Simply Complexity Podcast with Massimo Curatella and Kevin Richard

Simply Complexity Podcast with Kevin Richard and Massimo Curatella

Kevin Richard invited me to an online cafè discussion on complexity, design, and education for his “Design & Critical Thinking Podcast”.  Being sure not being an expert I freaked out and I worked a lot to get prepared. In the end, it was fun and inspiring to highlight better what I don’t know.

How to understand & explain complex topics?” is the impossible subject we will tackle together. We discuss our need as designers to understand & explain complex topics to enable collaboration –while #complexity cannot be reduced or simplified by definition.

In a tour de force we touched a lot of topics as critical thinking, Systems Thinking, design thinking, communication design, UX Design, management, leadership, parenting.

Enjoy the video recording, with a summary of the key point that emerged. Oh, and that pandemic haircut style has gone, for now.

Index of the topics discussed in the podcast

  • 0:00:00 Intro
  • 0:01:05 Massimo’s self-introduction & topic
  • 0:03:46 Easing the learn/act (thinking/doing) tension
  • 0:05:39 A good designer is also a leader
  • 0:10:25 Making complexity actionable
  • 0:14:38 Sensing & changing a company’s culture
  • 0:22:31 The need for persuasion
  • 0:24:52 Becoming an agent of change & collective intelligence
  • 0:29:24 Overcoming the space-for-action barrier through complexity
  • 0:39:15 Leading through uncertainty
  • 0:51:14 The link between critical, systems, and design thinking
  • 0:55:04 Is “metacognition” or “metathinking” undervalued in design?
  • 1:01:15 Conclusion

A Summary of the podcast

Edited and summarized for your convenience (and your English grammar sensitivity)

01:05 Max introduces himself

Massimo Curatella

I am Massimo Curatella, Max If you want, I live in Rome. And I am a designer of systems. I am specialized in service design, UX design, and interaction design. Although I am basically having experience in doing the entire workflow. I’ve been a software engineer for 25 years then I went to the other side of the Force. I have also experience in facilitating, in writing, I was a technical journalist and I have been teaching in different universities. 

I decided to take the challenge of picking an impossible topic: simplifying complexity. By definition, complexity cannot be simple. So my question is, how can you make complexity manageable and understandable? It’s a huge topic. It’s absolutely surreal for me to face it in 60 minutes. But I think it’s really productive and inspiring to talk about it, especially with a person like you because I really appreciate your blog and the things you publish and the links you share. It’s really informative and stimulating. So that’s the right place to be.

Kevin Richard

Thank you. It’s totally likewise, I love what you’re writing. I love what you’re sharing in general. So I think this is the reason we are discussing it together.

03:47 Designers are philosophers with hands. 

Kevin Richard

I read somewhere “designers are like philosophers with hands,” like people who can act, not just think. How do you learn things that are actionable? It’s like a dichotomy between thinking and doing.

05:26 Designers are Systems Leaders

Massimo Curatella

You’ve touched a lot of good starting points, especially when you talk about learning, designing, or being “a philosopher with hands”. I was thinking of another metaphor: a good designer is also a leader. Because if you think well, and if you build the right path for other people to understand well the context, you are leading, you’re showing the way. The problem is when you think about a designer in the ivory tower, imposing their hands,” this is what you need to do”. Rather I would say a designer as a leader is a Systems Leader because they can understand the context in which they are moving, together with the stakeholders, the clients, the end-users, the colleagues and they are co-designing possible solutions. They are making sense together of what is the environment.

06:36 Sensemaking as driving at night

Massimo Curatella

How do you write a novel? Or how do you do anything? It’s like driving at night, maybe you know the road but you cannot see far away, to the horizon. You have your car lights, and you can travel like that until you reach your destination. Designing, when you are in our complex settings, –which is basically always– it’s almost like driving at night. You must have the skill of being able to drive, you need to be careful, you need to stay awake, to be in good health, but you also have to look around you as things are happening. And this is really a good metaphor for design or for understanding complex topics because, of course, it is important for you to have a background, to be qualified, to do your research. But most of the time it’s difficult to make sense out of something and to produce a synthesis that is brief, elegant, and smart and smooth. 

