Sunday, 26 May 2013

Design Thinking for Ecosystems

Bret Victor’s talk about “Drawing Dynamic Visualizations” (via Stilkov) inspired me to go a little further on design thinking. Not in particular because of his amazing visualizations but rather his quote of Alan Kay referencing Jaques Hadamard, who did a survey amongst great mathematicians what kind of tools they use.  In this study Hadamard found that only a few of them “claimed to use mathematical symbology at all […] they did it mostly in imagery or figurative terms”.

Alan Kay in Bret Victor's Talk

I am sometimes surprised to see hardcode-science-educated colleagues struggle when I apply techniques and methods learnt in design and architecture school. Sometimes even simple brainstorming seems to disqualify me as proper nerd peer. This also applies to systems or enterprise architecture when I draw systems in the size according to the importance of their interfaces on the whiteboard, print out code to show its asymmetries or refuse to include technical layering in early system drafts (in the end it’s all indirection).

Design Thinking is everything but new – has shaping it for a while. But via the organizational implications mobile is putting upon enterprises, it’s entering the world of technology architecture rapidly. Agencies like R/GA, Frog or recently-Accenture-acquired Fjord take giant steps towards the convergence of innovative service and product design with technology. What they call “functional integration” is often coined an ecosystem in the technology world. It gets more interesting though if we ask why this integration has not reached all the platforms we know of. Apple is usually considered one of the best ecosystems – yet, its technical platforms are surprisingly heterogeneous and task-based, you could argue skeuomorphic in the way they act. Android and Windows 8 are much more “flow-based”, trying to support an externally planned long-running activity through multiple channels. In a way, they are more technical – but then again, in the long-term, they might very well bring the benefits of good design: a product that is unobtrusive, long-lasting, essential and pure.

Our architectures must become like good design, like an unobtrusive ecosystem that shaped the components living in it. As Triarchy writes:
“Deleuze and Guattari talking about the structural and genetic aspects of organisations and the need to consider the shape of the formed organisation on the structural plane as well as the evolution of the formed organisation on the genetic plane. This echoes the debate about whether to prioritise structures or processes in management. For D and G, it's necessary to do both.”

Or as Bjarne Stroustrip, again quoted by Bret Victor, said: “A lot of thinking about software development is focused on the group, the team, the company”. Evolution, i.e. predators, are important in emergent, especially in agile, iterative systems. However, systems don’t end in themselves; they need to fulfill a purpose. In a world where all kinds of systems are possible, design thinking can find this purpose.

UPDATE: A good write up on why design thinking is a discipline, not a process: