Choosenick. Notes and observations on service design, as well as other interesting things/thinking. By Nick Marsh.



Posts tagged with “thinking”...


The role of conversation in designing

I was saying to Johanna the other day that I wanted to do a talk on the role of talking/conversation in designing. She's put me in touch with Matthew Solle from London IA and hopefully we'll do an event/seminar/workshop/dojo/powwow or something.

I'm especially interested where verbalising is similar to drawing as a way of figuring stuff out, in the open, away from your pure imagination.

I think its interesting because I do a lot of talking when I'm working. And, although its an over generalisation, I think that almost all my good ideas have come from conversations / moments when I'm talking.

Weirdly, for something that seems so important to designing good stuff, I haven't really heard anyone talk/write about it. I'd like to explore this as a series of prompts and get a discussion going. I've written some stuff here, and then as I said I'll hopefully do an event soon. Things I'd like to explore/understand is:

How to have good conversations during creative group discussions. These are like little talking ballets. You know when its going well, and people know when to cut in, when not to. When to ask questions, when to plough ahead. When to allow silence. Etc. And when it doesn't work its a nightmare. We've all been there when someone says 'let me finish!' or something, and everyone's kind of annoyed.

How to be good at kind of half describing unfinished stuff. This is when you are informally presenting ideas (sometimes within the above activity) and you are kind of describing your design idea loosely, hoping that other people will fill in the blanks. Kind of the verbal version of Bill Buxton's wobbly lines (the only google search I get for those wobbly lines is an old comment thread on this post from my days of service designing).

How to be good at knowing when talking about your design will help you make a decision. This is even more vague, but I was thinking about how sometimes you have to get someone over and say, 'can I tell you what I'm working on?', and then you tell them, and then, well, that's it. During the process of verbalising it you answer a question that's been in your mind. Kind of the same as sketching an idea to answer a question. Some people would call this 'bouncing ideas off you'. Maybe.

How to effectively combine drawing and talking. This is something we do a lot at Sidekick. In a jokey way we call it 'sketchy fun time' and it involves sitting down with paper, pens, coffee and doing a kind of half individual, half group based drawing activity. Done well, you draw ideas and then talk about them in a loose way at the same time, and the talking prompts other people to draw different stuff, and the drawing prompts more talking.

Is this all too vague? I'm sure there is lots more. The problem is that conversation during design activity is always so ephemeral. Everything else gets recorded, from the most humble sketch up to the most detailed specification document, even formal presentations are documented, but the talking bit is not.

There's a PhD in this for sure, but in the meantime I think a bit of open space style facilitation between some thoughtful people who design things and enjoy conversation would be good. Who's in?!
January 25th, 2012 / Tags: design, thinking, practice / Trackback / Comments

Two moments that are really important in creative careers

Cross posted from the Sidekick blog.

The other day I had one of those a-ha moments where you realise something really obvious, but quite profound.

I was chatting with my friend Steve, and we were talking about people and moments in our professional and academic lives that had left a big impact on us. When we stopped to think about patterns, there were basically two categories of moments with people that had stuck with us:

1. When someone you admire gives you something to aim for that’s at the very edge of the path you are thinking about going down


This category is about seeing a vision of your future self in someone else. Its definitely not envy, because the moments that matter are when you see that they have done general stuff, or achieved approximate things that you would like to achieve – if you really want to. I’ve had a few of these moments.

One that really sticks in mind is when Richard Eisermann sat me down during my internship at the Design Council and told me about his career in design – he’d worked as a lighting designer for Sottsass, been design director at Whirlpool, headed up a practice at IDEO and was now ‘head of design and innovation’ for the UK Design Council. He told me all about his story, and I basically thought – that’s what I want.

That’s not to say that I want to be Richard, or that I wanted his exact career. Years later Steve actually went to work with him at his new company Prospect (but is now leaving to go and work at Ziba). Its more that I saw the kind of stuff, the types of projects, that you can get involved with as a multi-disciplinary designer if you work hard. And I thought, I’ll have some of that please. So, thanks Richard for giving me a vision.

The second category of important moments is the exact opposite. Instead of it being about wanting something external, its all about internal validation.

2. When someone you admire totally, unconditionally believes in you.


This category is all about giving you complete confidence in yourself, right now. Where as the first category gives you confidence that other people can achieve great things, and you could do the same, in the future, this is just all about being sure that what you are doing right now is great, so you should keep doing it.

An example I had of this was at college, I was doing a project that was going nowhere fast. For some reason I’d ended up trying to do some metal casting or something, and I was feeling pretty crap about the whole thing, to the point of thinking I’d be better of doing a normal degree.

Anyway, one of my tutors, Mike Waller, who wasn’t even that much my friend, saw that I was pretty depressed and he said to me “Nick, don’t worry about this project. There’ll be lots more. After this degree course, some people will go different ways. But I know that you will be a successful designer. So stop worrying.” Or at least, he said something like that. Whatever it was, I remember holding on to what he said, or the sentiment, for the rest of my degree course. I know you will be a success. So, thanks Mike for giving me a rock of confidence. I bet you never knew how much that meant to me.

The point of this post isn’t meant to be really deep – its pretty simple. Basically, I think I’m saying that good leadership in creative fields is about two things. Giving people great big goals to aim for, and giving them complete confidence that they are going to get there. The two moments above have stuck with me for ages, much more so than other ‘normal’ highlights like wining competitions, or seeing my designs being used by loads of people.

However, if you think this is a useful insight around leadership, I’m sorry but I think its going to disappoint. The problem is that I’m not sure that either of these kind of moments can really be planned, because they only work when both people are in just the right place emotionally, and you don’t realise that they are important moments till ages afterwards. Which means I doubt I can engineer ways for people I work with to have them – but I can try to help them find the people who they will have them with at some point. And I can say thanks to the people that have done it for me. So that’s what I’m going to do.
July 1st, 2011 / Tags: design, thinking / Trackback / Comments