Preparing an organization to succeed in design

I was just at BIF10 last week, and other than it just being amazing and inspiring, there were a couple ideas that I wanted to share and discuss here.

John Hagel talked about this idea of creating “creation spaces” that include small teams with a high level of trust working on projects together… he described their relationship as based on action, accountability, and learning. Another speaker, David Sengeh from MIT presented a model of co-design based on creating cultures of what he called “interested learners” that can collaborate with “expert learners” to create innovative solutions to specific problem spaces.

Creating safe creative spaces for teams of “interested learners” (probably from the client/partner) and “expert learners” (the designers in this model) is a notion I really like, and one that could work in many different types of organizations.

Has anybody done anything like this? Or anything similar?


Well “small teams with a high level of trust working on projects together” is pretty much the definition of how good agile teams like to operate — so I work that way a lot :wink:

You might want to dig into the CSCW research a bit since that kind of working environment, sometimes called radical co-location, is something that gets focussed on quite a bit (since there’s a fair bit of evidence that it’s a hugely effective way for folk to work together).

Some pointers:

“It doesn’t take much distance before a team feels the negative effects of distribution - the effectiveness of collaboration degrades rapidly with physical distance. People located closer in a building are more likely to collaborate (Kraut, Egido & Galegher 1990). Even at short distances, 3 feet vs. 20 feet, there is an effect (Sensenig & Reed 1972). A distance of 100 feet may be no better than several miles (Allen 1977). A field study of radically collocated software development teams,[…], showed significantly higher productivity and satisfaction than industry benchmarks and past projects within the firm (Teasley et al., 2002). Another field study compared interruptions in paired, radically-collocated and traditional, cube-dwelling software development teams, and found that in the former interruptions were greater in number but shorter in duration and more on-task (Chong and Siino 2006). Close proximity improves productivity in all cases.”
— conway [dot] isri [dot] cmu [dot] edu/~jdh/VRC-2008

“One key finding is that distributed work items appear to take about two and one-half times as long to complete as similar items where all the work is colocated”
— www [dot] computer [dot] org/portal/web/csdl/doi?doc=doi/10.1109/TSE.2003.1205177

“Our study of six teams that experienced radical collocation showed that in this setting they produced remarkable productivity improvements. Although the teammates were not looking forward to working in close quarters, over time they realized the benefits of having people at hand, both for coordination, problem solving and learning.Teams in these warrooms showed a doubling of productivity”
— possibility [dot] com/Misc/p339-teasley.pdf

“Despite the positive impact of emerging communication technologies on scientific research, our results provide striking evidence for the role of physical proximity as a predictor of the impact of collaborations.”
— www [dot] plosone [dot] org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0014279

There was also a great thread on the anthrodesign mailing list recently on ethnography & office design with a ton of useful/interesting references. Dig in at groups [dot] yahoo [dot] com/neo/groups/anthrodesign/conversations/topics/14562

(Apologies for broken URLs. As a new user I can’t post 'em!)


Thanks, @adrianh. This is an amazing list of references, which I will dig into quite a bit.

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putting people together is a great start, and a lot of the cscw / hci literature helps understand how that happens. What I found during my phd was that this literature didn’t have a lot to say about the role of like architecture, interior design or industrial design in scaffolding radical colocation.

some nice and accessible resources I’ve enjoyed recently are - an overview of spatial, material (and interaction) design approaches in k-12 classrooms (often more innovative than some startups - look out for when these kids reach us) - yes, it’s dschool / ideo - AND there’s a lot of actionable stuff here to use if you want to try this stuff out.

@emenel, this stuff is really powerful & often very confronting (particularly to orgs that see themselves as ‘smart’ - like Universities :slight_smile: … but as another of John Hagel’s recent thoughts says, we’re moving from that era of scalable efficiencies to one where scalable learning creates market advantage.

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@emenel O’d forgotten I have a bunch of links vaguely around this topic under too.

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Thanks, @overlobe! Yeah, a big part of this is about creating a safe space for collaboration where people understand that we’re all “in it together” … That’s where I liked the ideas of expert learners and interested learners as partners, each being the “expert” in their respective areas. The designers are experts in their craft, while the “client” team are experts in their organization/business… a safe place to bring those things together and be creative can go a long way to opening up new possibilities and getting everybody excited about their potential.

The Third Teacher looks really interesting, will definitely dig in further.

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Spaces are key and inviting the the right mix of people into these spaces with clear goals for the use of that space.

The facilitation and guidance needed in this space also key and how the outputs bridge into well understood artefacts.

We see a mix of broken tools or misrepresentations of design activities that have limited impact on the work.