Design Tools for Social Engagement in Organizations

This article originally appeared in OD PRACTITIONER Vol. 47 No. 3 2015, a journal published by the Organization Development Network, and is reprinted here with permission. Special thanks to my colleagues and graduate students from the Design for Social Impact and Industrial Design programs at The University of the Arts, without whose work this article would not have been possible.

Introduction

Design thinking is valued within the business world because it contains a powerful set of methods and tools for creative problem solving and catalyzing innovation in many different sectors (Brown, 2008; Martin, 2009; “Design Thinking…”, 2006). Following from this recognition, designers and design innovation consultancies are increasingly being asked to contribute to the (re)design of organizations, where an inclusive, multi-stakeholder design process can have a significant impact on individual mindsets in support of large scale organizational culture change. In particular, social engagement tools that emphasize visual communication and embodied interactions have the power to reorient organization dynamics. By combining this design-led approach with organization development’s deep expertise in change management, there is immense opportunity for reciprocal partnerships between OD and design professionals.

In this paper, I will briefly recount the expanding scope of design within a recent history in order to track its disciplinary evolution. I will then expand upon the characteristics of design culture as it relates to organization development. Finally, through case studies, I will discuss how design tools for social engagement can change the nature of collaboration and communication within organizations, and what this suggests for future partnerships between designers and organization development practitioners.

The expanding scope of design

The boundaries and scope of problems addressed by designers has continued to expand over the last half century. Designers increasingly have applied their creative problem solving methods and “design thinking” process to issues beyond the realm of products and visual communication, addressing processes, systems, services, strategy and culture. The long view of this historical shift in design practice has been tracked by Richard Buchanan who characterized the discipline as practicing within four distinct “placements” over the last hundred years of its brief history (1992). Tony Golsby-Smith furthered refined Buchanan’s four “placements” by describing these as expanding “orders” of design practice, which he contextualized through specific practical applications within widening domains (see fig. 1.) (1996).

Figure 1. The four orders of design

Figure 1. The four orders of design

The first order concerns the design of text and image (words and symbols), which is most readily identified with graphic and communication design. In the second order, designers primarily give form to objects, creating industrial and commercial products for mass markets. In the third order, designers apply the creative problem solving process to the strategic planning and operations domain in order to bring a heightened level of efficiency, responsiveness, and even innovation to the production, marketing, and user experience of products and services. The expanding role and impact of design continues into the fourth order, where designers move beyond the details of industrial processes and consumption to address issues pertaining to systems and culture. Ultimately, the story of design thinking’s rise over the past several years is about building multi-disciplinary teams with the capacity to confidently navigate complexity and address seemingly intractable problems with a new set of highly collaborative and creative tools and methods.

Social design

Even more recently, a finer distinction has been suggested by those designers who primarily take on complex social entities, relationships and systems as a problem space in which to work, which may be described in a number of ways: design for social impact, design for social innovation (Manzini, 2015), transformation design (Burns, Cottam, Vanstone, & Winhall, 2006), or social design (MICA Social Design, 2014). The definitions of these terms are by no means settled, and each one implies subtle distinctions. For the purposes of this paper, I will refer to social design, which describes a distinct, although emerging, sub-discipline with an expanded set of competencies for its practitioners.

Social designers require more developed skills of emotional intelligence and organizational sensitivity along with appropriate tools focused on facilitation and collaboration with a variety of different stakeholders, most of whom are non-designers. Often referred to as co-design, involving stakeholders throughout every step of the process fosters creativity and collaboration from the earliest stages of design research through rough prototyping, to testing and evaluation of design proposals and outputs (Sanders & Stappers, 2008). It is here where I see the most potential for productive, reciprocal partnerships between design and organization development.

Design meets culture

I have recounted above a brief history of the design discipline’s expanding sphere of impact to include the domains of organizations, systems and culture. An essential opportunity and consequence brought on by this shift, though, has been the transference of certain key design competencies to the organization and community partners within any given client engagement. This transference, facilitated by a highly collaborative, participatory process, is ultimately a means to establish a design culture within an organization.

