Designing the Reconfiguring Artefacts Design Process

The design process is a guiding and orientation device which we use in innovation projects. While often, tacit understandings guide our work as designers, the making explicit of our guiding framework is the attempt to make it accessible and reconfigurable to our needs and conditions. The design process itself can therefore be our tool that we can design according to our local needs.
Together with 3rd year Management by Design students, we developed a representation of the design process we were using. It had been part of the semester project, to think about how we may represent our design process and its particularity. It was challenging to think about the design process simultaneously as something to be used and to be designed.
We see design as a practice that renews itself while being practiced. The mechanisms of change are present in the practice of design itself. Therefore, any change made through design, is tied to changing its own designers and its local conditions. Understanding design in this way, it is necessary to make the conditions of design and the design process visible, and utilizing this process of visualizing as a reflection and innovation of the practice itself.

Management and Design are equal parts of our particular design / learning / innovation practice. The “x” expresses the “by” and emphasizes at the same time its interconnectedness.

Terminology such as “Empathy” are leaned from understandings of design postulated by IDEO or by Stanford dschool. Also “open innovation” is a particularly connoted in the discourses around human-centredness and participation in design decision making. Because of these connotations, it was necessary to rethink these words and making them more precise in their meaning how we want to use them.

‘Hands-on proactivity’ was equal to ‘making’, emphasizing design’s capability to deal with the robustness and resistance of materials, and their shaping. ‘Open innovation’ was meant to draw attention to the necessary teamwork and collaboration in design processes that acknowledged interdisciplinary expertise and the multiplicity of the sources of knowledge required to successfully innovate. ‘Bricolage’ was the word inspiring the original ‘recombination’ and was replaced with ‘integration’, expressing design’s role in synthesizing and building relations. ‘Empathy’ was meant to express the centricity of human experience in design, and its mechanisms to bring it to the forth. However, in order to emphasise the relationality of human experience and its multi-directional flow within relationships between people, we simply use the word ‘experience’.  ‘Prototyping’ is the core of iterative working, by experimenting with different things, probing ideas, we therefore go with the word probe, which not unintentionally leans also on ‘cultural probes’ (Gaver, Dunne & Pacenti, 1999), a technique to evoke different responses from use scenarios through design artefacts, which may in turn taken up again in design practice. The word ‘probe’ should reiterate the recursive and relational nature of making and experiencing.

This translation process allowed us get to a representation of the “Management by Design” design process with the following activities: 1. Experience, 2. Imagine, 3. Integrate, 4. Make, 5. Probe, 6. Iterate.

Next, we worked on creating a visual shape and order for the process and its activities. We had previously experimented with the “x” as a representation of relationality, and extended it to a star in order to emphasise the multi-directionality of relations, and in order to accommodate more elements in the relational system.

We took up the multi-element shape, and derived a windmill-type graphic with arrow-shaped sails connected at a central hub, hinting at a possible rotating movement.

Filling the shape with words, we derive the following graphical representation. 6 principles drive our recursive design process: 1. Experience, 2. Imagine, 3. Integrate, 4. Make, 5. Probe, 6. Iterate. We add in inverted style the words ‘management’ and ‘design’, to reflect the name of the design course ‘management by design’, hinting at ‘management’ as the ephemeral and conceptual stage, and ‘design’ as the practical stage.


Gaver, W., Dunne, A., & Pacenti, E. (1999). Cultural Probes. Interactions.

Possibilities for creativity in ambiguous plans

"Shared understanding" is one of the key elements that design projects reference as the device enabling innovation and progress (Patton, 2014). This week, in our design project, we seem to have temporarily lost this helpful device. So we would like to reflect hier briefly on the understanding that allows us to progress in a design project, and the roles that course leaders and students take in producing and maintaining this understanding.

"Shared understanding" may even be a tautology (Doppelaussage). Knowledge does not rely on one person alone, but knowledge is always a social process which is already defined through the relationship between the person knowing and their surrounding community (Gherardi & Nicolini, 2006). Rather than describing understanding – knowing – as a linear process of a person – a teacher – imparting knowledge on another person – a student – it is possible to conceptualise understanding as an image, held together by the people who produced it. Knowledge is not the product of a transmission of a substance from actor A to actor B. Much rather, we are interested in looking at knowledge as a relationship that exists between actors. Therefore, we view knowing as a thing that is coproduced between people.

