Architect, Landscape Architect, Urban Designer, Land Use Planner, Environmental Observer

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Classic Primer on Design Process

It seems like another lifetime. I crossed the country from Warren, Vermont to San Luis Obispo, California to attend the Architecture school at California State Polytechnic University (Cal Poly). When I started school, I was assigned an advisor - Don Koberg. At that time, Don had a small office, like most professors, but the walls of his office was covered in posters from the Fillmore and Avalon
(after all, it was 1966 - and Don was the hippest professor on an otherwise conservative campus). I knew I would like this guy.

In 1972, Don published a workbook on design with his friend and fellow architecture professor Jim Bagnall. The book, The Universal Traveler, is subtitled "a soft systems guide to: creativity, problem-solving and the process of reaching goals". The core of the book is a way of looking at the problem-solving process in seven steps :


to accept the problem as a challenge; to give up our autonomy to the problem and allow the problem to become our process


to get to know about the ins and outs of the problem; to discover what the world of the problem looks like


to decide what we believe to be the main issues of the problem; to conceptualize and to clarify our major goals concerning the problem situation


to search out all the ways of possible getting to the major goals


to compare our goals with the possible ways; determining the best way to go


to give action or physical form to our selected best way


to compare the goals with the qualities and quantities of the entire process

SO....but do we really think like that ?

I have taught design and creativity over the years at a couple of schools and have seen the skeptical look on students faces when I lay this process out for them. Then I give them this example and see if they can relate -

Say you want to figure out what you're doing for dinner tonight. First thing you might think about is - do I go out to eat or cook at home? Let's say you choose to cook at home - save some money and time (ACCEPTANCE)

Next question is what should I cook? Ummm, let me think of what I have in the house - maybe I should do some shopping? (ANALYSIS)

I think I'll cook something that is in the house - hopefully, it will be something that is nutritious, tastes good and that I can cook in no more than half an hour. (DEFINITION)

Given that, I could cook something like Pasta Carbonara and a salad - I have the ingredients. Or maybe I should cook a Bacon and Avocado omelette with some Home Fries. I always have eggs and potatoes and I know I have the rest. (IDEATION)

I think I'll do the Omelette, because it will give me more protein, I love the combination of flavors and it definitely will take less than half an hour to prepare. (SELECTION)

I assemble the pans, chop ingredients, microwave the potatoes till they get slightly soft. I have to start the potatoes first, so they will brown - add chopped onion and garlic. Then I'll mix the eggs with a little milk and beat them till they're blended. I have to get another pan started on a lower flame. Now I work to get both done at the same time. When it's all done I'll make sure to eat it at the table instead of in front of the TV. (IMPLEMENTATION)

Mmmmm....that was good! Next time though, I'll stop at the store - salsa would be great with this dish! (EVALUATION)

. . .

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