down to city hall and they presented their work. The city council thought it was wonderful. The president of the council, everyone applauded “just great stuff; come out of lunch with us.” My God, what guys they are (and they were all guys). They were really nice. But the president of the council leaned over to the students, to one student at one point and said “you know, this is really a great project, but you know it’ll never get built. We’ll never implement it.” The student was shocked. Stunned.
How do you do brilliant work and not have an impact in the world? Well, the students came back and told the story. And as I began to understand what had happened I realized that we needed to do more for the students to prepare them to interact effectively in organizations. Hence the course that I taught — which by the way is probably a better MBA course than they have in most business schools. You should see the reading list. When I show it to my colleagues and other business schools their jaws drop. Designers can read that and understand it? You bet your life they can.
That was significant for me. But the further I worked at collective interactions or helping students understand how to move into organizations and effect change, the more projects I did related to that. An example, I worked on a group to redesign the taxation system of Australia. The taxation system of Australia, for goodness sake. That’s a big project. Still underway, by the way. The big multi-million dollar project for the Postal Service. Truly an interaction project and product development. The more I did those projects and began to be visited by colleagues from business schools and management schools, I began to realize that maybe, maybe there was another challenge for design. There was another hotspot that we might move into and start to make a difference. And so, for me, they’d been after me for about five years at Weatherhead and finally I thought: “maybe now is the time.”
So I went there to a very different kind of environment. An environment in which two themes are central: design and sustainability. And we are essentially teaching MBA students to understand design and to practice it. Now listen carefully to this distinction. Because there are two parts to this kind of mission that we have. On the one hand it’s important that the people who are going to run organizations understand what Graphic and Industrial Design are all about. Understand product development. At least appreciate the working efforts. And maybe contribute to that. That’s got to improve operations in any case.
But that’s fairly traditional and I get bored easily with “traditional.” And I didn’t go there to do that primarily. I went there to teach a new kind of design student how to make a difference in the world. In fact, 20% of our incoming MBAs now are designers, with design backgrounds. And our target is 30%, 35%. Already all of my Ph.D students have serious design backgrounds at Frog and other design houses. But the focus is to use design thinking to change the way organizations are. Is that ambitious enough? That’s as ambitious as your goals Terry. My God. Not a small challenge.
So I spend a lot of time thinking about what is it that graphic designers and industrial designers and interaction designers — what is it about what they know — what concepts and what methods do they use that could be imported into this new environment. Understand — no longer in what I call the first or second orders of design. But now the third and fourth orders. Designing actions, processes, environments and organizations.
To understand the importance of this I mentioned that at the beginning of June I had a meeting with a group from the UN. We met in Long Island to discuss the uses of design in UN operations. It was the Institute for Disarmament [Research] and they were interested in conflict resolution, where soldiers have been fighting. Typically teenagers and younger. Fighting in conflicts in Africa and elsewhere. And when the conflict is over, how do you bring those people back into civil society? How do you bring them back if there is not civil society? How do you create one that they can live in and function in without shooting a gun. Not a small problem. But even there, the uses of design to affect how people live together and interact together, already significant. At that conference we had a very senior UN officer. The man who coordinated all UN efforts in Bosnia and all UN efforts in Uganda. Very estimable man, I must say, a very impressive man. Just retired. When we finished our two-day workshop I turned to him and I said: “what are you going to do now? You’re retired; they’ll want you to come and consult, I’m sure, because you know so darn much about how things work. What are you going to do?” He thought for a second and he looked at me and said: “I’m going to devote myself, the rest of my career, to bringing design thinking into the United Nations. In just these kinds of practical, ‘on-the-deck’ problems.” Now I won’t tell you the details of how we prototyped a solution, but I’ll tell you this: that the people who had no familiarity with design, and I have to say, in this group of 20 there were probably four or five serious designers. There was someone from Live|Work and myself and a couple of others. That in this group, people who had never thought about design exactly. And were skeptical, I must say. Skeptical. Gosh, it’s supposed to be posters and toasters. Or “niceness” or something that’s not — no, no. Tough, hard-edged people. Designers can deal with tough problems. The wicked problems. And I was quite touched by that. I was moved by that. It gave me some encouragement. I don’t know how much they understand about design. It’s a tough thing for any of us and we spend a lot of our lives in these schools and practices. But these people are trying. And we can give them tools, concepts and methods that can make a difference in people’s lives.
