Thursday, May 15, 2008

Final Thoughts: A Challenge To Designers (Serious Play)

I knew it would take me a few days to both recover from jet-lag and to synthesize all the ideas that both came to me (and were thrust upon me) at the Serious Play Conference last week. It was a fascinating examination of seriousness, play and design (in all its forms) and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in seeing what the world looks like (or might look like) outside their usual box.

As much as I enjoyed being in the midst of the intellectual fireworks, I couldn't help but think that the kind of design solutions the intelligence community needs were not in the mix. Most of the designs I saw actively drew attention to the product, they helped sell it in some way or helped the product or film or project make its point from a particular point of view. I suppose the designers would tell me that such a reaction is inevitable, that good design draws one in and bad design repulses and that there is no neutral ground.

Still, intelligence products, in my estimation, need something different than what I saw. I was reminded (really!) of Lao Tse's comment on good leadership: The best kind of leader is one who, when the job is done, the people say, "We did it ourselves!" Likewise, the best kind of design for intelligence products is, in my estimation, the kind of design that, when the product is viewed by a decisionmaker, the decisionmaker does not notice that it is there yet it helps analysts communicate their findings.

Form matters. Anyone who has tried to decipher a single spaced block of 8 point text knows that some elements of design are essential no matter what the product. At the other end of the spectrum, form doesn't trump content. While this is probably true of all things, it is certainly true in intelligence work.

Herein, then, lies the challenge to designers: How should the intelligence profession design its products? What kinds of design solutions best meet the needs of the modern intelligence professional? How would intelligence change if the kind of creative firepower I saw at the conference were brought to bear upon it? Would we be able to communicate the results of our analysis better or would it just be "different"? I don't know the answer to these questions but I think it would fascinating to find out.

(Note: This was a different kind of conference for me and I suspect for most of the regular readers of this blog. If you are interested in my other observations (and have not seen them already), I have listed them below in chronological order)

Related Posts:
Liveblogging The Serious Play Conference
Cosmology, Psychology And The Mathematics Of Crease Patterns ... And That Was Just Day One
Jump Ropes And Magic
Surreal Saturday: Brilliant Crows
Sunday Funnies: John Oliver

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