Wednesday, July 05, 2006

"What do they think 'design' is anyway?"

Sharing some birthday cake with Sara Little Turnbull last year on her birthday, I listened as Sara talked about the instructions she had given to a group in Seattle seeking to design new public trash receptacles. Rising early, donning boots, and accompanying city garbage collectors as they emptied existing trash containers were among the instructions. Observing trash container use by the public, both human and non-human (e.g., birds), were also among the instructions.

Sara has long been a practitioner and proponent of such field research. When she was an editor of House Beautiful magazine during the 1940s and 1950s, she visited as many as 400 homes a year to understand what people valued and considered to be important. And field research has been integral to her subsequent several decades of work as a strategic product design consultant.

Sara's emphasis on such research has influenced many over the years, particularly during her many recent years at Stanford University and including the likes of David Kelley, which impacted practice at what is now IDEO.

As we ate that birthday cake last year, I commented about how many designers still don't see the importance of doing that kind of research.

"I know," replied Sara. "Isn't that amazing! What do they think 'design' is anyway?"

What do YOU -- the reader of this blog -- think "design" is?

Chatting again with Sara less than two weeks ago (when the above photo was taken), we talked more about what could be done to help companies better understand what design is.

photograph courtesy of Maureen Hoffmann