Book Review About: Designing e Analysing…

Book Review
About: Designing e Analysing Design Meetings Janet McDonnell and Peter Lloyd (eds.) Taylor & Francis CRC Press, London, 2009, 422 pp., ISBN: 9780415440585, £69.99
This book presents the proceedings of the latest in the line of Design Thinking Research Symposia (DTRS). It includes 21 revised and edited papers from the symposium, held in London in 2007. Having missed the symposium I looked forward to reading the book with a keen anticipation. There is no doubt this is an interesting and impor- tant book although it does seem to miss some opportunities.
Instead of just asking everyone to pitch up and talk about their own agenda or setting what is of- ten a rather dubious set of themes, the organisers of DTRS7 distributed a set of common data to the wide range of international contributors, for them to work with. This idea had been pioneered in DTRS2 a decade or so ago, and proved quite interesting then. One problem with this format is how you gather the data. If everyone is going to talk about the same thing you had jolly well better make it worthwhile! Back in DTRS2 there was some criticism, including my own, about the way the data were collected. A classic case of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle so well known to those who try to study the design process.
Here in DTRS7 they also used video recordings but this time not of artificial design sessions but of real design project meetings. This is an inge- nious device since the whole point of meetings is to talk; don’t those of us who work in universities know it? So these participants were not asked to do anything out of the ordinary and certainly none of that ‘can you think aloud while you de- sign’ nonsense. In fact the data consisted of two pairs of meetings, one on an architectural project and one on an engineering project.
However, with four data sources I found the book confusing reading at times. The dramatis personae are often referred to with a familiarity bred from immersion in the raw data and we only get little snippets of that. There is a couple of more ex- tended excerpts in the introductory chapter, but what a pity that the reader of the book cannot delve more deeply. Could we not have had a CD or access to a website where the original data could be available? This would certainly have helped to bring alive the interesting papers by Rachel Luck, Friedrich Glock and particularly Willemien Visser who all dealt with the language and gesture of communications. It would have given the book more added value. The book per- haps needed to work harder to be greater than the sum of its already fairly widely published parts; many readers will already have seen nearly half the conference version papers published in special issues of CoDesign and Design Studies.
In these design meetings we can sense that there is present a huge range of backgrounds, specialisms, vested interests and values that inevitably occur in the context of contracts constrained by budgets and deadlines. There will clearly be hidden agendas and positions that are not easy to de- code. The papers by Janet MacDonnell and Gabi Goldschmidt come as close as any to deal- ing with this problem. But I would dearly love to know what the architects said to each other af- ter the meetings with their client, when they got back to their studio. These data give little insight into how such formal meetings relate to the rest of the design process. Maybe that is the next symposium?
The papers range in their objectives. Some give outings to well known techniques such as John Gero’s FunctioneBehavioureStructure schema and, of course, Gabi Goldschmidt’s Linkogra- phy. Some established ideas in design process such as co-evolution turn nicely into tools for investigating client-designer meetings, as in the Reymen, Dorst and Smulders paper. O ? mer Akin uses this opportunity to compare archi- tects with engineers. But some papers seem to treat these data as if they were just another set of design process protocols. For me the most interesting papers were those that specifi- cally recognised and analysed the data as coming out of meetings rather than the normal design studio.
However the useful lessons from the book are as much about research methodology as about the phenomena under investigation. The book is a tre- mendous manual of current techniques and ideas for investigating design. It describes the state of the art, as it were. It also explicitly grapples with design as a social process conducted by a range of stakeholders. No serious student of our subject could fail to find it valuable.

Bryan Lawson, About: Designing – Analysing Design Meetings, Design Studies, Volume 31, Issue 1, January 2010, Pages 92-93, ISSN 0142-694X, 10.1016/j.destud.2009.10.001.