I have a question!

I have a question. It has born out of a repeated observation. Almost all the times when I have been to washroom to relieve myself, I see that people become completely silent. And I am making this observation against the washrooms which are located in a building where people work and most often know each other in person, for example in an university or in a office. The fact that they know each other makes me wonder why did they even not acknowledge the presence of the people they know. I understand that this might vary from culture to culture but I have tried varying this observation by asking many of my friends and family and they seem to attest the same.

Well the simplest of reasons I am being told of is that it is out of etiquette to do so. But I don’t remember any teacher of mine telling me about this. Or may be I have been to one of the not so good schools. But even if it so I wonder how people could resist saying hello to the people (they know) when they encounter them in washrooms and loos. How could the etiquette gain such an enormous power that it dictates human behavior to become completely strangers to each other during that time? Strange, isn’t it?

The another argument which comes upfront is the following: Washrooms are usually the places where there is always filth and foul smells. So why to stay there to exchange words of acknowledgement. One always tries to leave such a place as soon as possible. Well I could have really considered this argument had I never been to any washroom myself. The washrooms I am talking about since the beginning of this post are actually the ones which are very well kept and sanitized. These are the washrooms equipped with world class toilet fittings. These are fitted with hand dryers and automatic dispensers to release water and soap solution in urinals and toilet seat. To an average nose like mine, there are absolutely no foul smells. So an urge to leave ASAP doesn’t seem reasonable.

Consider the third argument: Bathrooms are usually congested spaces so its not really possible to carry a conversation. To me this also doesn’t seem to be the case. Current architectural plans of bathrooms are quite spacious. They are some times as big as living rooms and have ample of space to move around and relax. Thus this argument doesn’t seems to sustain as well.

I don’t really know why people behave like that. Take all the arguments and see them in parallel but what I am wondering about is the disappearance of a simple acknowledgement in these spaces. Till we find the answers we are free to speculate and off course to observe silence in any such washroom we enter.


Managing a research group vs. a product group

Today we got an opportunity to listen to Dr. Richard (Rick) Rashid who came to deliver a talk at IIT Bombay. He has an acclaimed career first as an academician at CMU and then as Senior VP Research at Microsoft Research Worldwide. He deliberated on relevance of basic research and its values. Reacting to one of the questions at the end of his talk, he said something quite interesting. He pointed out the difference between managing a research group and a product group. From a stakeholder’s perspective, it is more productive for a research group to be adventurous in spirits and to be able to take higher intellectual risks. But this demands that they should be given a highly stable platform. On the other hand a product group operates by aligning itself to well defined deadlines and deliverable at different stages. They work by committing themselves to established process charts and guidelines. They often run into dangers of being redundant in the changing market environments. It is seen to be important many a times to reshuffle the composition of a product group to account for changes in market requirements.

One can thus say that a research groups relies on stability to produce varying (unstable) results while a product group suffers from instability its composition owing to its commitment to produce stable results. Insightful, isn’t it?

Why should one do design research?

The following is one amongst the top 10 essays read at International Conference on Research into Design’ 2011

Lets rephrase this question to read as “What is the value of carrying out an activity like design research?” Possibly one can then find an answer to “Why should one do design research?” For a large part of research history, research as a field seems to be dominated by natural sciences. A surge for specialization in the earlier quarter of the 20th century with the advent of industrialization also reinforced the notion of research as an activity integral and central to natural sciences. This perspective clearly demarcates a stark distinction between sciences and other human activities viz. design, art. It was believed that science and other disciplines (creative, arty or designerly) could never share a common dictionary and thus there could be no communication possible amongst them. But in the recent past, especially post 1970; there have been attempts to bridge this gap. Talking alone of design, it is realized that there could be forms of knowledge peculiar to this discipline.
As evidences to above claim, Nigel Cross (Cross, 1999) records a growth of research based journals in design over the last 10 to 15 years like Design Studies in 1979, Design Issues in 1984 and Journal of Design History in 1988. He quotes Bruce Archer’s definition of research from Design: Science: Method conference of Design Research Society in 1980, as “a systematic inquiry; the goal of which is knowledge”. While the former part of the definition might be contestable on grounds of choice of methods of performing a systematic inquiry; it is probably in the later part of this definition that we look for clues to find relevance of doing design research. We lay our emphasis on design as a discipline which can contribute a rich body of knowledge. It has always been seen as an act of creation- deliberate and conscious which asks of a designer (or anyone who gets in to an activity like designing) to think of contexts in great detail before proposing a possible solution to the problem at hand. It is thus more the process of design with all its complexity and variables than the designer or the designed solution, which is relevant. We acknowledge that we could possibly say this only in the light of design activities which cater to day-to-day shaping of human experiences and environments but not for “elite high designs” by few professionals.
We can now state reasons for doing design research. We believe that design research has the potential of establishing a conversation between different disciplines. Although still at its nascent stage but it is doing this by attempting to draw on methods and tools in use by natural sciences and other disciplines like psychology, social sciences to devise research methods of its own. This is synonymous to the discussion of “breaking the disciplinary matrix” by Kuhn; something which he regards as essential to bring a paradigm shift. May be utopian but as design researchers, we believe that interdisciplinary learning is essential for the growth of knowledge and design research can do this. On the other hand we also see a great value of design research to the development of design itself. Design, in the form of design research is learning to subject itself to a wider criticism and review and to a practice of acknowledging different sources of influence and origins. This brings a wider understanding of the context along with an ability to filter out any totalitarian or relativistic solution. We look forward to bring more insights into future discussions based on these notions of design research and its implications.
Cross, N. (1999). Design Research: A disciplined conversation. Design Issues , 5-10.