While the celebration of design thinking by influential members of the business community may begin with a focus on more creative ways to innovate and respond to a volatile, uncertain future, it is also about changing how organizations function, communicate and collaborate across established silos. Introducing design thinking into organizations is, and should be, about building an internal culture of design. Here I use design culture instead of design thinking in order to better describe a set of practices and behaviors — an organizational mindset even. As a detached set of methods and tools, design thinking is often deployed ad hoc, initiated as one-off engagements (design workshops) or project-specific consultancies, which may or may not become sustainable within an organization over the long-term after the first contact. Nurturing design culture suggests a more permanent transformation in the way an organization and its members do their work, as well as their attitudes toward collaboration, failure, learning and ambiguous problems.

There is not a single, correct definition of design culture. Nor will a culture of design within one organization be expressed in the same way in another organization. However, it is useful to outline what the term means by articulating several values that are essential in the promotion of a design culture (see table 1.) (Brown, 2008; Buchanan, 1992; Cross, 2011; Kolko, 2011).

Design Values Expressed by
Generative, solutions-focused, optimistic Seeing constraints as opportunities
Brainstorming, thinking outside of the box
Divergent thinking
Action-oriented and experimental Learn by doing
Making, prototyping
Iteration
Enacting
Empathic Talking to and listening to people
Understanding the experiences of people
Reflective Self awareness, evaluation, learning
Integrative thinking Systems thinking
Synthesis and sensemaking
Employing abductive reasoningInformed Intuition
Collaborative Interdisciplinary
Co-creative
Inclusive and participatory
Visual Using non-verbal modelling media
Visual thinking and visualization

Table 1. Design values that promote a design culture

Case study: IBM Design

I turn now to a high-profile example of an organization that is remaking itself through a culture of design. In the last few years, IBM has reoriented itself around design-led innovation and human-centered design process (Lillington, 2015). The goal is ambitious and transformative: infuse a strong design ethos within a multinational enterprise software and business operations corporation.

At the heart of this mission is design education, the transference of design process, methods and tools through project-based experiences. New hires fresh out of undergraduate and graduate design programs are brought to IBM Design’s Austin, Texas studio for an intense 3-month design camp during which they are oriented to the organization and culture, assigned to various product development projects, and pushed to quickly deliver results within a highly complex, iterative and rigorous enterprise environment.

Expanding beyond the confines of the design studio, members of IBM Design’s Education and Activation unit travel around the world to other IBM sites to facilitate week-long design workshops with product development teams, most of which are already integrated with IBM designers. The goal of these engagements is to, again, transfer aspects of design thinking and human-centered design process by working closely with developers, engineers and managers, by modeling and reinforcing those values so important to design practice.

The dissemination of design culture at this scale is ultimately a massive organizational change initiative. It is fascinating, not so much as a strategic goal, but in practice, in the specific methods, behaviors and relational work being done to meet this goal. The question remains to be answered, of course, about the net effect and impact of IBM’s reorientation around design, as judged by its key business metrics. How successful will the establishment of a new design culture be in transforming the organization?

An opportunity for organization development and design

The IBM example represents a design-led approach to organizational change through the creation of an internal design culture, which makes sense given its strong legacy of design. For many organizations, though, different engagements with design will be required to achieve culture change because the opportunities may be more rigidly defined within the framework of organization development. Organization development practitioners will be sought by companies to help frame the questions around organizational change, establish the protocols for managing change, and facilitate a multi-stakeholder process. OD practitioners have decades of experience and collectively amassed huge portfolios of clients and change management projects, working both externally and internally.

Designers and design innovation consultancies (eg. IDEO, Continuum, Catapult Design) are increasingly playing similar roles as design becomes valued for its ability to steward change in the realm of organizational culture (the fourth order of design). Rather than following an either-or scenario in which the relative effectiveness of each discipline’s approach is judged against the other, I believe that there is immense opportunity for reciprocal partnerships between OD and design professionals. In particular, social engagement tools that emphasize visual communication and embodied interactions have the power to reorient organization dynamics by instituting a design culture.