I was in Seoul. maybe ten years ago for the ICSID meeting — International Congress for the Society of Industrial Design. That’s a mouthful. Went to an ICSID meeting and we’re sitting in the big building, the Design Center in Seoul. Up about ten floors. Looked out the window and all of a sudden out of nowhere we saw hundreds of yellow busses converging on this building. Oh my God, it’s X-files for something; this is going to be crazy. The busses all parked and out of them came children with white shirts and trousers or skirts and they all — it was like Children of the Corn or something. They came close to the building and went up into the building, and we finally realized what was happening, that in Korea there’s great value for people to know about Design. Even if they don’t become practicing designers.
Now one of the gray beards from ICSID said: “oh my God, there aren’t that many design jobs in Korea. There aren’t that many design jobs in all of Southeast Asia.” But other wise heads said: “bullshit.” That’s a technical term, I can show you the philosophic reference on that, so don’t worry. They said: “Bullshit. There’s no problem with having as many students in Design programs as we can get. Because as they understand design they can make a difference within their organizations; their businesses.” Well I think that’s certainly true. And that point just illustrates what I’m getting at.
At the Seoul conference we did a survey; all the industrial design students there. We said: “what kind of work do you want to do in the future?” Guess what. Only a third of them wanted to make artifacts. Only one third. Two thirds saw the use of their art in some other aspect of life. What do you make of that? How do you interpret that? How do you support and further that meaning?
Well that’s why I’ve gone to Weatherhead. Because I’m interested in collective interactions. People work together to create innovations and benefit organizations and the people that serve the organizations. But here’s the problem I’ve run into; and it’s a tough problem too. Here’s the trick on this. Right now the idea of design and business and management coming together is a real hotspot. By luck in my career I’ve fallen into hotspots. I’ve now fallen into another hotspot. It’s a big deal all over the world. How to find the connection. But I’m troubled, because I’m not interested in the superficial joining and the warped uses of design; the use of design for the wrong purposes. I think designers have values and understanding that go beyond what ordinarily is understood in management or organizations. But I’m looking for a bridge. I’m looking for a bridge, because “design” is not a good enough bridge. I’m sorry. We love it, it’s a great word for us. We can deal with it. We know its ambiguities. We know its richness and diversity of meanings. But frankly not a whole lot of other people in the world get it. They hear the word and misinterpret it. Or it slides away. It’s going to go away soon; my guess is probably on a curve of about eight to ten years we won’t sweat that word much anymore. Right now we’re in a lively time. But I’m thinking, what word works more effectively? What concept do management and organization people have that captures what I understand in design? There surely must be something that crosses over. And finally it did occur to me. There’s a funny term that has a lot of baggage of its own; people misinterpret it and misunderstand it. I’ll say it and when I tell it to you you’re going to misunderstand it too. i love you all but you’re going to misunderstand it. The term is “entrepreneurship.” The title of my lecture is “Design Entrepreneurship: The Convergence of Design and Management” The term is entrepreneurship and I want to explain what this word is. Now listen to this as a definition of entrepreneurship and you tell me if this matches your definition of design.
Entrepreneurship is inventing an idea and developing it in an innovation that brings benefit to an organization and the people served by it. Invention and disposition. Our classic notions of design, discovering ideas and working out the product implications. Development through prototyping and so forth. That’s their word for it. Now sometimes people think it means “starting small companies.” No it doesn’t. It means starting new ideas and possibilities in any kind of organization. Sometimes new businesses. But sometimes existing organizations where you want to do something new. And contrary ot popular belief there are lots of organizations that want to do something new for more than simple profit. That’s a hard one to swallow, isn’t it? I’ve come to the land of the lions. Tear me apart now. Here’s the trick in this; this is the trick you need to understand, because folks who work in management and business they aren’t all that smart. They’re pretty good. They’re no smarter than you are. They don’t know what they’re doing any more than you do.
And here’s the funny thing. There are three great streams of design in the 20th century. One is engineering. And, God love ‘em, they do the best they can to make partial products. Engineers all think they make products; they don’t. They make parts of products. They don’t make the full, total product as it is appropriate to the community of use and fits together. Peter is smiling and we’ll have a good conversation about this. Typically engineers work on the logic and the usefulness of a product. But the usability and desirability are features that are not often the attention of an engineer. When you find an engineer that can bring them together you’ve got a very powerful combination, but typically we bring together psychologists, anthropologists, designers and engineers. So one great stream of design thinking in the 20th century, that burst into the 21st with great strength is engineering. And we know this.
The second great stream is management itself. From the beginning of the 20th century the explorations of management and organizational theory and efforts to design better organizations. Every damn one of them and I’ve read through a lot of the literature; you know when you go into a dangerous environment where you don’t know very much you gotta work real hard and real fast to get up to speed. So I spent a lot of time reading the literature that even some of my colleagues haven’t bothered to read. And what I find repeatedly are elements of design thinking. Now they’re different notions of design. There’s a great pluralism within the management community. And some of it is not very strong. But in essence they’re all looking for ways to make organizations better.