A mind full of ideas and a crowd full of support…

Not so long ago when it used to be a nightmare for Sridhar, a documentary filmmaker from Ahmedabad, to arrange funds for his projects. He had to personally visit and write to a number of institutions and individuals asking them for their support. In few fortunate instances when he had some financial support in the beginning, it was still difficult to sustain the same during all the stages – from ideation to completion- of a project. But now with this web initiative called ‘ReelChanges’, things are getting a lot better for him. He can inform a larger audience about his project details, ask for funds in parts during the production and once completed can even market his documentary films to a potential broadcaster. On the other hand, an audience i.e. a site user gets to learn about a topic he might be unaware of and can probably help a struggling filmmaker like Sridhar get his project completed by making a monetary contribution. With some filmmakers who have multiple projects in their online portfolios, the users will be able to help them out in the one they find the best. However visiting a site that hosts a quality bunch of documentaries on issues- ranging from arts, music, education, indigenous cultures to youth, politics, and environment- also qualifies as a sole motivation for many.

At a different site by the name ‘CNCnews’, citizens are busy posting questions to the government- demanding answers and reactions on issues of public interest. However as we can easily predict; most lawmakers and executives would like to cut corners in answering questions posted ‘online’. To curb this possibility, a group of journalists then follow these executives in the political corridors with the same questions. It is often the case with this web site that a single question gets endorsed by a number of citizens, making it ‘a must to answer’ for the concerned lawmaker. The cycle completes with journalists posting back these answers on the site for users to review.

These examples are currently few but one just needs to look around and notice the huge success of campaigns like the “Hard Rain” and “Jago re”. The former is a charity program to support globally a series of public exhibitions about climate change, poverty, the wasteful use of resources, population expansion, habitat destruction and species loss. However in both these campaigns, internet is being used to inform and gather local participation and support.

So who all should be counted in this new class of trend setters? Are these only the filmmakers, journalists or activists? Probably not! These are the common people- like you and me- enthusiasts from different fields- who have realized the true potential of this medium- not just merely as a tool to inform but more as a tool to attract and encourage public participation. They are establishing a parallel image of the internet- proactive and collaborative; other than a daily morphine dose of social networks, news, stock trading, pictures, video and porn. And it’s not the first time that they are trying to use technology ‘unconventionally’ to their advantage. Owning a website or a personal blog can’t be the only solution, especially in the times when the success of an entire idea depends on whether you make it to the first few results of a search engine or not. The future now lies in creating shared platforms- often non-profit – for people with different interests but possibly with similar ends to meet. It’s increasingly about lessening communication gaps amongst individuals while discovering opportunities to appreciate and support mutual efforts.

A dreamy morning

I woke up this morning at around 7 … had a bath and then somehow again went to sleep only to woke up at 9  to rush to my office. Within this time, I had quite an unusual dream, and it goes like this.

I was climbing up the staircase to get to my flat…  but the steps were getting smaller and smaller with lesser and lesser foot space to use. This didn’t affect me much in the beginning as it seemed like a visual illusion to me but it did slow me down. I just continued as I had to get to my flat after returning from a day’s work. Slowly and slowly quite alike “Alice climbing up the tree to get to the wonderland”, I got to a point where all the steps finally vanished and I found myself gaping through a ventilation window into someone’s drawing room. Even those present in the room, a family of possibly 3 members were surprised seeing a stranger looking at them through the ventilation window but they quickly resettled as if nothing had actually happened. They gave me a feeling that they had many such experiences. As if they knew that the staircase end at their ventilation window. So every now and then they had some stranger looking at them. If I recall  there were three people in the room, a man in his early 40s with his wife and a kid around 12-13 years old with chubby cheeks.

I knew that I had a flat in this building and the only way to get there were those strange staircase. So I had no option but to follow whatever came next. I stepped into their house with an excuse on my face, telling to myself that its OK to use their house to get to my flat. Apparently the family stayed quite indifferent too.  They kept doing whatever they were busy with. For few seconds, I sat on the couch with the kid.. trying to dust off my clothes. I also gather the stuff which I had dropped on the floor while I was jumping down from the ventilation opening. While I was taking this little break I saw that the family had exactly the same cap and also the same model of the cellphone as mine. So for once when I got hold of my stuff, I was a little confused about its ownership. But then I had to make my move. I got up, pressed chubby cheeks of this kid and gently stepped out of their house. By this time, I woke up and my dream ended!

I was really surpirsed by this dream and was wondering how could I remember it so well. Its very rare with me that I could remember any of my bedtime dreams.