Recent Changes - Search:


Course Info

2012 Class Notes

2012 Students

Student Groups


2009 Students

Student Groups


2006 Class

2006 Faculty

2006 Evaluations

Lecture Notes

2006 Students

Student HWs

API Groups

Student Groups


Wiki Docs

edit SideBar


Thursday Sept 9

We did a good job yesterday of not defining what Radical Design is... but maybe thinking about it in relation to other design trends can help.

How would Radical Design relate to...

  • Participatory Design
  • Agile Design
  • The Waterfall Model
  • Test-Driven Design
  • The Essential Unified Process
  • User-Centered Design
  • Extreme Design
  • Total Quality Management / Continuous Improvement
  • Organizational Learning

What is Radical Design?

This is my personal definition, as of today (Fri Sep 8).

Radical Design has three components:

  1. A negotiational, hands-on approach to design that values building prototypes and iteration. Many of our readings describe this approach, including Paul Graham (e.g., his essay on building a system using Lisp) and Donald Schon (in his book The Reflective Practitioner, in which he famously describes design as a "conversation with the materials of the situation"). This is also called bottom-up design (vs. top-down).

    I believe that conventional top-down designs can only be attempted when the designers have so much past practical experience in the design space that they are in effect re-creating a design they have already accomplished.

    Bottom-up, explorational design -- building prototypes, learning from them, an iterating -- is absolutely necessary (the only way that is conceivable to work) when you are designing something truly new.

    This alone does not make for Radical Design, it is so far only a "revaluing of the concrete" (to use language from Papert and Turkle). Continuing, we also need...
  2. Combining ideas, materials, and methods from multiple domains. This is the "many base products" piece of the story. The "radicalness" has to come from unexpected outcomes that emerge from combining ideas and technologies that heretofore had not been mashed together.

    Especially in today's world, the excitement is at the fringes of technologies, combining disciplines and approaches.
  3. The last ingredient is the simplification / generative "micro-API." The "micro-API" concept actually has several ideas embedded in it: (a) that it can be done at all! The idea that you can build a useful system that just has a few "knobs" to control it is Radical because no one thinks this way! Most tech is so hard to use that it doesn't catch on. Designs that make things easy to use win (e.g., TiVo, iPod, early Nokia phones). (b) Generative -- that if you have the micro-API it will lead you to use your invention in ways that you never intended. This is only a hypothesis at this point, I don't think we have proof. (c) End-user-reconfigurable (this relates to the first two) -- the notion that you want your user to do new stuff with your product. Again most new tech is not designed to itself be a building block that lets users re-purpose it. But great tech has this property.

Why Study Radical Design?

Given the plethora of design approaches (see above), why study Radical Design?

Is it likely to become a dominant approach in the industry — would be useful to learn because other people will be doing it too?

Probably not, but I believe that highly creative, entrepreneurial organizations — e.g., start-up companies and university research labs — are already using such approaches, and will do so even more in the future.

So the reason to study it and learn it and use it is for your own personal creative and productive potential, and to steer yourself toward teams that would value these approaches.

Q and A from Erin Hardiman (student of Prof. Diana Archibald)

September 13, 2006

Q. As this is a team-instructed class, what is your role in the program?

  1. As a sparring partner for Prof. Grinstein, who's the project lead.
  2. Prof. Kuhn and I both advocate a more participatory, interactive approach to the in-class sessions. If left to his own devices, Prof. Grinstein would lecture for most or all of the session :-)
  3. I have hardware expertise that will come into play when we develop software+hardware projects.

Q. Why has the team chosen an interdisciplinary approach?

  1. The 3 of us share a core vision of design and the design process.
  2. But we have different backgrounds that will combine to bring out greater things... sort like our model of Radical Design itself.

Q. What are your goals for the Radical Design course?

  1. To see if we can demonstrate the value of our approach.

Q. What are perceived barriers or benefits?

  • Benefits -- massively enhanced creativity leading to design breakthroughs.
  • Barriers -- it's hard work to learn to speak across disciplinary boundaries. You need to have generosity of interpretation.

Fred's Pre-Reflections on Lecture 3

Note: I have already seen the PPT slides

talking about Creativity on PPT slides

creates Cognitive Dissonance in my brain

Defining and measuring creativity

Is something real only if it can be measured?
Scientific rationality says YES

Is all of creativity reducible in such a fashion?

IDEO and creativity

Everyone is creative

But a culture that encourages it is even better
pp. 13

IDEO's Secret Formula


work practice



Twyla Tharp on Creativity

Book entitled “The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life” (2003)

“In order to be creative, you have to know how to prepare to be creative.”

“Whom the gods wish to destroy, they give unlimited resources.”

“The most productive artists I know have a plan in mind when they get down to work.... [But] You never want the planning to inhibit the natural evolution of your work.”

Edit - History - Print - Recent Changes - Search
Page last modified on September 20, 2006, at 06:51 PM