Tuesday, November 20, 2007

deviate towards creativity

As a result of the Exploring Creativity course there is the following dialogue. It resumes what I expected a couple of months ago and predicts with enough accuracy the coming challenges.
This is not the dead of this e-space; hence it is an ongoing work which I probably won’t see finished ever.
Even though the text was written by the characters, the dialogue is fictional.

Tata and Zé had meat these days at the canteen of AHO to discuss about their assignment for the course Exploring Creativity. The discussion started on how to organize the essay. Tata said that they should start by giving some introduction about what is design and what is designer. She said:
– The words "design" and "designer" are a relatively recent creation. They result, as you know, of the enlargement and increase of complexity of the artistic world creation as a consequence of the Industrial Revolution. That revolution has created and defined a new territory of tasks and functions, closer to industry, and demanding the investigation of new matters and techniques, the practice of new methods, more and more in teamwork.
At this point they agreed that from that moment on, whenever they said “designer” it should also mean “design team”. And she continued:
– A couple of months ago I read an article which title is “O desígnio do Design”, from 2005, which I found in the internet, from Catarina Moura, where she argues that, nowadays, to understand the mission of design demands that we identify its target. The concept of object, in the Western world, is a result of the Industrial Revolution. What is considered a product, or commodity, has definitely became a sign, appropriating not only its functionality, but also its goal, its meaning and its own value, embracing then, the status of object. The perception of the outlines and codes of the global trends is exponentiate by the unquestionable importance of the globalized economy where the actual praxis of design is framed. In this context, we should understand the world as the object-limit of design since its projective nature aims act, not only on the object considered individually, but mostly on the world.
Zé agreed with Tata and added:
– The designers, also artists and no mere problem solution providers through the creation of objects strictly appropriate to the requested functions, are gaining increasing importance as coordinator of the problem solving process as innovation and new technologies become more significant in the design process. The increasing complexities and demands for multi-disciplinary teamwork in the design process require a more holistic approach. Hence design is understood as a project activity for the man in the world and for the values framed in it - social, biological, psychological, ergonomic, ethic, cultural, and aesthetic, among others - the creative property is, to my mind, a capital issue and one of the modern designers’ greatest attributes.
Tata was carrying with her the Handbook of creativity from Robert J. Stenberg, published in 1998, opened the book and showed a sentence from page 3. It was
“Creativity is a topic of wide scope that is important at both the individual and societal levels for a wide range of task domains. At an individual level, creativity is relevant, for example, when one is solving problems on the job and daily life” and she gone on:
– Creativity depends on several questions: experience, including knowledge and technical abilities, talent and deftness of thinking through new arrangements. Auto motivation is extremely important, since passionate people about their work, do things in a more creative way.
She paused for moments. While Zé was looking for something to say she went on:
– The generation of new ideas, new ways of looking to surroundings, and the identification of new opportunities, is the outcome of the application of strategies/methods towards creative solutions on the design process. Creativity helps designers to generate and to convert ideas into innovative results with or without material expression. The same does not happen with a less creative designer, you know, the ones we describe as conventional or normal. What kind of properties allows us to distinguish a creative designer from a less creative designer?
She asked to Zé. Zé thought a bit and replied:
– In 2003 I was the International Design Congress USE(R), in Lisboa, where I meat a woman called Katja Tschimmel. She told me that must of researchers agree on 3 main characteristics that define a creative person: the fluidity, the flexibility and the originality of thinking. Fluidity is the faculty that allows us to produce as many ideas as possible in a short-limited time.
Tata interrupted him (she’s Portuguese):
– That’s what we stimulated by doing brainstorm and its variants. The principle is “as more ideas, as better”. In brainstorming, the ideas belong to an uncritical field and the most imaginative ones usually appear in the final part. This process stimulates the flow of spontaneous and natural ideas, but also the flexibility and the originality of thinking.
– Yeah… and flexibility is characterized by the easiness to find a considerable amount of solutions with enough quality. The lack of flexibility results in immobility and incapacity to change attitudes, behaviours or points of view, as it will be impossible to offer other alternatives or to change from an already applied method. Whenever a result is unusual, unique, different from the “normal”/”obvious” predictable solution, but still suitable concerning the context of its application, is driven by the originality of thinking.
Tata got excited with the discussion and asked:
– It is a technique invented by Edward De Bono isn’t it?
Zé waited for a second and, proudly, took a book from his bag.
– … this one! Lateral Thinking: a textbook of creativity, written in 1970 and published in 1990 by Penguin Books, London.
– Bastard… I didn’t find it in the library…
