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Monday, September 15, 2003

Assumptive Worlds

Dick Buchanan is still in Australia, so for today's Seminar guest lecturers, we had Shelley Evenson and John Rheinfrank teaching us. Shelley is a new faculty member at CMU and John, is her husband and business partner and former Master Stategist for Sapient.

Ostensibly, today was about Dean Barnlund's article, "Communication: the Context of Change," but we spent a lot of time talking about lots of other stuff as well. But first, the article.

Barnlund's main point is that every human has a unique view of the world that is constructed inside. Meaning comes from us: we provide the meaning to the world. Our beliefs about the world are only challenged (or reinforced) by talk or by argument. It's only through conflict that deeply held beliefs can be changed. It's only through conflict that we can grow.

Barnlund is all about empathy: seeing how other people think. To me, he's like the father of user-centered design. You examine how people think of things (conceptual models) and build towards those. Knowing the users goals would be right up his alley.

He's also about the importance of dialog in communication: making sure that communication goes both ways, between things. It's important to create an atmosphere where this sort of dialog can take place.

He's also a big fan of groups and group thinking as a way of problem solving. And while there is value in groups, sure, some of his reasoning is dubious at best.

Launching off from the reading, we talked a lot about metaphor. Metaphors are used to systematically construct a rolling notion of reality. They are good in that you don't have to explain much (a whole world can be conjured up easily), but also bad ( can trap you into a way of thinking). If you want to think differently about something, shift the underlying metaphor. Marketing was used as an example. Marketing language is all about warfare: campaigns, targets, etc. But instead, think of it as landscaping: growing an audience, plowing a field, etc. There are three different types of metaphors: Orientational ("the peak of his life"), structural ("coming out of a coma"), and ontalogical ("let's combat inflation").

John and Shelley then asked us to shift our metaphor for communication, to instead think of it in terms of learning, both passive and active learning. Wrapping up the article and the discussion was this: You have to design things so that the users can use what is already inside them to figure it out.

posted at 10:00 PM in design theory, faculty | comments (2) | trackback (0)


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