Empiricism and experimentation

Massimo Curatella

This is the philosophy at the foundation of Design Thinking, Iterative Design, or Design Sprints. According to what I can discover together with you we can learn together the problem we are studying. We need, sometimes, to make decisions that are sharp and well defined. Some other times you need to put in place some experiments to see what happens if we do this or that. And that is really the craft and the skill of a designer because there you need to have the skill, the capability of being fast and quick in prototyping and really be a master of tools.

Digital Tools for Thinking Together

Massimo Curatella

That is the place in which I keep on experimenting with digital canvases like Mural, Miro, Figma. It doesn’t make any difference if it is posted on the wall or if it is pen and paper. I just need to be fast and effective. So sometimes I share my screen with the clients or I show my wall. Some other times I show a Google Drawing. Nowadays I’ve discovered a new tool, Whimsical, it seems to be almost a toy. But it is so limited in the things that you can do that you are forced to be tidy and clear because you have only some boxes to move on the screen. And so, simple tools and simple rules to make sense out of complexity. The great effort is to be alert, to stop and reflect: “what are we seeing?”What did we discover together?” Sometimes this is missing completely because you don’t have time, you have to go fast and you need to deliver. You don’t have time to do a retrospective. Or to evaluate the quality of your thinking. This is the kind of creative pressure, the fight to be rational, systemic, and systematic, but then you have to deal with reality. You just have to do it.

10:27 Models: Making knowledge actionable

Kevin Richard

On the simplification of complexity, not in the sense of making it more simple or stupid, but more in the way that you can create a concept that is easy to grasp, to understand. This is a good way to introduce something more complex and let people maybe go deeper, but it’s enough to act upon it. And you use the metaphors to do it, like with the spotlights of your car.

This is like in science when we say, we know that all models are wrong, inaccurate representations of reality but a good model in science is one that helps you to predict some stuff. And if it does well this work, that’s enough, we don’t need more until we reach the end of the usefulness of this model.

How can we create metaphors, models that are simple enough to explain something? Models, that are also useful enough to be actionable?

We use a lot of visual stuff, visual models to explain complexity like the iceberg model. This is a really great one because, visually, you understand that there’s something on the top and in the water, you have a lot more. 

Mapping and Sensemaking in videogames

Kevin Richard

I have one model coming from a videogame I played in the past, Civilization, and I loved the fact that you don’t see the map. It’s foggy everywhere. The only way to discover the map is to make some of your pawns to move on the map. Yes. Even though you discovered all the map, you see some key elements that are static, but everything which is dynamic is hidden from your view.  You need to have a pawn which is close to something that is moving to see it. And this is a great representation of how far you can see. It’s limited to the field of view of your pawn, and that’s it. And as a god-like creator in this in this game, you can see all the viewpoints of all your pawns, which is already more than what you can do in reality, that I think it’s a great way of saying when you want to map, if you are alone, it will take you a lot more time.

You can draw some parallels with the co-design activity. The more points of view you can have the farthest you can see and understand your context. 

Better having more opinions

Massimo Curatella

You need not only to have the capability of looking around you in a dynamic and adaptive way according to what happens. But you need to create a network of sensors. You want to be able to have a network of probes that would send you back signals. So you can improve your capability of looking farther away, both in space and in time, it’s a superpower: you can see longer/farther than others. And that puts you in the position of having more opinions. Maybe most of them are right compared to those who have only one opinion or their strong intuition.

This is something related to my practice of design because I usually struggle and fight with clients when they say: “We have this inventory of UI pages of 150 pieces. Can you do that? What’s your estimate?” And I used to say, “yeah I can hire a couple of people. We can do it in one week or two weeks or three weeks. And I just used to do it. Then after months, I discovered that that software didn’t make sense at all. Because it was beautiful and the first impression was:” Wow, this is a cool UI, cool graphics, cool icons”. But then you click through, and you discover that there are steps missing, and things that you cannot understand, or pieces flying away. So I stopped completely having this kind of linear and restricted view on design. I need to have the broadest and deepest view of what you want to do. Either if you allow me to do that, or not, because otherwise, I’m not able to do a good job for you. And I’m not interested in just earning the money for the sake of selling pixels by the weight, And so it started the process of actually changing the culture of the client. So I started to educate them. “This is how you’re supposed to design software”. There are some well-defined steps: you need to research users, you need to empathize with them, you need to extract a synthesis of your research. To make sense out of it. You need to design according to an iterative model where you refine your prototype until it is almost perfectly fitting the real needs and desires of the users.