The third great stream of design, we know. The design arts. The arts that you know, that I know, that we practice. Graphic Design, Visual Communication Design, Industrial Design, Product Development, Interaction Design and all of its growing family of forms; Service Design. And even the larger Systems Design issues. That stream of the design arts, and I use a plural on it because there are so many pathways that we follow as professionals.
These are the three great streams. And frankly we find lots of organizations that are dominated by engineering. HP is just one of many examples. But we find a lot of interesting work that connects design now with design thinking — design and management fit together somehow. So starting to explore that with seriousness. And again, I think that the term “entrepreneurship” is a way forward. If you want to make a difference in the world, one way is to understand how to work and use organizations; how to change them; how to make them. Because frankly the problem that animates me is the failure of organizations. All over the place. The failure of organizations.
The greatest product of the 20th century has been the organization. Hey, I’m sorry. It’s not the airplanes, it’s not cars. It’s not computers. None of those would exist without the organizational structures that make them possible. Ford’s understanding of the assembly line was decisive. It was a design concept; picked up in Europe and brought back again. Without organizations the inventions of designers have little impact. Bitter message; but it’s the truth.
Would you rather have a designer at the helm of a large organization? Or someone else? I’d love to have someone there who understood what it is to have new ideas; wasn’t afraid. Someone willing to invest in developing new ideas. Who valued design. And had good purposes.
Well this brings me to our colleagues. I’ve been speaking mostly to the group in Ethos, I think. But it brings me to my colleagues in COINs. Because if we’re looking at collective, collaborative, innovative networks, that could be a definition of an organization. And I guess, here’s my comment on what I’ve seen in the conference up till now. And you’ll have to bear with me from Ethos — well, actually you need to know this. It’s kind of cool.
We’ve seen a curious balancing of tech stuff — techie stuff — lot of concern for software, and how software can enhance or lead to a better understanding of networks of communication. Collaboration; collaboration at a distance. The possibilities for working with people in other parts of the world. We’ve seen a lot of that technology stuff. But you know, I was in a meeting with them and I said, “boy, this all sounds like techie,” and they said “no, no, no, we actually mean so much more!” That was cool; I was glad of that. And I guess the alternative to the tech side is an understanding of what it is to have a face to face interaction.
Now I’m going to try to take a leap and I’d like you all to jump with me. We’re going to try this. I don’t know if we’re going to make it across that gap.
When I talk with my MBA students and teach them design I’ve got a process. You know I have phases of work. You’ve got to understand the contextual research. You’ve got to explore the brief. You’ve got to generate ideas and judge them and you’ve got to develop a prototype. I can tell you about that.
But when I speak to other types of people, I say that we’re exploring the art of dialectic. Whoa — bad word in the United States. Must not use the word “dialectic.” Oh, jeez. Holy smokes. The best we can tolerate is “rhetoric.” But I’m telling you, we are knee-deep in a re-emergence of dialectic as a way of working together. Collaborative work. It’s an art that’s been rediscovered — where? — in the schools of management. Late in the 20th century a serious discovery of small group dynamics, at MIT and other places, dealing with how we talk together and how we relate together. Dialogics is a word that’s used sometimes, dialectic and other… But it’s essentially how we take people with different opinions, have them come together and talk and discover things that they share in common. How they might work together.
These are skills that come out of design in spades. Designers are great facilitators of conversations among people who have wildly different views about the world. That’s a definition of a “wicked problem” by the way. A wicked problem is where there are essentially contested values. Not accidentally contested, not arbitrarily contested. But essentially contested, meaning that there are fundamental differences that cannot be resolved. That to resolve them would be to violate the truths that have been discovered by different people.
Designers work with wicked problems. They work with them by the use of dialectic, whether it’s barton or hegalian or — in fact, it’s useful to know that there are three big kinds of dialectic. This’ll make you feel better. There is a materialist dialectic. We call that Marxism sometimes. There is an idealist dialectic and we call that hegelian, or platonic. But there’s a dialectic we use in the United States and have from the very beginning of this country. It’s called a skeptical dialectic. It’s a dialectic of questioning. We ask each other questions and we listen to the answers. And we keep asking back and forth until we come to some kind of agreement.
