03 April 2011

The New Language of Design

Recently, Allan Chochinov gave a talk at Emily Carr University in which he used a word I can't shake: Fluency.

During his talk, he suggested that fluency was a skill that designers needed to exercise. We often associate fluency with travels to a foreign land. If I can acquire some key phrases like "Where is the toilet?" or "How much does this cost?" then I feel more comfortable making my way in an unknown environment.

Translate this idea to the design space and one could suggest that a designer needs to be fluent in their particular craft, process or software. While this is part of it, the kind of fluency I'm curious to uncover is the kind that I need when I'm travelling in a foreign land of business. Or health care. Or politics.

I wrote about this idea awhile ago in considering how design education could influence one's fluency. But I don't believe we should rely on educators alone. As I've stepped away from school and into the business, health care or non-profit sectors, I've experienced my own need for language and insight as I worked alongside these other disciplines. In many cases, we might be talking about the same thing but we often find ourselves using different terms and this simple nuance can cause much confusion and frustration (especially when it comes to the journey from idea to outcome/process to deliverable).

Maggie Breslin is a senior designer/researcher in the Center for Innovation at Mayo Clinic. In one talk, she identified herself a junior doctor with the amount of learning she had acquired after working for four years in this self-pioneered role at Mayo.

Derek Miller is the director of Policy Lab and is participating in a variety of activities and research around the implementation of design into public policy. In a recent email exchange he said,

It is barely on the radar screens of the public policy world yet, and while development work has contracted designers to come up with physical solutions to things, the notion of design as a process — and the area of service design itself, for example — is entirely alien.

These two scenarios suggest that designers do have a role to play in other spheres but in order to move design beyond the "alien" or physical solutions, one must acquire the ability to converse articulately on the issues involved in these realms.

So this begs the question, "If design can play a role in these "other lands," how can designers become more fluent so as to make an effective impact?"

What do you think needs to happen for new designers/students? And what about people with years of experience who are seeking to contribute their design in other spheres like health care, public policy or international development?

How do we become fluent?