That is basically the UX Design mantra. But when you need to explain it to them (that is the first problem with complexity) It takes time. So you need to show use cases, and then you need to sell it.

 So you need to go through the struggle of explaining why it’s important to co-design and co-create. And that’s s a change of mindset. And so piece by piece, by iterating this kind of approach in explaining “this is why I did that”. The button is there for specific reasons, and because of research findings.

Moving up the Strategic Design ladder

Massimo Curatella

This takes time. It’s a lot of effort and it changed completely my role as a designer. That’s why I like to think that I’m more on the strategic design side of the job. This is difficult. It’s really more rewarding. But it also brings you to be more selective and demanding for clients. You cannot work with all kinds of client, they need to have this kind of fertile conceptual ground.

19:13 Meaningful design is co-design

Kevin Richard

Totally agree with you. Yes, educating clients, people that are not used to work in a certain way to make them work with you, That if only we were doing our work on our side, and we could be alone and do our stuff and come back and say, Ta-da, that’s that done. There are people that that are doing the design this way, but we know where it goes to that. People struggle to implement it. People struggle to see meaning in it.

So when we need them with us during the research, we need them with us during the ideation and probably we need them with us when we start materializing those ideas into whatever screens, whatever artifacts, so they the see the connection between the steps you’re going through. And to get them here just to embark them into this endeavor. You have to come with them and you need to influence their contexts, you want to change behaviors, even before changing their mindset because you cannot change their mindset if they didn’t experience anything.

Well, it’s really hard to do it, you want them to be part of it because the experience leads them to learn with you during the steps. And it’s easier to make them change their point of view on something if they experience it in some ways.

And this is where need to incentivize them on this and changing their context when we are external to their contexts. I think it’s the point where it’s really hard. And this is why you need to be selective, In that sense. You need people where there’s already some thought process around their way of doing, where there’s something that you feel that they are ready to go into this process with you.

22:28 Having a triple positive impact by being a strategic communicator and an agent of change

Massimo Curatella

Sometimes I tend to be naive in thinking that I want to get the most out of my time because I want to have a purpose and a meaning, I want to have a positive impact. So I want to change people’s lives, whatever it is, even if it’s a small thing. So I tend to think that everybody else in the world is like me, this, sometimes, is a desire and a delusion. But of course, I’m not so naive to think that it’s the reality. So some other times the entrepreneur or the client, they just want to make money. There’s nothing wrong with it. And they want to have success, nothing wrong with that. So you need to be a strategic communicator, you need to persuade them. That’s a specific word that sometimes has a negative connotation, I don’t want to convince you about anything. I don’t want to change your mind or to influence you. I want to show you a workflow, a method that is going to be more efficient and effective and pleasurable and sustainable than what you are doing right now. 

So I don’t want to convince you because I am better than you and I want to save the world and you’re not. Maybe you don’t care. And we don’t have to talk about this. This is not the point. The point is, you’re ambitious, you have a complex project that might have a strong impact. Well, let’s do things in the proper way. Let me show you what could be a proper way that is not my way, it’s going to be our way, I cannot do it alone.

That’s the change of mind. So you’re right when you say we need to change behaviors. This is difficult because it’s an actual change in the widest sense of the word. When you need to change an organization, a behavior, a habit.

So that is the key place where a designer becomes an agent of change. At the smallest level, the smallest scale within you, yourself, your family, your organization, and then in the community or in the ecosystem where you are designing a product and a service. And that is really hard. But it’s really exciting.

You need to explain why we are doing certain things. And you need to facilitate the process because we are going to do it together. Because I don’t have the solutions. I don’t have even the right path to go through. We need to build our little collective intelligence, collective mind and we need to be aligned and effective in being fast and quick and precise about learning in the fastest and in the best way possible, but also to make sense out of what we are learning because what is our purpose? What do we need to know? everything or do we need to focus on certain things?

And this is exactly the sense of exploring complexity, sense-making together, but also design research and design synthesis, because it’s not enough to say: these are the sources where to look for information, these are the experiments, then you have to make sense out of it, are you able to explain it in a concise way, but also showing the value of it towards the purpose that we are having as an organization not because or any arbitrary point of view?