We run this research project on the basis of several student projects around innovation. For one design project (on sustainable clothing), we pooled the hours of two courses together. We (the course leaders) wanted to increase the hours available for the project, and we also had a particular concept in mind, when defining this format. Our aim was to use the first course, "Service Design", for defining and learning the method, and to use the second course, "MxD Studio", for the actual design work. This was in line with the curricula of both courses. We had arranged the time tables accordingly, so developing the method would take place during the first half of the semester, and the design work would take place in the second half. As the leaders of these courses, it made absolute sense for us, to run the student project in this way. Our devices - the initial planning at the beginning of the year, the time tables, and the brief catch up conversations in between, were enough to assure us of our plan and how we would follow it. It was not until a month into the course had passed, that we realised that we had not done our best in sharing this understanding with the students. We realised that things were moving a little slower than usual, and we heard students complain about the lack of time for the project and how frustrating that was. A little alarmed, we were glad when the students approached us for a talk.

It became obvious that, what we had taken for granted - the vision we had for the project, and the amalgamating of two courses - was not what the view from the side of the students. They had worried that they would run out of time designing a useful solution in the "Service design" course, and then having to begin designing the next thing in the "MxD Studio" (this was the understanding they had built amongst themselves). The students have their own communication channels, such as WhatsApp, and it was on these - for us course leaders inaccessible - channels that they had built this understanding. We realised how we had mis-communicated; as the course leaders not making our pooled-hours concept accessible; at the same time as the students keeping their worry about time-waste to themselves. We had each built an understanding which was not accessible to the other.

When we finally spoke about this miscommunication, one of the authors had the following metaphor from basketball to share: When a basketball pass fails, then it was neither the thrower, nor that catcher, who is responsible alone for the failed pass, but both are responsible together. To equate successful course communication with a basketball pass, course leading does not mean to be responsible for throwing the ball well, while students are merely responsible for catching the ball. But course progress / a pass happens in the relationship between the thrower/leader and the catcher/student. Knowledge creation, learning, and course progress happen in the relationship between leaders and students.

Being offered a concept of how the project is going to be run - the leader's concept of pooling hours, and of doing 'method first' and 'design after' - does not need to be received by the students in a passive fashion, especially when it is represented in an ambiguous way.

Ambiguity in plans may not be a liability - it may be an opportunity that allows for creativity.

A plan, where not all elements are defined, can be appropriated and turned into a thing one shares ownership in. A concept that is offered up as an insufficiently defined plan can be used as an unfinished item waiting to be completed, and one's own elements can be added into this plan. The power to decide how a project will be run is relational between people and the devices of negotiation. Elements in the plan are negotiable in the enactment of the plan. It is within this negotiation that the possibilities lie for one's own ideas. To conceive of understanding as relational (between actors) instead of located with individuals, allows greater contributions to outcomes of proposed actions. There is an important space between conformity and freedom in which one's own ideas can become a crucial and defining part of a project (Harman & Bohemia, 2007).

Just as the successful basketball pass exists in the relationship between the thrower and the catcher, so lives the successful project progress in the interaction between the course leaders and the students. Important are the artefacts of communication: the communication channels, and the representations of the project progress plan. A leader's version of a plan may be offered by the leaders, but an ambiguous representation can, instead of allowing it to be the source of frustration, be appropriated by students to be made their own.


Gherardi, Silvia, & Nicolini, Davide. (2006). Organizational knowledge: The texture of workplace learning. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Harman, Kerry, & Bohemia, Erik. (2007). Another way of thinking: Creativity and Conformity. Paper presented at the Creativity or Conformity? Building Cultures of Creativity in Higher Education, Cardiff.

Patton, Jeff. (2014). User story mapping: discover the whole story, build the right product. Cambridge: O'Reilly.

Management by Design: Studying designerly ways of knowing

Design as a method is an approach that extends the ability to "give shape” to innovative technologies and services, and constitutes design as the shaping of relationships and organisational structures that inspire innovation. Collaborative creativity should be harnessed for innovation and change. In an increasingly complex world design becomes a strategy in organising societal and organisational needs, desires, and goals in human-centred ways.

The underlying theory is that design is a particular form of knowledge which cannot be studied and taught in scientific and humanistic subjects of education. The design theorist Nigel Cross proposes design as a “'third area' of education” defining this area "by contrasting it with the other two – sciences and humanities” (1982, p. 221). And Tim Brown calls a “third way” and an “integrated approach” between the two pillars of “feeling, intuition, and inspiration” and “the rational and the analytical” (2009, p. 4). Design therefore poses an important alternative dimension in knowledge production, scholarship and training.