Now, I’ve got to tell you, we have fallen short of that art recently. But it’s operating. Gosh, when I was in college I had to read Trotsky’s history of the Russian Revolution. Dialectic of materialist on the march. Bam, bam, bam. In the same class we had to read Madison’s notes on the Constitutional Convention. Totally different kind of dialectic. They questioned each other about things. They talked together. Now, for me, I like the skeptical dialectic. I like the questioning and the talking together. And that’s the art that designers are staring to use inside of organizations and it’s very much related to the notions that COINs is developing. It’s not just the network analysis. But what’s the content of those conversations? What’s the diffusion, not simply of words but of understanding?
Let me give you an example to make this more concrete. I’ve been interested in Banff, the great natural park in Canada. It’s the greatest natural park in North America. Wonderful park. A few years ago there was a huge conflict between developmentalists and conservationists. Never heard of that conflict, have you? Boy, it’s all over the place. They’re trying to re-think Banff. Banff is in some trouble; the park is going downhill, it’s deteriorating. It’s a natural park, yeah, but there are a lot of visitors.
How can we think about changing Banff to accommodate some of the new changes in circumstances? How do we improve it and keep it from deteriorating into a wasteland? Well, I suggested that maybe design would have a relevance and my colleague, Eric Hicks, who was working at this; Eric brought this in. And at first the developmentalists thought that design meant, kind of touchy-feely, sentimental stuff. Conservationists were troubled; they thought it meant the Disneyfication of Banff.
But as the work progressed it happened this way. By focusing on individual projects and discussing “what shall be done, here and now.” Not with meta-theories of development or conservation. But what project can we agree upon? Well, one project that they agreed upon was where to move a path. A path in the park. The path had to be moved about 200-300 yards. And, boy, they had been locked — irreconcilable — it shall not pass. Because they’re worried about the implications.
But by using design they were able to focus on the minute — the microstructure of the problem. And they could agree that “okay, we can do this and it doesn’t harm my conservationist idea; it doesn’t harm my developmentalist idea.” They agreed to make that change.
And I’m afraid that’s the way it has to work for us in organizations in many cases. That by talking together and by focusing on the small pathways of our experience we can get through it.
I guess I’ve got to add one feature on this that’s really significant. I’ve got this theory and it drives the systems thinkers crazy because I think they really don’t like me to say this. Because they like to talk about systems as if they really understand the system. But here’s my notion: that it’s impossible for a human being to experience a system. Not merely impossible but impossible by definition. You can imagine that there are academics that don’t like that idea at all. Because they’re very confident that they can understand systems. But my point is this: a system, by definition is all that has happened, all that is happening and all that will happen. Within a range of parameters. Only God knows about that.
I’ve been around the sun 60 times in my life. Sixty times. I’ve heard speculation about the solar system and I enjoy astronomy a lot and do some studying. But all I really have experienced in the solar system is 60 circuits — well, a couple more than 60 — circuits of the sun. And I’m afraid that people mistake their their personal experience for the bigger sweep. They think that if you have the field equation that you’ve understood the system. They think that if you find the elements and define them, as Warren and Weaver have defined, then you understand the system. Great danger in this; in thinking that. If we think we have understood the system, boy, the potential for unintended consequences is huge.
That’s why, for me, as we work in organizations and work together in collective interactions it’s good that we start small with the pathways of individual experience, and slowly out of the individual pathways we knit them together into sustainable interactions. Sustainable collective interactions.
That’s a deep driver for me. It motivates my work with MBA students. I don’t know, I call them MBA students but jeez they come from all sorts of areas — I’ve got two lawyers who are interested in this, they come to the capstone course in design that teach at Weatherhead. My doctoral students are designers. They’re learning some statistics and they know some things about representation through numbers. That’s not a bad thing. In fact it’s at that level, you really need that kind of work.
I did a Myers-Briggs of the faculty at Carnegie Mellon. When I was head. Did a Myers-Briggs. How many of you know what Myers-Briggs is — oh, everyone. Jesus Christ, we all know. You all probably hate it. Designers hate that kind of shit; it’s just terrible. But you know in a Myers-Briggs you’ve got — well, we used the Keirsey variation — you’ve got NF, the intuitive-feeling folks. And then you have NT, the intuitive-thinking folks. Or the Ss and so forth. But we found that — and I can give you the aggregate numbers, I won’t tell you about individuals — we found that essentially it was a two to one ratio of the NFs; the intuitive-feeling faculty. Two to one of the NT and ST, where thinking and judgement figures heavily into the work. Turns out their department head at the time was an INTJ and one of the faculty members who has a wonderful firm in Pittsburgh was an ENTJ. There were a couple of others like this. But that was the spread. So now, after two runs of my capstone course of MBAs take a guess what the distribution is. No, it’s not two to one NF to NT; it’s two to one the other way. Two thirds are in the Myers-Briggs grouping of NT and ST. The T is big; judgement is big. But one third are in the NF. Very much like my faculty at Carnegie Mellon. Interesting balance, and I thought: “my God, we have a lot of work to do to get these MBA students to have more of the intuitive sensibility that makes design so wonderful.” And I thought: “holy smokes, what’s wrong with this? What am I doing? We actually need people who are very careful for the kind of product that they make. The product they make, I want them to have a significant level of judgement and careful thought. Because, boy, when you design an organization, if you screw it up you do a lot of damage to people.