That is why as a designer you need to be a good communicator, a good thinker, good systems thinker. You need to be good at finding the biases that you might be a victim of, the mental traps. And this is really hard because you’re a human being.

26:48 We can only design meaning together

Massimo Curatella

If you have the ambition of doing all of that alone, good luck with that. It’s impossible. you need to grow your organization, your network of thinkers. Because otherwise how can you grow your system of probes, of sensors?

You need to curate your thoughts, your sharing, you need to make a synthesis, and to put things in context. You need to make a connected report about what’s useful to us. And this needs to be curated, maintained, and kept alive as a garden.

Designers as gardeners: from “me” to “we”

Massimo Curatella

That’s the other beautiful metaphor of curating a product or service or a knowledge base as a gardener, you are there to nurture it, like plants, every day, you cut a little dried ranch here and there. You move things around. You take care of the sunlight, of the water of the ventilation. And that’s the most beautiful metaphor closer to be a systems leader rather than just a maker or designer. And it entails a lot of things because you need to be less about yourself, about your ego, It is less about ”me”, It’s more about what can “we” do together,

This needs to be sincere, I need to be open, available to listen to you. I need to be also graceful and tolerant of your faults, your limitations. Otherwise, how can we work together? So it’s not just a matter of “are you qualified or not?” But “can we learn this together? Can we grow together?” And this is a different way of thinking about a company and organization in which you have your cubicle. You have your role and you have your things to do. You do it with your head down. When it’s five in the afternoon, you can’t wait to go home. That’s hell to me.

29:25 Space for action within the Organizational Silos

Kevin Richard

It reminds me of the concept of space for action

When you hit the wall of the buyer, of the company, which are organized in a really structured way, where the constraints are here to force you to go in into the walls they created between stuff because this is the way they make it manageable. And you want to move stuff, you want to do things differently.

Unless there’s a real will to change stuff and to change how the organization allows being looser on some rules. Most organizations have a safe space for learning until so far and you’re not able to do is always as you want it to do.

Yes, so this space for action will determine what you will be able to do and where you will be able to go. And so what you will be able to discover, and this needs to be solved because it’s circular. You don’t know really where to start you have to move the space for action for the buyer, but to do it you need first to change stuff and changing stuff means hitting against this buyer.

It’s a wicked problem. It’s really hard to get through it and sometimes you have to accept you cannot change it and the fact that you accept that to maybe play by the rules At some points. Then you see an opportunity to inject something new in it. And this may help change stuff, but it’s slow. And it’s not always the easy way.

33:18 Fight complexity with complexity

Massimo Curatella

I can really relate to what you’re saying. I have diverse experiences in trying to change workflows, processes, or even organizational cultures for very small or very big organizations. And I failed most of the time, but I’ve learned a lot of things. When you were talking about the fact that it’s hard and sometimes if you are an employee, you can explore and find the space for action up to a certain point. It’s true. That’s why I am usually an external consultant and I used to be a freelancer. So, I have way more space for actions because, if things are like they are, I don’t have to die in this organization, you’re just a client. But sometimes I really want to have an impact, I want to have success. So, maybe I have a long contract. So, I need to do something. 

And the concept of some properties of complexity emerged and it became useful and I want to tell you how. for instance,  when you talk about organizational design and development, the first thing that is important for you is to understand what is the official internal organization, in an organizational chart you can know all official roles: this is the CEO, this is the CTO or these are the managers of the first line, or you have the departments, etc.

And then you need to understand what is the real social network because the real managers are the real people doing key things and frequently they are not overlapping with the real roles. 

Make the real system visible

Massimo Curatella

Now to do that, you are almost on stealth, because you are doing maybe interviews, and you have access to a sort of synoptic view of the organization like nobody else in any other place is having. So you have a superpower of seeing things like they are not seeing it. This is true for complex processes that are going across departments. So you have silos, they know the first part of the thing, they don’t know the second part of the thing, and so on.

 In a project for the European Commission, we made a six-meters-by-two chart on the wall for 30 engineers, after 3–4 months of research, and we said: “look, this is your process.” you are here, you are there. And then the leader said, “Well, I’ve never seen the process like this. I didn’t know we were doing all of this in this way.

