Design Project: The Quest for Questions
What if the project deliverable is a question instead of a proposed solution?
Relationship to Ambiguity
This is an approach to design projects. It can be used as a short project in combination with other projects during a course. Traditionally the deliverables of a design project are solutions for problems, at varying stages of resolution. Even if defining those problems is often part of the project, by having the problem or question be the deliverable and NOT moving to the solution space, we are stressing the importance of staying in the problem space long enough to really understanding it -- even when it’s uncomfortable.
For the final project of Design Thinking Studio Fall 2018 we had students stay in the problem space for the whole project (2.5 weeks), which forced them to linger in ambiguity instead of moving to the comfort of the solution space. As final project presentations they had to craft an artifact that represented a question they thought was worth asking. The artifacts were publicly displayed in a 24-hours pop-up exhibit.
We've tried this approach as a closing project for the Design Thinking Studio course for the last 2 years. It lasted two and a half weeks. The class following the culmination of the main design project (whose topic had been assigned and was in partnership with an local organization,) we prompted the students to reflect on the problems/opportunities they were passionate about and to which they could apply the design abilities they learned while tackling the first project.
During class, we had them individually fill in the blanks for the question “How might you reimagine____?”; we then pair them up to serve as “design allies” for one another, and spent the following two classes exploring criteria for a good humanity-centered challenge and tools for framing questions/problems such as the why-how ladder (also called ladder of abstraction) and an array of map templates they could use to explore the problem space of their interest. In the class before the final presentations we asked the students to bring an object that was significant to them, and we visited the Cantor Arts Museum and examined strategies used by the artists in the exhibits to share concepts and provoke thoughts and conversations. Back in the studio, we asked the students to create an exhibit with the object they brought. This set the stage for the final project presentations, for which they had to design an exhibit that represented the question at which they had arrived. We set up this exhibit as a 24-hours pop-up museum open to the public.
Push students to create something physical that represents their question/problem. This will help them develop more texture and nuance in their thinking.
Help students recognize what is a good question, based on how their artifact provokes further questions and conversations from/with their peers and others.
Ask students to reflect on the process, and on how they feel not being allowed or asked to think of solutions.
Design Abilities Used
Building an artifact that brings an abstract question into the realm of the concrete, and using it to communicate their thoughts deliberately is a key part of this activity, given that the deliverable is not a product or service of which a physical artifact may be an integral part of. It helps students recognize that there are different ways of thinking, and that “thinking with things” or “building to think” is a way of thinking that can help them shape the ambiguity of an abstract or theoretical question into a useful provocation that brings others into the conversation.
Design Abilities Used
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