Well, this is maybe the kicker for you. At the beginning of 20th century when we talk about a “product” we means this — an artifact. A tangible good. Fast forward one hundred years to the end of the 20th century. When we say “product” we mean anything made by a human being. Anything made by a human being. So a policy, a law, a computer system, an environment, a natural park. These also are products.
And what we bring as designers to help out with these collaborative, innovative networks. We bring that sensibility to human-to-human interaction. We see the organization differently.
So this is not my apologia for moving over to Weatherhead. I’m not apologizing for that move, although I didn’t bother to explain it to anyone. Because I was busy doing work, I guess. But it’s good to be able to tell my friends in different areas now what the transition has been and what it’s meant.
We are now building a joint program with the Cleveland Institute of Art. A masters program. Because we want to see how more design students can have access to the services and the ways organizations work; means a lot.
But I suppose the best place to end this, and I know you’re getting tired probably — it’s been a long day. But I want to end on this point. We get real confused about the purposes of design. Why do we design? And then, when should we not design? How do we know what the ultimate purposes of design would be?
Now I know that the concerns for sustainability weigh heavily in your thinking about this. Very important to me, but I guess I rephrase it differently. For me the purpose is human dignity. What we can do to support human dignity. Treating people as people and not as things, or as users, or some other bullshit term like that. And I suppose dignity is to find our proper place in the world and not to exceed that place. So I might capture some of the same thoughts you have.
For me I’ve got to pound out the work with the folks that make the decisions and it’s tough going, I’ll tell you. We’re doing projects with the Cleveland clinic on patient and family experience. I’ve got three teams going over that group like crazy. We’re dealing with a large international corporation. We’re dealing with a local community college for student experience and figure out how to make that better. Community colleges are in the news lately, you know, they’re pretty serious these days. We’re also doing a project with the museum of contemporary art. We’ve got a range: for-profit, not-for-profit. And we actually did a project with the office of sustainability with Cuyahoga county. So some government operation too.
So my interest in organizations is not just for-profit. In fact, that’s kind of the focus at Weatherhead. Not to commit to for-profit or not-for-profit. We just brought the Mandel Center for Non-profits within the jurisdiction of the Weatherhead because we’re very much concerned with how we work and organize non-profit organizations.
Here’s what seems to have gone wrong in the business community. At least one of the things. Maybe it’s the big thing. We’ve gotten confused over why you have an organization; why do you have a business?
Some smartasses think that it’s about making profit. And I’ve got to tell you, that’s a battle to have within these walls. I work in the Gehry building; Frank Gehry designed an incredible building and it’s at the Weatherhead and I live in that. But I find students who still think that organizations or businesses are about making profit.
And I think this is an attitude that has grown up over the last 20 years or so, because it hasn’t always been that way. In fact, there’s a deep anchor in the literature on organizations that says that the purpose of organizations is to provide goods and service to people; to meet their needs and interests. And profit? Oh, profit’s just a way of measuring and getting capital to do that work. But something’s gone wrong in these organizations. They think that profit is the end. And it’s not. It’s the means.
That’s a deep, wicked problem that I have to fight. And my colleagues fight. But curiously some senior people in respected organizations hear that message, so I’m not here to blow sunshine at you about the nature of the corporate world. There are a lot of sharks; they’re not all sharks. There are some very decent people who want to do right. And that right is not defined by profit.
These are tough matters to understand and think about. For a designer it sort of stretches your head. But that’s where we work. The dialectic of discovering what is good and serviceable for being human.
So I set out as my task for this lecture to try to bring together two streams of thinking. One: Design Ethos and the various forms that this means for Terry and Cameron and for lots of you in the papers you presented. And your own thoughts. And a second stream concerning network analysis. Communication. The development of software and hardware to some extent to understand those collective interactions. Diffusion of knowledge and so forth. But also in that COINs group, a recognition that face-to-face communication is a special thing. And to think that we understand it by network analysis; very cautious about this. Humility is called for. Human beings do not experience systems.
Richard Buchanan is professor of Design, Management and Information Systems at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western. Among his numerous publications are Discovering Design: Explorations in Design Studies, The Idea of Design, and Pluralism in Theory and Practice.
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