Leverage on network effects

Massimo Curatella

This is the first thing that you have as an organizational designer. This is a superpower that you have. And this is the place in which you have to face complexity with complexity. Because, as you were saying, it’s difficult to go person by person and say, “Look, it would be better if you do this, this and that.” Or if you ever go down from the top, the leader is imposing right now that you have to do this. And it’s going to be failing. It’s a failure. So what I’ve been experiencing was to create a network from the ground up, of the same people in this same role, but with a new motivation of getting connected with their company. So, by having the buy-in from the leadership, and starting, internal projects, they needed, following my suggestions, to establish a link with the other departments. So basically, you would have not just one top manager working in a single direction, but networks starting to mesh together. So, you would have a real internal network of forces trying to interact. And then when you set up something like this, and you are on the starting line, you can feel the power of something which is much more complex than you giving orders or imposing actions. You have people working with you trying to reach a common goal. This is the real power. Of course, if one day they say, Well, you know, Max, thank you, but we sold the company. We don’t need you anymore. It’s done. It is the end of it.

The future of organizations and the future of work

Massimo Curatella

How can we leverage this concept in our more sustainable way by building companies like this instead of having the old dear hierarchies? With the kings and queens and the slaves because this is what it is.

Or you have maybe a more modern way of putting people together and you give to the individual the responsibility of following a purpose which has a meaning to them. So they don’t have to be motivated by incentive or by money. They are doing that because they want to do it, they need to do it. This is my dream. This is what I tried to do. I failed a lot of times, but I keep on trying. If you have a company like this, you are unstoppable. Nobody can stop you because the value is not just earning the money. But we are here because we have a vision. We have our North star and our Near Star and we are doing this because we want to win together. Another dream and maybe another delusion. Let’s see.

39:11 The hard thing with hard things

Kevin Richard

This kind of organization is hard to create because first I think if it’s done is it’s always the kind of an exception to most. And this “fun” fact is enough to make it hard to make.

Massimo Curatella

That’s also the reason why we’re here tonight! To make it not only just an exemption but maybe the normality, the new normality This is the new normal that I want.

Kevin Richard

If you reach the point where you make this kind of organization, then you have to deal with the fact that people are not used to it. It creates a lot of uncertainty for them.

In an organization, there’s certainty about the rules. And so, it creates the illusion of certainty of the goals, the successes.

But if you remove this layer of rules, even if we agree with the fact that everything else is pure illusion, If you remove this layer, then people see reality like uncertainty, complexity, as you said, you have to deal with this. And for most people it’s the fear, managing people that feel uncertainty. This is the part of leadership which is challenging. You don’t have anything to control them, you cannot control that through the rules and you have to find other ways to do it. 

And co-creation and participatory organization, it makes sense but then people would say “okay, but we cannot do everything in this way.” 

You have all the uncertainty behind so it’s hard for people to feel comfortable with it. And then when we put people on a process, in general, this is like this as well, you say we will do some research and we will find insights and from those insights we will draw the next sections, even though we add some kind of phases and we know the kind of stuff we will do in the future, we are not certain of what will be the outcome of each of these phases and we cannot say, okay, in two months we will do this and this will be exactly lead to this kind of output and this will exactly lead to this kind of successes.

And people don’t feel comfortable with this kind of answer, because they love the illusion of certainty some way. Because everyone is setting some kind of certainty at some point.

43:08 Welcome to the real world

Massimo Curatella

Have you ever watched the movie The Matrix?

That’s a summary of all of it. So everything you said it’s absolutely the truth. The point made by The Matrix, it’s absolutely this. Of course, it’s a movie, it’s a science-fiction movie. But think about the certainty of being an employee before February 2020. And then the pandemic. Where is your certainty? And how can you say that, since they are the CEO, they know what is going to happen in two months? I don’t believe in astrology, why should I believe in your predictions? So I know that it is really comfortable to live with certainties. And of course, people tend to live with this kind of luxury. But can we afford it? It’s something that needs to be absolutely challenged. And the other concept is the concept of control. Why are you supposed to control me? Why? 

44:51 Who controls the controllers?