A number of studio projects undertaken in the Design for Social Impact (DSI) graduate program at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia (where I am currently the program director) have pointed to this OD and design partnership opportunity and suggest the need for more refined and focused test cases to model such a partnership. DSI graduate students, led by experienced faculty, have engaged partner organizations in addressing a range of organization and systems-level issues. In dealing with complex, ambiguous problems, the DSI design teams have often touched upon (sometimes reluctantly) challenges regarding organizational culture change. In fact, the program relies on faculty and visiting lecturers with expertise in organization development, organizational psychology, and community organizing to mentor students in navigating complex community and organization dynamics.

The DSI program has been involved in several projects (“Design for Social Impact…”, n.d.) in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania Health System (UPHS), one of the leading health systems in the nation which includes three major hospitals in Philadelphia as well as an array of clinical practices across the region. Through graduate thesis and design studio projects, students have worked with PennMed’s Center for Health Care Innovation and the Performance Improvement in Action teams. These projects have focused on organizational dynamics and change, patient services and customer experiences, and the role of design in fostering innovation within health care. The long-term goal of these partnership projects with UPHS has been to improve the quality of care it provides by slowly and incrementally introducing designerly behaviors and practices which foster new approaches at all levels of staff.

One student project in particular addressed the issue of organizational culture change at UPHS. In 2013, DSI graduate student Benjamin Hillson joined a team of cardiac nurses within the framework of UPHS’s Performance Improvement in Action (PIIA) cycle in order to discover an opportunity for innovating a process directly connected to the nurses’ work. (PIIA invites teams to compete in an “innovation tournament” style process to improve an aspect of the team’s work and measure its impact.) Hilson’s role was largely that of designer-facilitator, assisting the nurses in establishing a process for discovery and problem finding, ideation and prototyping, and evaluation and iteration of design-driven solutions. The nurses had identified a problem stemming from inconsistent, inaccurate information being communicated to cardiac surgery patients, and they were eager to improve it (Hillson, 2013).

Along with his knowledge of co-design — action research, co-creation, rapid prototyping and iteration — Hillson introduced highly visual and embodied tools and methods to the nurses to support an evolution in their work. These tools and methods included: large-scale brainstorming sessions captured with visual notes and sketching; visual frameworks for making sense of user research, ideas and processes through mapping; and lo-fidelity paper prototyping that allowed the team to quickly visualize possible solutions and gauge their effectiveness (see fig. 2.). Apart from the specific project outcome — a better process for communicating the care plan to cardiac surgical patients supported by visual artifacts — the nurses responded positively to a different way of working that was optimistic, highly engaging and collaborative, and proactive.

Figure 2. Communication materials generated during the prototyping process (photo credit: Ben Hillson)

Figure 2. Communication materials generated during the prototyping process (photo credit: Ben Hillson)

Another long-term DSI partnership has been with 1199c Training Fund (“Design for Social Impact…”, n.d.), a non-profit organization which provides free basic job skills training and professional development for members of a local healthcare workers union. The 1199c Training Fund initially reached out to the DSI program to help them understand their membership’s educational needs with the goal of improving the visibility and communication of these offerings and increasing enrollment. A subsequent project addressed how the Training Fund’s physical reception area and intake system functioned in order to learn how improvements might be designed and implemented. The most recent project built off of previous insights in order to design a feedback system and supporting artifacts which would help improve their curriculum, course offerings and teacher effectiveness.

Figure 3. An oversized die to help teams ask challenging questions

Figure 3. An oversized die to help teams ask challenging questions (photo credit: Design for Social Impact)

Figure 4. A Physical Prototyping Kit to Help Teams Visualize New Ideas

Figure 4. A physical prototyping kit to help teams visualize new ideas (photo credit: Design for Social Impact)

The Training Fund staff have demonstrated a particular openness to the design process and a willingness to experiment with different formats. The various graduate student teams working with them took advantage of this high level of trust and commitment to collaboration in order to develop tools which emphasize visual communication and embodied interactions. Some of the tools that students prototyped include: a three-dimensional mapping tool to visualize communication channels; an oversized die to help ask challenging questions in a less vulnerable way (see fig. 3.); a physical prototyping kit to help staff visualize new ideas (see fig. 4.); role playing exercises to enact aspects of the Training Fund’s communication processes; and an object for capturing feedback (see fig. 5.).

