Dr Simon Bowen

5 June 2009

I’m exceptionally pleased to announce that Simon Bowen has successfully defended his PhD thesis titled

A Critical Artefact Methodology: Using Provocative Conceptual Designs to Foster Human-centred Innovation


available online at http://www.simon-bowen.com/?page_id=40

Simon’s work explores some practical implications of the critical design methods developed by Dunn and Raby, Bill Gaver and others. He has synthesised and evaluated ways for designers to use provocative concepts, “Crazy Ideas” as he describes them, to stimulate stakeholders to engage in productive speculation about aspirations and needs that might not be revealed by more conventional user research techniques. Read the rest of this entry »

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 JISCmail.ac.uk

Round 1 – Having fun with Acquine

I started out by trying the online tool to assess my personal beauty. Read the rest of this entry »

NSF Design Education Workshop, April 2009

21 April 2009

Planning an interdisciplinary postgraduate design curriculum

Last week I spent two days at Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois) taking part in a workshop on postgraduate design education, the second in a series funded by the US National Science Foundation.

Although there was a broad mix of participants from across the range of design disciplines, the main focus was on engineering design with a sub-text of how design might sit with a science-led agenda. Northwestern have a very interesting set of design programs, including interdisciplinary degrees, with a strong practical component and an emphasis on human-centred design led by Don Norman. While this seemed to demonstrate a balanced view of the opportunities in design education there was also a strong voice, represented by Panos Papalambros of University of Michigan, in favour of a highly quantitative view of design as optimisation.

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Brompton folding bike – Seven League Boots

29 March 2009


The Brompton folding bike, I believe, is one of the most exceptional and life-enhancing products made in Britain. It is also a complete denial of all the basic assumptions we make about industry today as it is hand-made, expensive, timeless but completely modern and selling like hot cakes even during the recession. Hardly any other bikes are made in the UK, Asian manufacturers seem to have dominated the market because they offer good products for an unbeatable price, but Brompton is a great international success.

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Braun SK55, Snow White’s Coffin

20 March 2009

Braun SK55, the arrival of mainstream modernism in consumer product design.

Recently, thanks to the kindness of Michael Hohl,¬† I acquired a wonderful Braun SK55 radiogram from the early 1960s. This is the direct descendent of the Braun SK4, Snow White’s Coffin, one of the completely original products designed by Dieter Rams that transformed Braun’s brand in the late 1950s. It’s remarkable that things like this were being made even before transistors¬† took over the market to allow the design freedom behind today’s compact robust electronic products.

Here it is (or one just like it)

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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:

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Unstated Contributions (2007)

31 December 2007

RUST, C. (2007) Unstated Contributions – How Artistic Inquiry Can Inform Interdisciplinary Research International Journal of Design, 1(3), 69-76

Unstated Contributions: How Artistic Inquiry Can Inform Interdisciplinary Research

I wrote this paper following our review of practice-led research in Art, Design & Architecture. During that work we encountered the difficult proposition that the explicit contribution to knowledge might be problematic for those artists and others who are used to leaving the “contribution” of their work unstated for the audience to interpret as they wish.¬† On the one hand this is challenging for formal concepts of research and doctoral education which require the researcher to own their research completely, on the other hand it raises an intriguing problem – are there valid contributions to the research enterprise which may require ownership and awareness on the part of the researcher but may not allow the actual knowledge flowing from the work to be under their control.

I decided to explore this and managed to find some case examples that provided a variety of models where unstated or provisional contributions are a necessary part of the research enterprise, including one concluding case, of research by Lucy Lyons, in which the researcher owns every aspect of the research except the final knowledge that flows from it, although she was responsible in every way for engendering it, was in complete control of the process, and closely observed and recorded the knowledge that others found in her work. I regard this as my second serious paper on tacit knowledge, following my 2004 paper on Design Enquiry

Full Paper (from open-access journal site)


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AHRC Review of Practice-Led Research (2007)

31 December 2007

RUST, C. MOTTRAM, J. TILL, J. (2007) Review of Practice-Led Research in Art, Design & Architecture Arts and Humanities Research Council, Bristol, UK

We were commissioned to carry out this review in 2005 to inform the AHRC and the Research Community about the state of “practice-led” research in these disciplines. It was a very big piece of work for us because we were aware that our colleagues were anxious for there to be a thorough debate and some reconciliation of issues, although the AHRC were looking for a more functional report.

AHRC have redesigned their website and lost the pages with their research reviews but I’ve saved a copy in archive.org
Full report and appendices available to download from archive.org

Read on for a summary of the report

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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 archive.org

Investigating Our Future through Designing (2006)

29 September 2006

RUST, C. (2006) Investigating Our Future: How Designers can get us all Thinking Viva50plus World Ageing and Generations Congress, University of St Gallen, Switzerland 27-29 September 2006 (Invited paper)

Investigating Our Future:
How Designers can get us all Thinking

This was part of a session led by Deana McDonagh to present ideas about design to this very interesting interdisciplinary conference. I used it as an opportunity to set out some ideas about designers as provocateurs, drawing on work by two designers at Sheffield Hallam, Peter Walters and Simon Bowen. It’s a very brief paper and not exactly advanced scholarship but it takes a position.

Full paper from archive.org


This paper, and the presentation it represents, discusses the importance of bringing users into the design process and some of the techniques that can be employed to achieve that.

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