Kevin Richard

I still agree. I think all systems set that we have around that are rules to control are meant to control people. They’re meant to control outcomes. But as we are living through these systems and through these rules, one of the means to manage the outcomes is managing, as well, everything that leads to those outcomes. So if you want to make sure that we have a certain outcome we need, In a way, if we follow logically the philosophy of this kind of ethics, we need to control every step of the process that leads to outcome x or y. And that means people as well, even though it’s not the first point.

Massimo Curatella

This is Taylorism. This is scientific management. It seems to be something from the past, although it’s something that somebody still wants to use today.

If you cannot know your future and mine, why are you supposed to set my future for me? And if you want to get some outcomes, why don’t we build together a plan rather than you controlling the steps? Because when you had to create some simple objects in a factory, 100 years ago, of course, you need to control the steps, otherwise, you could get hurt, and you wouldn’t have the throughput. But what about creating software today? Can you control the steps? Are you building software? Can you control the steps of building software? Are you able to predict what’s going to happen every step of the way? Because this is what I’m doing day and night and nothing is controllable. We are really driving in the night on a foggy night while the car is on fire and the brakes are not working. This is today. and think about government, policymaking, healthcare. How do you wear your facemask? Like this or like that? Should it be one meter or two? I mean everywhere is like this. How do you educate your children? Is it easy?

47:12 Try raising children

Kevin Richard

Yeah, that that’s a good one. How do you raise your kid?  I have just one point on this when we are teaching them: “Oh, the first rule, you should not lie,” Right? Because then you face reality and you lie, you lie every time instead.

Massimo Curatella

The human mind can learn to reason better. I talked to my kid about this podcast days ago, I said, look, I have a friend, it’s Kevin, I need to talk to him. I am basically putting myself in a difficult situation because I said I want to talk about how to explain simply, difficult things. What can I do? What should I do? Tell me, please help me. He said, why don’t you talk about ecology? The problem we have with the environment, the fact we are losing a lot of species, we don’t have to pollute, we have to take care of the fact that we are eating too much meat. And I said, yeah, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. And this is a win. And I said we have hope. And this is what I like to do with any other people. If you take the time to explain things, but you have to do it in an efficient, effective, and pleasurable way. Because if you’re not fast, you’re going to lose them. You have three to six seconds. if you learn this lesson you can persuade and influence people, but you need to become a good thinker first and a good communicator, second. Otherwise, how can you do that? This is somehow my mission, my will of being present in the moment, and providing value in everything that I do. This is my challenge. Even now, even today. Even preparing for this podcast and this is making me happy. I feel alive and I feel that I am pursuing my goal, and I like it.

50:50 Learning how to think better

Kevin Richard

I agree with a lot of things and I think there was a point behind, this point about control, and all you said now is related to it. If you want to make others think and you want them to make to think about things in a proper way…  there’s a lot about critical thinking around this topic. And there’s a lot about learning about your biases and how you can overcome them. You cannot remove them. but you can be more aware of them. And then find the ways you can correct yourself when you see the evidence of one of your bias is there.

Massimo Curatella

That’s another big topic. And that’s why during the years, I started to collect my interests around the magnets of systems thinking, critical thinking, design thinking, and they seem to be always together. They’re not separate. But this makes thinking and acting and designing heavier, not lighter. It’s even more difficult. If every step of the way you need to be sure, there are no biases and you are mitigating them, that you are inclusive with all the stakeholders and you are taking rational and structured approaches to get the best outcome out of it. That’s really a challenge. But this should be the aim of every human being not for designers only.

Systems-thinking: A Little Film About a Big Idea

So, this is about the metacognition, this is thinking about thinking, do you ever think about thinking? When I do that my mind blows up. If you want to analyze how you were thinking about how you should think you start to go meta, and it’s even harder. And then you discover that when you do things like that you take a distance between you and the other people who are not used to that. I don’t want to say I’m superior in any way. I don’t want to mean that. But I went through a path, a journey in which I, I tend to be aware of this. So I know when I have in front of me, people not aware of this. And they are the prey to any possible trap and pitfall, then. There, that’s the point where you can make a difference because you need to be patient and you need to facilitate a better thinking process. Longer, harder. Can you afford that? 

55:03 Good design and bad design?