In the workshops where these social engagement tools were used, the Training Fund staff were visibly energized by this more active and visual way of working together to address complex issues within the organization. Notably, they looked forward enthusiastically to the design workshops, and they specifically asked to keep the tools after the lifespan of the projects. For an organization where discussion-based meetings are the normal way of operating, the introduction of these action-oriented methods seemed a welcome shift towards a more design-oriented culture.

Conclusion

I offer these two case studies not as definitive proof but rather as support for further exploration of the potential of promoting design culture within organizations. What is clear is that a design thinking process reinforced by visual and physical artifacts and interactions has the power to change how people in organizations build community through collaboration, see themselves in relationship to each other and the organization, and engage in a learning process.

This design-led approach is different from facilitated discussions that use physical props because it is infused with specific design values (see table 1.) which promote a design culture. When incorporated into a comprehensive change process, these design tools for social engagement promise to shift mindsets and spark new behaviors in support of increased collaboration, empathy, experimentation, visualization, integrative thinking and reflection. The net effect here depends upon not any single interaction but rather upon a systematic practice sustained over the long term.

A partnership between designers and OD practitioners in the context of organizational change initiatives is capable of producing valuable new tools and frameworks for conversation and building shared understanding. Designers create context-specific tools to activate participants through more embodied, visual interactions that emphasize learning by doing, making and acting. Organizational development practitioners bring deep, practice-based experience in managing complex change processes and aligning multiple stakeholders at different levels around a strategic vision. They possess a heightened sensitivity to the hidden structures and vibrations within complex social systems, and they understand how to navigate and confront organizational dynamics. Working together, designers and organization development professionals can become a powerful force for shepherding organizations through change processes with the aid of design tools for social engagement.

Figure 5. An Object for Capturing Feedback

Figure 5. An object for capturing feedback (photo credit: Design for Social Impact)

This article originally appeared in OD PRACTITIONER Vol. 47 No. 3 2015, a journal published by the Organization Development Network, and is reprinted here with permission. Special thanks to my colleagues and graduate students from the Design for Social Impact and Industrial Design programs at The University of the Arts, without whose work this article would not have been possible..

References

Brown, T. (2008, June). Design thinking. Harvard Business Review, 84-92. Retrieved from http://www.ideo.com/images/uploads/thoughts/IDEO_HBR_Design_Thinking.pdf

Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked problems in design thinking. Design Issues, 8(2),5-21.

Burns, C., Cottam, H., Vanstone, C., & Winhall, J. (2006). RED Paper 02: Transformation design. UK Design Council. Retrieved from http://www.cihm.leeds.ac.uk/document_downloads/REDPAPER02TransformationDesign.pdf

Cross, N. (2011). Design thinking as a form of Intelligence. In S. Stewart (Ed.), Design thinking research symposium, 8 (pp. 99-105). University of Technology Sydney.

Design for Social Impact MDes – The University of the Arts | 1199c Training Fund (n.d.). Retrieved from http://dsi.uarts.edu/featured/1199c-training-fund-2

Design for Social Impact MDes – The University of the Arts | University of Pennsylvania Health System. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://dsi.uarts.edu/featured/university-of-pennsylvania-health-system

Design Thinking… What is That? (2006, March 20). Retrieved from https://www.fastcompany.com/919258/design-thinking-what/

Golsby-Smith, T. (1996). Fourth order design: A practical perspective. Design Issues, 12(1), 5-25.

Hillson, B. (2013). Sustaining organizational culture change (Master’s thesis). The University of the Arts, Philadelphia, PA. Retrieved from http://issuu.com/mid_uarts/docs/hillson_thesis__issuu_

Kolko, J. (2011). Exposing the magic of design: A practitioner’s guide to the methods and theory of synthesis. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Lillington, K. (2015, March 12). The man helping IBM rediscover its commitment to a strong design ethos. The Irish Times. Retrieved from https://www.irishtimes.com/business/technology/the-man-helping-ibm-rediscover-its-commitment-to-a-strong-design-ethos-1.2135276

Manzini, E. (2015). Design, when everybody designs: An introduction to design for social innovation. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Martin, R. L. (2009). The design of business: Why design thinking is the next competitive advantage. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.

