Processes & methods

Design challenges are complex challenges. They can not be solved in a purely linear fashion. Nevertheless, or rather because of that, a structured approach is called for, for which we provide clear facilitation with regard to content and methodology. It is this structuring that supports those engaged in a design process. It enables participants to be open, flexible and at ease in complexity.

Processes and attitude

Our understanding of design processes has evolved from continuous and mutual cross-fertilization of theory and practice in our own work. Our close observations of successful design processes in art, architecture, education and the economy have aided this process. In spite of all the design theories and linear planning procedures we kept making the following intriguing observation: Successful design primarily results from the actors’ attitudes towards the design challenge. This successful attitude is characterised by:

  • the willingness to thoroughly engage with the topics at hand so that personal processes become intertwined with the design process,
  • the willingness of those involved in designing to engage with the process rather than trying to control or manage it,
  • consideration for the needs of all participateurs,
  • the willingness to give room to existing potential,
  • the willingness to see crises and challenges as opportunities to transcend old thinking and behavioural patterns,
  • trust in the validity of the results of living processes even if these are not congruent with the original goals.

The design processes which arise in this way are characterized as follows:

  • They are generative, i.e. they generate their own procedures, their own objectives, their own methods, and the results.
  • They create emergence, i.e. they go beyond the input they have received, for example by producing more context awareness, new ideas, collective intelligence, unexpected solutions and true innovations.

Most design processes we have experienced follow this patterns in a multitude of expressions:

Linking with the context

In a first phase, the participants in a design process establish links with the context. This happens by way of a variety of adapted methods, such as observation, analysis, drafting or creativity methods. In this phase we keep noticing that it is beneficial if the participants can give attention to their personal needs through an individual choice of methods, followed by an exchange of the results with a view to fostering the joint understanding. Alternating individual and joint work on the information leads to consolidation which generates intensive links with the field of work.

Field intuition

This point in the process, at which the participants have an almost physical feeling of being connected with the task and the context, is our first methodological concern. We also use the term ‘field’ for the context and the forces at work therein. We use the term field intuition for knowledge generated from being connected with the field. Field intuition guides the further process.

Drafting

It is only now that action becomes possible which is not based on preconceived assumptions, personal preferences or prejudices, but on a common understanding of the field. At this point it is possible to articulate precise goals and tasks. The actual drafting of designs becomes a creative, fulfilling and often spontaneous process at this point.

Diversity of methods

Our work aims to enable living processes, the momentum of which leads to surprising and encouraging results. We see methods as useful tools which support our aims in a structured way. However, every tool bears an influence on the results and therefore it is important to us that our repertoire of methods is not deployed in a fixed pattern but that it takes orientation from the participants’ needs and the always changing requirements of the challenges at hand. So while we make use of the familiar sets of methods from facilitation, design, large group methods (Open Space, Worldcafe, Appreciative Inquiry and others), ecological systems thinking etc., we also develop methods “on the fly” which are adapted to the needs of the moment and the challenge at hand.