Encouraging Social Methods of Design Research
When we envision the design process, we imagine a creative individual, an architect for example, confined to his/her desk, waiting for inspiration to strike. Solutions to design problems are not quantitative; they are not found in the back of textbooks. Like waiting for a fog to lift, this creative architect can never be certain as to when a solution will manifest itself. However, there are methods one can take in order to encourage this manifestation. This paper aims to encourage the method of pursuing design solutions socially, by comparing techniques from Architectural Research Methods, by Linda Groat and David Wang, to “A Study of Process in Design: Curatorship, cloud intelligence and applied research,” by Philip Plowright, James Stevens, and Dr. Anirban Adhya. Both texts discuss research methods for architectural design, the former describing design as a method of research and the latter as an iterative process. Despite the difference in techniques, both papers encourage social methods for design research.
To work socially is to collaborate. “Architecture often emerges as a result of team effort,” states Groat and Wang, “In today’s post industrial economy, in which projects are increasingly large and complex, the design process often calls for expertise in a wide variety of disciplines” (Groat and Wang 115). Complex building forms result in complex building systems, which may be beyond the capabilities of the architect alone. The collaborative research method encourages the inclusion of experts who can help. While Architectural Research Methods questions how this collaboration works, “A Study of Process in Design: Curatorship, cloud intelligence and applied research” gives an answer. This paper suggests a research method of catch-and-release, where the architect in this case would advertise for the experts’ help and the experts, through the use of “connections and context, personal broadcasting, and collective intelligence,” would offer solutions. The architect then holds the “role as curator” and either catches relevant information, or releases the irrelevant (Plowright, Stevens, and Adhya). In the process of catch-and-release, the architect is combining the work of his/her collaborators. Groat and Wang describe a similar situation, titling the role “architect-as-cultivator”. The architect is cultivating the relationship between design and the needs of the client. Whether it is the advice of the experts, or these needs of the client, the architect’s design research is influenced by the collaborative method.
In starting anything new, we tend to draw upon these influences or our past experiences naturally as reference for the task at hand. “Designers commonly rely not so much on precise theories as they do on ‘experience and rules-of-thumb’” according to Groat and Wang (115). To look back on an experience is to draw from another source. Architectural Research Methods begins with Austin Dickey’s struggle to design a wedding facility. It takes a sketch inspired by a magazine to generate Austin’s design spark. In this case, another source (the magazine) was used as Austin’s design research (99). In the previous paragraph, one way the experts may offer solutions to the architect is through broadcasting. Broadcasting can take the form of blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, instant messaging, and social networks (Plowright, Stevens, and Adhya). With the advent of the Internet, sources like these and like Austin’s magazine are readily available for reference. In fact, Austin could have employed the method of catch-and-release by posting his design problem on Facebook, waiting for his peers to comment, and using the applicable comments made. Instead, Austin drew upon references from his past, his readings, his instructors, and his sketches inherently; sifting through the concepts that his brain unconsciously held already (Groat and Wang 102). In this case, whether it is the recollection of previous conversations, or the result of new ones through social media, the architect draws from other sources in his/her design method.
Besides using the computer for social media, both papers find similarities between the creative individual and information processors. The design problem enters the architect’s mind through the input, is processed through a design method, and produces an output. Architectural Research Methods mentions Howard Gardner’s evaluation of the “robustness of [creative individuals] output” and describes his model of idiographic research and nomothetic research. “In idiographic work, the focus falls sharply on the individual case study…In nomothetic work, the focus falls instead on a search for general laws; such work…overlooks individual idiosyncrasies,” states Gardner, essentially breaking down the research between work done by the individual and work done by the majority (Groat and Wang 108). Though Gardner does not favor one over the other in this text, his study challenges the methods of working alone with the methods of working socially. Another comparison to the computer is made in “A Study of Process in Design: Curatorship, cloud intelligence and applied research” by stating that, “there are strong parallels between software development and architectural design processes.” Both use a process of synthesizing design variables into a cohesive whole, like the input and output of information. This method is called Open Source Software philosophy and does away with formal organization. This way “team members contribute as they wish in any number of ways” (Plowright, Stevens, and Adhya). Teams process the ideas given to solve the design problem at hand and are able to reach an output without the bias of the individual.
Though the answers are still lost from the back of textbooks, the architect is equipped with many resources for design research. Collaborating with experts, recalling informative sources to share, and using a group dynamic to process ideas are all methods in which the architect can employ. Resources like Architectural Research Methods and “A Study of Process in Design: Curatorship, cloud intelligence and applied research” are good sources to begin the discussion of individual versus social design methods. We are not computers, however our ability to use them is helping us take advantage of the resources they hold. To all of the creative individuals who are waiting for inspiration to strike, consider a social method of design research instead.
Groat, Linda N., and David Wang. “Design in Relation to Research.” Architectural Research Methods. New York: J. Wiley, 2002. 99-31. Print.
Plowright, Phillip, James Stevens, and Dr. Anirban Adhya. “A Study of Process in Design: Curatorship, Cloud Intelligence and Applied Research.” The Place of Research / The Research of Place. 2010 International Conference on Architectural Research, June 2010. Web. 05 Sept. 2013. <http://info.aia.org/arcc/program/program.html>.