MICA Social Design (Producer). Robert W Deutsch Visiting Scholar Doug Powell Public Lecture: Social Design: Where Do We Go From Here? [Video file]. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/88416645

Sanders, E. B.-N., Stappers, P. J. (2008, March). Co-creation and the new landscapes of design. CoDesign: International Journal of CoCreation in Design and the Arts 4(1), 5-18. doi:10.1080/15710880701875068

Travelogue: Design Culture at IBM

ibm-jordan

A couple of weeks ago I spent a few days with a former graduate student of mine, Jordan Shade, who now works as a design researcher at IBM Design in Austin, Texas. News of IBM’s strategic reorientation around design innovation and human-centered design process has reached somewhat mythic proportions in the design world as the organization has committed to hiring 1,000 designers within a 5-year period that began about 18 months ago. And they are aggressively recruiting and training recent design graduates from bachelors and masters level design programs (this summer 100 new designers will be on-boarded, added to the approximately 300 that have already been hired). I first learned of this at A Better World by Design 2013, where some of the first wave of the newly created team were present to evangelize about IBM Design, including Doug Powell, who presented the conference keynote.

ibm-working

I hung around IBM Design’s vast 2-floor design studio for a day to get a sense of the work and the culture, shadowing Jordan, speaking with some of her colleagues, and generally studying the workspace and the visual evidence of their process. The initiative is impressive in many respects. For one, the studio space appears to be highly functional, supporting a large number of designers on multiple product teams and working in different modalities: spaces for large workshops, small team group work, private conversations, quiet reflection, video conferencing, formal presentation, vertical surfaces for large-scale visualization and ideation, and cafe environments for eating and socializing. The space is comfortable, accommodating different kinds of work, and flexible enough to respond to the rhythms of the design process.

ibm-mapping

Most impressive to me, though, is the intentionality with which IBM is building — or rather, prototyping — a design culture. The goal is ambitious and transformative: infuse a strong design ethos within a multinational enterprise software and business operations corporation (and one with some 430,000 employees). At the heart of this mission is design education, the transference of design process, methods and tools through project-based experiences. New hires fresh out of undergraduate and graduate design programs are brought to IBM Design’s Austin studio for an intense 3-month design camp during which they are oriented to the organization and culture, assigned to various product development projects, and pushed to quickly deliver results within a highly complex, iterative, and rigorous enterprise environment.

Expanding beyond the confines of the design studio, members of IBM Design’s Education and Activation unit travel around the world to other IBM sites to facilitate week-long design workshops with product development teams, most of which are already integrated with IBM designers. The goal of these engagements is to, again, transfer aspects of design thinking and human-centered design process by working closely with developers, engineers and managers. The dissemination of design culture — ultimately, a massive organizational change initiative — at this scale of an organization is so fascinating, not so much as a strategic goal, but in practice, in the specific methods, behaviors and relational work being done to meet this goal. The question remains to be answered, of course, about the net effect and impact of IBM’s reorientation around design, as judged by its key business metrics. How successful will the establishment of a new design culture be in transforming an organization?

A New Kind of Med School

jefferson-jb

Kicking off the first workshop on contextual inquiry at Jefferson’s new Accelerator Zone space

I recently had the pleasure to develop and lead two design workshops for first year medical school students at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia at the invitation of Dr. Bon Ku, director of a new design co-curriculum in the medical school. The CwiC (College within a College) Design Track “seeks to foster creative thinking in medical students in order to assist them in developing novel and innovative approaches to challenges in healthcare delivery, research, and education.” This amibitious and visionary program will organize a series of design workshops, lectures, site visits, and capstone projects for a select group of students accepted into the program. This will be no small feat for the students to complete, given that this curriculum runs in addition to an already grueling schedule in the regular med school curriculum.

jefferson-shadowing

Two medical students interviewing an attending physician in the ER

The first cohort of med students began the track in early February with a day-long design thinking introductory bootcamp led by David Janka, who is on faculty at Stanford’s d.school. After David gave the 15 students a crash course in the basics of design process, I then built on that foundation with two workshops focused on redesigning aspects of the patient experience in Jefferson University Hospital’s emergency department.

