Next design

Collaborative and continuous design through narrative, hypothesis, and experimentation.
Mike Long @mblongii

Most design ideas are hypothesis until a real, tangible object is experienced and the outcome of that experience measured. Next design is an approach to design that encourages hypothesis and experimentation on the foundation of narrative.

Borrowing from...
• Architecture - narrative • Urban Planning - charrettes, pin-ups • Lean - build, measure, learn

My process over the years has evolved from my investigation into several domains including: architecture, urban planning, and Lean processes.

This is Horton. Horton hears a “Who” and all of the other inhabitants of “Whoville”. On that tiny speck is a world. This is the nature of narrative: worlds within worlds. Narrative, either based on a series actions in a story or in spaces that are seen sequentially, is at the center of creative imagination.

Narrative is a fractal, nested entity. At first a narrative may start with one large over-arching context. As we create artifacts of meaning (Horton’s flower), the narrative narrows into a story about people and their interaction with these artifacts (Whoville and it’s inhabitants). As artifacts begin to carry meaning, the narrative reflects the meaning through subsequent interactions between people, spaces, and objects.

This is Sutro Tower in San Francisco. What does it remind you of? A sailing ship perhaps?

This is what Sutro Tower reminds me of. This is an artists’ rendition of the cloud city from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

This is an artists’ rendition of Sutro Tower as the Cloud City from Star Wars complete with Millennium Falcon. The meaning of object and space in narrative remains open to interpretation in various socio-cultural contexts. For example, many people born in the mid-90s may not understand this illustration and its significance if they have not seen Star Wars. The meaning may also be lost if the viewer has never been to San Francisco!

Architectural Narrative
The formation of SPACE and cultural MEANING.

In architecture, the narrative of a building and its cultural meaning becomes as important as the very materials of which it is constructed.

Interaction Narrative
The formation of OBJECT and cultural MEANING.

In interaction and industrial design, objects convey cultural meaning. This is a picture of Luke Skywalker’s light saber. In fact, Luke’s journey as a Jedi only truly begins once Obi-Wan gives the saber to Luke and tells him to use it wisely, etc.

Timeless Narrative

Timeless narrative and the Hero gure

The use of narrative in design has greatest affect when the narrative incorporates the Hero figure. For more about the Hero figure, read Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”. Illustrated here is David battling Goliath. Notice David’s artifact of meaning: The sling with which he uses to hurl a rock at Goliath, thus defeating him squarely.

Modern Hero
Opie, 35 years old, male Works full-time as a so ware developer Lives in the suburbs Commutes in his Honda Civic every day Listens to sports radio in the car Likes to try new things Eats fast food Married, no kids Wife is a night nurse Sometimes browses recipe sites at work Likes to cook at home, but not very o en

Modern design needs a modern hero. Meet Opie...

Modern Space

Modern narrative needs a modern space: The Sonic Drive-in.

The Narrative
Opie’s in his car, driving home from work. It’s 5:30 and traffic is kind of heavy. He begins to feel hungry. He sees a Sonic drive-in up ahead. Will Opie go to the Sonic? What does Opie do next?

What artifacts of meaning will lure Opie in to the Sonic Drive-in?


Possibilities are explored through a Charrette: A collaborative sketching activity that uses “inquiry through design” with visual artifacts to generate many possibilities for further experimentation.

The Hypothesis

A starting point for further exploration

The charrette activity generates many hypothesis: starting points for further exploration.

Hypothesis 1: A “hot, rollerskating waitress” will lure Opie into the drive-in.

Hypothesis 2: A “secret snack” on the way home will lure Opie into the drive-in.

Hypothesis 3: A recipe suggestion from Epicurious will lure Opie to an item on the Sonic menu.

A procedure undertaken to make a discovery, test a hypothesis, or demonstrate a known fact

Re nement

Best idea is missed

Refine a single idea too early, and risk missing the mark entirely.



Many solutions explored X X X X

Re ne from here

Explore many hypothesis and then refine from the experiment which yielded the best results (luring Opie via “secret snack”)


Make the output of the experiments visible. One way to do this is with “pin-ups” in common areas around the workspace and/or office. People who did not attend the charrette or key moments during the experiment can still get an opportunity to witness outcomes and posit their own findings.

kanban (card)

Make the progress of the experiments visible. Most experiments will require a certain level of coordination and timing. A kanban board provides shared visibility into progress and status. A shared sense of responsibility and ownership of tasks will result.

Kanban (process)
• • • •
Limit WIP (work-in-process) Measure performance Make process policies explicit (democratize) Improve collaboratively and scienti cally the_principles_of_the_kanban_method/

Kanban (capital ‘K’) provides a good starting process framework for team experimentation.

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