Friday, October 9, 2015

10 Minute Party (PARTI)

I am going to try a new experiment in studio today. We are just beginning a design project for a lakefront ecology center.  The project has a significantly more complex design program that anything these students have been asked to tackle in previous projects.  It is a natural jump in complexity, however, I am getting the sense from the class that they are having trouble getting started, struggling to generate ideas.  My fear is that perhaps some of the students are intimidated by solving the problem, and have lost sight of what I really want them doing - exploring ideas and testing approaches. 

So with these challenges in mind, I am going to try an ideation exercise inspired by David Kelly’s book Creative Confidence. In Creative Confidence, Kelley discusses keys to “ideation and experimentation.”  This IDEO / d.School process includes tips for idea generation based on the notion of quantity over quality.  In other words, at the beginning of the design process, test a lot of ideas without worrying too much, at least initially, about developing the ‘ideal’ solution. 

This process includes:
  • Generating countless ideas and consider many divergent options
  • Advancing the promising ideas through iterative rounds
  • Being quick and dirty – exploring a range of ideas without becoming too invested in only one
(Creative Confidence p.23)

Inspired by the book’s ’30 circles’ exercise, I am going to attempt my own version of this called the “10 minute party (parti)”.  I will to ask students to generate as many parti (organizing strategy) options for their project as the can in 10 minutes (generate at least 10).  I want them to ask”what if?” and generate a lot of possibilities.  Form this, hopefully they can then extract a few promising schemes to begin to advance, test and explore in a more rigorous manner. 

The premise is simple, if you are having trouble generating 1 or 2 good ideas, start with 20 ideas.  If you want to generate innovative ideas - you need to start with more ideas.  
Pinning up the Parti Diagramming Exercise

We collectively generated several hundred parti / concept options in about 15 minutes.  I think it loosened up the studio and got students thinking quickly and exploring options more freely.  At least a few of the students came up with some fairly compelling ideas to pursue.   More than a few students found a third or fourth option to explore for this first design study.  I will continue to experiment with these types of brainstorming design activities.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

On Making (Design as Exploration)

Recently, Thomas Heatherwick’s book Making caught my eye sitting on my office shelf.  (Ok, actually I was procrastinating, avoiding grading student projects, and I may have been looking for something to distract me.  I had already cleaned out a few desk drawers, so naturally I turned my attention to my bookshelf!)


Anyway, I picked up Heatherwick’s book and began to read the introduction.  In it he describes his studio’s design process, and the following caught my attention. 

“We iteratively pare a project back in successive rounds of discussions, through analysis, questioning, testing, experimentation, and interrogation, looking for the logic that will lead to an idea.”

Tomorrow, my students will begin experimenting with their first design studies for a building project in the studio.  By now, the students are well aware that I am obsessed with their design process.  They are already likely getting tired of hearing me talk about “process”.  This quote, though, really resonated with me.  It is exactly the mentality I am trying to instill in the studio.  

An attitude that design is process.

An iterative process...

of testing,



interrogating (the project, the site, themselves),

and ultimately working toward a design concept that is rich and meaningful.

I want my students to be slow to solve the design problem, to think deeply, explore alternatives and ask questions.  And I want them to take this skill with them on to their next studio.