– Of course not. It isn’t there! This one came from Politihogskolen’s library. Have you read it?
– How could I? You have it… But I know it has interesting things related to creativity and lateral thinking…
At this point Zé interrupted Tata (he’s Portuguese too):
– Lateral thinking is a method to obtain creative results. A pattern is a repeatable concept, idea, though, image, or, a repeatable sequence in time of such concepts, ideas or other patterns. De Bono argues that one should restructure the pattern by putting things together in a different way. Rearrange patterns, dismantle them if necessary, is the “the” pattern.
Then, he opened his pocket notebook and read his notes to Tata:
– As an attitude, lateral thinking is the skill of looking at things as useful but not unique or absolute. “Dogmas are not allowed” is only acceptable dogma. This attitude promotes a particular way of using information in order to bring about pattern restructuring. Information is used to alter the structure but not to become part of it. It is a provocative way as it sponsors halting of judgement and allows development of an idea rather than pronouncing it wrong. Summing, lateral thinking is a deviation to what is considered usual, ordinary, conventional, established thinking at a given moment.
Tata smiled, and replied:
– The word deviation pleases me… But there is a problem: as the brain is inclined to simplify complex facts, one tends to stick to the well known ground instead of inspect new possibilities and its applications. We were made to be lazy. We have a kind of biological and cognitive optimization which is reflected, by transversal means, on all the other dimensions of the being’s existence. To deviate from conventional ways is not an easy task, unless we are forced (even by ourselves), or trained to do it so.
– Funny… as you put it, to be a creative designer means to process and perceive the inputs in an unusual way. We can name it “behaviour deviation”. It is, to my mind, an endless task as there is one's obligation to deviate whenever others recognize and adopt one's “schema” pushing it into the ordinary ground... It is important to be aware that if you deviate too much, you might end up in an unrecognisable spot.
He laughed and decided to tell a story to Tata:
– Between an ant hill and a food spot there are 2 possible paths, A and B. A is the half way of B. The amount of ants using the path A is much higher than the amount using the path B, because the concentration of pheromones released by ants is higher, a short distance direct result. This behaviour helps to shorter the time that ants need to consume or transport the food to the hill. Still, there are ants that use the path B. Such behaviour increases the probability of finding a new food spot. The colony’s survival is guaranteed by an optimal balance between the “normal”/”obvious” predictable behaviour and the [unconscious] deviation from it.
– What do you mean? That designers should behave like the ants that take path B?
– Not like those… but certainly like the ant community. I mean, exploring in the design process the relationship between knowledge and imagination, rational and emotional thinking and intuition, planning and chance; all these mentioned relations are analogies to the choices of the path A and B. Moving these paths into an abstraction level we can evoke the concepts of ‘knowing’ and ‘not-knowing’ contained in the dichotomy sapiens-demens. To be creative, we need enthusiasm, passion and a good portion of ‘madness’. This perspective is defended by philosophers, by sociologists, by neurologists and by design cognition researchers. Fátima Pombo and Katja present this in 2005, in Bremen, in the 6th European Academy of Design. I have the paper. The title is “Sapiens and Demens in Design Thinking – Perception as Core”.
– Are you a friend of Katja?
– No…
– Let’s get back to the deviation issue. I just remember an article published in volume 5 of NADA magazine, in 2005, whose author is the Brazilian Christian Pierre Kasper. I read it because of its title: “Desviando Funções”, “Deviating Functions” in English. I’ll never forget the examples. We should use it in our essay. In his article he argues that beside the intuitive notion that designs, as results of designers’ design, have an intrinsic function – a knife is used to cut, a pencil to write or to draw – there is, in everyday life, a considerable amount of inputs that push us inside the “norm”: if some user misuses the design, he or she will lose the warranty. The cultural background also provides a notion of explicit function. If I use a good quality microscope, with its heavy metal base, to nail as a hammer in the workshop, it will certainly provoke scandalized reactions, not only from its owner, but from any sensible observer, even the microscope fulfils my necessities at the moment. There is an imperative moral value that punishes error and/or wrong usage of designs.
Zé laughed…
– Funny story, ah?
– Yeah… that too! The thing is that I know the article! It presents 3 approaches to contemplate the function deviation: a) as transgression of a norm of use, frequent implicit; b) as incorporation of the device to a new context, and c) as perception of the potentialities of the object. The microscope example illustrates the first approach. To illustrate the second approach he uses the production of certain adornments, as this pendant of the Nigerian tribe Wodaabe. It is a luggage latch which is so absorbed by the new context that it seems to be something else. The deviation takes in account its plastic properties: size, form, colour, texture. The pertinent properties of the object in its original context might don’t have any meaning in the new context, as the properties that make sense in the new context haven’t been imperceptible in the original usage. The context acts as an analyser, evidencing new properties of the device.
Tata took from her bag a paper sheet with the following printed pictures, showed it to Zé and pointing to the first one said:

Wodaabe pendant, Niger.
Photography by Angela Fisher, in Cerny, C., Seriff, S. (eds.),in Recycled, Re-Seen: Folk Art from the Global Scrap Heap, Harry N. Abrams, New York (1996), p. 154.

Stiletto Studio, The Consumer’s Rest (1983)

– Small world… So you know also the Consumer’s Rest armchair from Stiletto Studio, from 1983. It’s a good example of a deviation based on the perception of potentialities of the original object. It demands the perception of the possibility to seat in an object exclusively dedicated to a total different function. At the end it is a matter of some simple operations to make the new function possible.
It is, in fact, a small world. Two Portuguese meeting in a school canteen in Oslo, one coming from Lisbon, the other coming from Rovaniemi, Finland... Or it’s just a global world's reflection.
Zé drew some kind of conclusion about this deviation issue:
– The function deviation issue lays on our capacity of to (re)interpret the environment, and to request for new purposes. It directly points to the question of the creation, not only artistic, but also cultural. I found it considerable present in fields of design that strongly consider environmental demands on its inputs, such as eco-design, green design and slow design.
– Can function deviation be used to improve creativity?
Tata asked. Zé continues in the same mood:
– To arrive to a new idea, you first have to get movement, unless you’re going to sit around waiting for inspiration. In the reversal method, which it’s describe in this book, you take things as they are and then turn them around, inside out, upside down and back to front. This method, De Bono explained, creates provocation by “using the escape”. Provocation can also be facilitated by reversal, exaggeration, distortion, such as changing the sequence of something. It is not just looking for the right answer but for a different arrangement of information which will provoke a different way of looking at the situation, “in order to escape from the absolute necessity to look at the situation in the standard way”. We have to quote this. It is on page 126. It helps you to achieve other directions, a new way.
As Zé pauses, Tata decides to go on:
– Even though each designer interprets a given design task in a quite different and subjective way, so that each design solution is a specific and personal option from the designer/design team. To deviate it is necessary to draw and to define what the standard is. As the standard pattern is recognized, we can start the deviation by moving it to a different context, scenario or geography, by transgression its use, by migrate its properties to different patterns. When we don't know where to go, knowing where not to go is a good start. To deviate is to know where you shouldn’t go.
– I like that though… In design, as an innovative field, it is not enough to handle only technical, semantic or methodical knowledge. The innovation arises if we aren’t exclusively locked into reality, into logic, into memories, into culture and society. Innovation is the result of a designers’ deviations, of their creativity. The deviation can be the required extra ingredient to achieve an original solution.
– Yeah, yeah, yeah… Let me draw the last conclusion. In order to achieve creative results, fluidity doesn’t seemed a main key, unless as deviation. The originally of a solution does not depend on the amount of generated ideas but on the degree of its deviation from the “normality”. Deviation can happen in many dimensions of project/practice: in its own methodologies and processes, in forms, in structures, in patterns, in decisions and evaluations, and in designers’ perception. The practice of deviation leads to flexibility and to originality of thinking.
– Thank you. Ah, by the way, the ants’ story was told by Marco Dorigo on “Inteligência Enxame”, an article published in volume 4 of NADA, when he was interviewed by Paulo Urbano e João Urbano in 2005.
Without noticed they have their essay almost finished. Now, they just need to get it nicely and academically written to be presented.