Archive for the ‘Thinking Aloud’ Category

Changing Direction

24 November 2013

You might notice that it’s more than 3 years since I posted in this blog. 

Around that time I moved from my previous role running the Art & Design Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University to running our teaching as Head of the Art and Design Department (being a New University it’s a dual economy so the two run in parallel) and I was also heading for retirement. So I decided that I would put my own research aside, focus my efforts on supporting my colleagues who were building up our programme of courses, and start thinking what I would do next after I retire.

“Next” has been here for a year now, I’ve become involved in much more personal local stuff including music and community based design and social action and I’d like to use this blog now to publish some commentary on design in action. Up till now I’ve tended to comment on research issues and been very aware of the problem of rigour, from now on I’ll give myself permission to let more of my personal values creep in but of course, once you are an academic it’s hard to forget your duty to truth.

My first post will come from my renewed interest in music, I’ve started playing and singing again after a 30 year layoff (since I learned to be a designer in fact) and one of the reasons I’m enjoying it so much is the unique and beautiful work of the Swiss luthier, Lukas Brunner. More soon.

Dogs in the Manger?

13 December 2009

Theft or Public Right? Can publishers or manufacturers retain rights over something they don’t want to use?

I’ve been very interested in the subject of public right of access to research publications for a long time but the wider implications of this topic came to the fore for me recently through a debate in a different arena. (more…)

Showing Your Stuff

5 November 2009

The importance of revealing your practices in “practice-led” research

Originally posted to the PhD-Design email discussion list on 20 November 2008

whiteley joint

image from Graham Whiteley’s PhD thesis

David Balkwill’s comments (in a previous message to PhD-Design) about students missing the point of their task, which is designing not drawing, is very relevant to research and doctoral studies. One of the key issues to be resolved in any “practice-led” project is how the quality and validity of the methods are to be made clear (more…)

ACQUINE – Is this how to engineer affect?

16 May 2009

Aesthetic Quality Inference Engine – “Intelligent, Unbiased and Instant Assessment of Photos
Science, snake oil or just a bit of fun?


Last week Terry Love alerted the PhD-Design community to the ACQUINE web tool for rating the “aesthetic” quality of images. Obviously this kind of thing is a red rag to most of us in the art school tradition but it does point to some serious questions. My reactions went from having a bit of fun with the tool, to questioning its credentials and finally to a feeling that it pointed to a valid direction for science to explore as a long term inquiry but also a rich well of snake oil right now for those out to make money from gullible businesses. Most of what I’ve said below was originally posted in four recent messages to the PhD-Design discussion list at

Round 1 – Having fun with Acquine

I started out by trying the online tool to assess my personal beauty. (more…)

An Argumentative Process? (2009)

2 March 2009

Wicked Problems, useful or just interesting?

Last week I gave a short presentation on wicked problems to a workshop in the Creativity Centre at Brighton University. I had been asked to do something that would provoke discussion in a mixed audience of artists, designers, business people, engineers and others.

I chose wicked problems because they seem to encapsulate a number of useful ideas about designing and what designers do. Creative people seem to enjoy the idea of wicked problems whereas some others see them as nasty medicine that we have to take whether we like them or not. Since the idea of the wicked problem was first proposed by Rittel and Webber (eg Cross, 1984) and was promoted by Richard Buchanan (1992) it has attracted an increasing amount of interest from the design community, although there have been suggestions that it is little more than an interesting theory, having no practical application. To put it another way, it does not contribute to method or methodology.

However Rittel and Webber give us a persuasive description of the process of solving wicked problems:


On Designing (2006)

31 December 2006

On Designing

Discussion of theories about designing including use of the term “Design”, Rittel’s Wicked Problem Theory and Henrik Gedenryd’s increasingly celebrated doctoral project, How Designers Work

This was written in 2006 for a network group including several people from disciplines outside designing as well as different kinds of designers in academia and practice.

download paper from

Picasso’s PhD

31 March 2000

A frivolous email that launched a very big row.

In early 2000, a year which saw some significant debate in design research, Beryl Graham asked me to provide a provocative comment for the Research Training Initiative mail list. After a little thought I provided the humorous fragment below, intended to start some discussion about how university regulations might support “practice-led” research. Alec Robertson then mischievously forwarded the message to the discussion list and there was an explosion of debate there, spilling over to (more…)