The first workshop helped them understand in more depth a suite of basic design research methods, and how these are so essential for understanding complex systems and services, and for building empathy with the people who are a part of them. With a set of contextual inquiry methods and tools in hand, the med students set off for the ER, shadowing physicians, nurses, other staff, and patients in different environments and processes. They returned to the following workshop with dozens of photos and pages of notes documenting what they saw and heard, as well as their initial interpretations.

jefferson-synthesis

Students in the second workshop synthesizing their research data

With all of their raw documentation of the ER gathered, for the second workshop the med students began to make sense of the qualitative data through visualization techniques, affinity diagramming and stakeholder mapping. They created personas based on what they learned and who they had spoken to in their research, and then they used those personas to better understand the systems they were zeroing in on through user journey mapping. This helped them to identify a few pain points within the systems, which they then used to define a problem to address through rapid ideation and prototyping. Interestingly, many of the students had learned from patients about how frustrating waiting in the ER is (in various stages of the care process) and how uncommunicative the system is about wait times — not surprising for anyone who has visited the ER! What was so compelling was that each team of students had identified multiple and different underlying issues causing long waits and the associated frustrations. Each of their prototypes then attempted to either alleviate the symptoms of prolonged wait times, or tackle one of the root causes for wait times and poor communication.

These were very quick, albeit intense, experiences for the students, and they will continue to accumulate more of them over the coming semesters in the CwiC Design Track. The creators of the design curriculum believe that it will transform them as physicians and give them a new set of capabilities and mindsets rooted in design thinking, thus better equipping them to lead within an uncertain future for healthcare in this country. As an outsider looking in, I am impressed with how fearless and passionate the 15 med students are for embracing the design process. It’s exciting to be a part of such an important shift in how future doctors are trained.

Boundary Objects and Social Design

Boundary object from the project In a state far from equilibrium

Boundary object from the project In a state far from equilibrium

Below I share a proposal for a design research project that I am beginning in earnest this spring. The goal of this project is to research and define the concept of the ‘boundary object’, and then use a nuanced understanding of this framework to prototype new co-design tools for application toward complex social and organizational design problems.

01

The boundaries and scope of problems addressed by designers has continued to expand over the last half century. Designers increasingly have applied their creative problem solving methods and “design thinking” process to issues beyond the realm of more conventional products and visual communication to encompass non-traditional design problems concerned with processes, systems, services, strategies, and culture. Even more recently, a finer distinction has been suggested by those designers who primarily take on complex social entities, relationships, and systems as a problem space in which to work; call it social design, design for social impact, or transformation design, to name a few of the new designations.

In this contemporary social context, designers require more developed skills of emotional intelligence and organizational adeptness along with appropriate tools focused on facilitation and collaboration with a variety of different stakeholders, most of whom are non-designers. This co-creative, participatory design approach is now often referred to as co-design, and it depends upon an open, invitational ethos that privileges the inclusion of various stakeholders throughout every step of the process, from the earliest stages of design research through rough prototyping to testing and evaluation of design proposals and outputs.

02

Within these expanded contexts for design and while using a process that is highly social and collaborative, designers have come to rely on design tools to support any number of activities at any stage of the design process where different stakeholders are asked to participate. While it is conceivable that nearly any physical thing might be such a design tool, the utility of the tool is judged by the degree to which it can make visible aspects of the design process to its participants and create clear pathways for designers and non-designers to share knowledge, build trust, and learn from each other to meet the stated goals of a given design project. In light of this, a design tool might be a matrix of key questions about a routine service experience onto which participants place a set of predetermined cards with different qualities, or it might be a large format map of a neighborhood on which residents identify important assets, issues, or locations. (See examples at the end of this document.)