Management by design (MxD) is a university course which equips students with design as a method of managing organisations, innovation, and change processes. It is an alternative approach to organising and leadership, following the principles of design thinking. The novelty of this management approach, and this application of design evokes many questions, still. “It is difficult to explain to others what I am studying”, as one student put it. Explaining what MxD is, may be challenging to students amid traditional understandings of design and of management. However, the current openness of the concept of MxD bears the opportunity to define it, design it, and create it as something we want and need it to be, and it allows us to shape MxD as the thing that we think is best. The research project coming forward is a design project in which we explore MxD with students and with experienced designers as an approach to innovation, and in which we aspire to designing the ways we use this approach.

We are taking as our starting point the famous postulation that designers have particular ways of thinking and knowing in “designerly” ways (Cross, 1982, 2001). It is designers' ways of thinking that can be used to tackle "ill-defined, ill-structured, or 'wicked'” problems (Cross, 1982, p. 224, quoting Rittel and Webber, 1973). The nature of designers' ways of thinking is illustrated as "solution-focused", “constructive", and able to use particular codes or “object languages” (Cross, 1982, p. 226).


Cross describes designers as being “solution-focused” and “problem-solve by synthesis" in contrast to scientists who “problem-solve by analysis” (pp. 223–226). It is less important to understand a problem analytically. It is more important to practically try out solutions that might fit. “A central feature of design activity […] is a process of 'satisficing' rather than optimizing; producing any one of what might well be a large range of satisfactory solutions rather than attempting to generate the one hypothetically-optimum solution.” (p. 224)


Designers apply a “constructive” process of "pattern synthesis, rather than pattern recognition” (p. 224). By “pattern synthesis", Cross means “a pattern (or some other ordering principle) [that] seemingly has to be imposed in order to make a solution possible” (p. 224). Designers therefore, instead of waiting for a solution to arise in contemplation, become active in constructing patterns (ordering principles) that are tentatively applied and tested for being a possible solution.

Codes, ordering principles and object languages

This process of constructing patterns can be compared to constructing and “learning an artificial ‘language’, a kind of code which transforms ’thoughts’ into ‘words’”. Cross describes designerly knowing as “embodied” in this code, difficult to “externalise”, and present as a “tacit knowledge – ie they know it in the same way that a skilled person 'knows' how to perform that skill” (p. 224).
Designers use "'codes' that translate abstract requirements into concrete objects”. Codes and ordering principles are also “the knowledge that resides in objects” (p. 225). 'To know’ as a designer, means to be able to “read” and “write” codes (ordering principles) from and into objects. Designers are able to "understand what messages objects communicate, and they can create new objects which embody new messages.” In their dual function, Cross calls these codes and orders “object languages” (p. 226).

Designerly ways of knowing are described as the solution-focused construction of dual reading-writing codes that order and are ordered simultaneously.

Design as a dual reading-writing, ordering-ordered methodology

The ‘reading’ and ‘writing’ of codes, the simultaneous application of ordering principles, and being ordered by ordering principles, is the focus of our research project coming forward. We will be exploring and developing our approach to design. The objects, or artefacts, of design, which form into a methodology of language, are the object of our design project. There is a circular meaning here on purpose: As we use and explore design as a method, we reshape design as a method. As we use and explore the artefacts of design and how they configure things, we reconfigure design itself – our method of MxD.

The theoretical foundations of design thinking describe the tacit knowledge present in the thinking of the designer. Therefore it is important to investigate design thinking at these sites of designerly thinking and doing. Designerly thinking and doing needs to be explored in design practice (Zimmermann, Forlizzi and Shelley, 2007). Our sites of exploration will be design projects with design students, enhanced through the knowledge of experienced designers who work in innovation practice. This form of inquiry uses the research format of practice-based design research (Vaughan, 2017). The innovation of design, including any theory we derive from it, can only take place in and through the practice of design.


Brown, Tim. (2009). Change by design: how design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Cross, Nigel. (1982). Designerly ways of knowing. Design Studies, 3(4), 221–227.
Cross, Nigel. (2001). Designerly Ways of Knowing: Design Discipline Versus Design Science. Design Issues, 17(3), 49–55.
Rittel, Horst W. J., & Webber, Melvin M. (1973). Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning. Policy Sciences, 4(1), 155–169.
Zimmerman, John, Forlizzi, Jodi, & Evenson, Shelley. (2007). Research through design as a method for interaction design research in HCI. Paper presented at the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems, San Jose, CA, USA.
Vaughan, Laurene (Ed.) (2017). Practice-based design research: Bloomsbury Publishing.