Stanford scholar and design expert, Ade Mabogunje talks about the importance of design in business

Yourstory, an Indian news outlet for entrepreneurs, has a Q&A with Ade Mabogunje.

YS: How do you define design?

AM: In the field of design research at Stanford, we’re particular what we mean by design. Herbert Simon in his book ‘The Science of the Artificial’ said: Think about the sun, the moon, the sky, the trees. We humans did not make them. They are what you call ‘natural science’. However products, organisations, companies, family structures, religions, were all made by humans. We made them, hence he called them ‘artificial science’. There are different religions around the world and they were all formed as humankind tried to wrestle with their existence, and come up with ideas and solutions of that time. Doctors prescribe therapies; a therapy is a design. We use the word ‘lawmakers’, they’re making rules to guide the society, it’s a design. Our policy is being designed by policy makers. The finesse of businesses which is about organising things, like what entrepreneurs do, is design. So design is what human beings do to adapt to their environment. It goes beyond the product. We design what we wish for. That’s the way we talk about design, we are interested in the intellectual, emotional, physical and the mental walks that go to make design possible. We saw this when we went to villages. We saw how they have adapted to their environment. So design gives us the belief that we can by being aware of our environment, change the situation.

YS: Tell us more about your research at Stanford.

AM: Our research is based on the concept of reverse engineering. Back in the 80s, the Japanese produced better cars than what was produced in US and Europe, and they were producing them in a much shorter time — roughly in two years, whereas in US and Europe it took five years. There was a panic in the US, we wanted to understand how they did that. So we started the field of design research, to understand how engineers and designers think when they do design. If we could know how they think, we could build artificial intelligence to replace it. But we couldn’t figure out how they think, so we employed techniques from field of anthropology and used videos to observe them (Japanese workers), how they work. And we got a lot of insights. Humans are not the only ones who design, ants build ant hill, spider web is a design. It’s just about instincts of creatures and how they adapt to the environment. We gained a lot of insights. We thought better computation would help make better design. But more than computation, communication was important to design. Then we thought to focus on the individual. But people work together, so it was better to focus on the theme than the individual. People find it difficult to move from analysis to synthesis, where they bring things together. When we started product design, we discovered that people need to work hands on. And that we must combine both, analytical and synthesis skills, and that will help human communication, how ideas are shared. These components are very difficult to design.


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