In my own design practice and teaching, I create tools that are highly visual and physical in nature (and public) which activate participants in an embodied mode of thinking and learning. And while the data and insights obtained from such tools are genuinely valuable to a purposive design project, these social tools often reveal their greatest value as frameworks for conversation and building shared understanding.

03

A few years ago while teaching a graduate design studio, I discovered a body of research from the fields of information sciences and sociology describing boundary objects. Essentially, a boundary object is a means of translation existing at the intersection of multiple social worlds (communities of practice) and may include such things as documents and models, common languages, and shared routines and processes. As a more concrete example, consider the role that a set of architectural drawings plays in facilitating the collaboration of a range of stakeholders in the construction of a building: designers, engineers, builders, building inspectors, local zoning boards, and so on.

Boundary objects are objects which are both plastic enough to adapt to local needs and the constraints of the several parties employing them, yet robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites. They are weakly structured in common use, and become strongly structured in individual-site use. These objects may be abstract or concrete. They have different meanings in different social worlds but their structure is common enough to more than one world to make them recognizable, a means of translation. (Star and Griesemer 393)

Clearly, for me there was a strong connection between boundary objects and the types of design tools I and my students were creating to facilitate the most social aspects of our collaborative work with many diverse participants. The terminology quickly become a part of the culture within Design for Social Impact (at that time MID), most notably for its descriptive power and expediency: our social design tools are objects that operate at the boundaries of different individuals and social groups and serve to build shared understanding across those potential divides.

While the terminology has been useful and added a needed dimension to the development of design tools in my work and the work of the graduate students, I do believe that a deeper dive into the original body of research is needed for two primary reasons. First, there are a number of subtleties within that scholarship that are ill understood by designers (myself included) and are specific to their originating fields. These nuances must be better marked and then translated for application by designers. Second, the utility of the concept of boundary objects for design is very exciting, yet the articulation of the framework needs to be more formally adapted and defined within the context of design. This application of boundary objects will need to retain the initial outlines of the concept but augmented with a more detailed explication of how it functions within a collaborative design process.

04

The ultimate goal of this research on boundary objects and its formulation within a design context is to prototype new co-design tools for application toward complex social and organizational design problems. I believe that there is value in adapting the boundary object framework because it will lead to a more rigorous theorization of the particular elements of these design tools including the structure of how multiple stakeholders from often very different social groups interact, share knowledge, and participate meaningfully in social impact and organizational change initiatives.

In order to accomplish the project goals, I will build upon existing partnerships with practitioners working in the fields of organizational development (OD) and community-based social change work. Within the Design for Social Impact graduate program, I have partnered with organizational development consultants to provide more focused instruction for students on leadership and facilitation, emotional intelligence, and organizational cultural change. In conversations with them, we have identified key areas of overlap between social design and OD, and I have developed relationships with several willing partners who are interested in co-developing and testing design tools in support of organizational change initiatives.

The goal is to work with OD practitioners to iterate bespoke design tools as boundary objects, evaluate their effectiveness, and develop a set of case studies for sharing the efficacy of this framework. I will then translate documentation of this body of research and case studies into formats suitable for publication and presentation within various design, organizational development, and social innovation forums, as well as on this blog.

References:

Buchanan, Richard. “Wicked Problems in Design Thinking.” Design Issues 8.2 (1992): 5-21.

Cottam, Hillary et al. RED Paper 02: Transformation Design. UK Design Council, 2006.

Margolin, Victor. “Expansion or Sustainability: Two models of development.” The Politics of the Artificial: Essays on Design and Design Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. 78-91.

Sanders, Elizabeth B.-N. and Pieter Jan Stappers. “Co-creation and the new landscapes of design.” CoDesign: International Journal of CoCreation in Design and the Arts, Volume 4, Issue 1 (2008).

Star, Susan Leigh. “This is Not a Boundary Object: Reflections on the Origin of a Concept.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 35.5 (2010): 601-617.

Star, Susan Leigh and James R. Griesemer. “Institutional Ecology, `Translations’ and Boundary Objects: Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39.” Social Studies of Science Vol. 19 (1989): 387-420.