Kevin Richard

Don’t you think that bad thinking in design is a bit too present today in general? Because sometimes, to be honest, sometimes I feel like it’s hard to talk about this In Design. And “thinking meta”, as you said, is like, we are too philosophical, too under theories and not enough in the practice and then I don’t know where’s really the limit between the two and I don’t want to create one. But most of the time, it feels like people want to create those limits like: “design is practical, before anything else”. Maybe  I’m totally wrong.

Massimo Curatella

That’s a good question. I have to say that  I’m coming to design from an engineering background. But actually, I have always been doing design in the sense of understanding deeply the user needs and building something by optimizing resources in terms of actually delivering value by keeping an eye to the ecosystem. This is what is design to me. Or, better, this is what I want Design to be. If you look at people like Bruno Munari, the Italian guy who in the 50 to 60 said basically the same things that Design Thinking is saying today, so nothing new. Being a designer is a frame of mind that is a way of being. So when you talk about creating cool UI, like the dribble.com things, that is, that could be the bad thinking. That could be the bad education for a designer because you look at the cool visuals without thinking about the process, you don’t know what’s the context behind it. That’s why I like a definition of the design that I do that is interaction design, I design interactions. So before creating the artifacts, the tangible thing you interact with, I need to understand the entities, the actors, and the relationships, and we need to create a better system that will suit you. Then we think about communication design, visual design, UI design, and also the development. But I am always part of all the phases even talking with the client or making a strategy. And I got there but after 20 years. This is the place of the designer, this is where a designer should be, sitting near the entrepreneur, or the project manager, the project leader, or developer. That’s the point where designers should be. And if you think that designers are just there to receive your specs, so they can execute, this is not Design to me. Not at all, not anymore. So, I don’t know, because they could do a fantastic job. Maybe that is the place where you could do bad thinking in design. Or that’s another way to look at it. You are in the right place. You have access to users, you can gather the needs. You are conscious of the ecosystem, but you’re not applying anything that is rational. You are full of biases. (I didn’t say the word you were thinking of). So every place can be a place for bad thinking but there are certain configurations that are more strategic and may be ideal for good design. Some others maybe are more prone to bad thinking in design.

You can do bad design for instance, when you do user research, design research or interviews, If you are not able to extract the knowledge in the right way if you are not establishing a loop of verifying and assessing the knowledge and the assumptions. And there, you need to be confident in making mistakes. Not everybody is able to say, “Well, I was wrong. Let’s iterate and refine it”. This is not really well seen. You’re supposed to say, “I have the answers. And I’m right”. You’re not supposed to say “I’m a senior strategic designer. Yesterday, I was wrong. Let’s redo this thing!”  you need to have guts to do that. And I do that every day. This is my job, to be wrong. And to prove to you why I was wrong because this is the value delivered to the company. But you need to be in the space for action.

Kevin Richard

That’s a good ethic, I think, in fact.

01:01:11 That was only the Table of Content 😎

Kevin Richard

Thanks a lot for this discussion. We, I think we’ve covered a lot in one hour. It’s like we can take each of the points and talk about it again, for hours. So Well, I hope we will do this exercise, more than once.

Massimo Curatella

Yeah, absolutely. We can even go deeper into specific subtopics or we can go as we are doing and I really would like to extract some highlights and insights. I want to write about it so we can have a conversation ongoing, and we can invite other people to join us.

Kevin Richard

Yes. with pleasure and to have more people can be only a good way to explore.

Massimo Curatella

Yeah, I agree. So thank you very much, Kevin, for your invitation. It’s been a pleasure and I’m really looking forward to doing more of this.

Kevin Richard

Yeah. Thank you. Me too. Bye

Massimo Curatella

Bye. Ciao.


How I prepared for this Podcast

It was fun and stimulating. I consider this an evolution of my “learning out loud” process in discovering more and more of what I don’t know about complexity and design. I’ve collected a lot of stimuli, prompts and motivation to go deeper into my ignorance.

If you want to learn more about this adventure of mine, discover how, by leveraging on the collective intelligence of my connections on online communities and social media, I have been Preparing for the Podcast “Making Complexity Simple”.

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Senior Experience Designer. 25 years designing, developing, writing, speaking, facilitating and teaching.

2 Comments

  1. Dear Massimo, Congratulations on this super dense and super rich podcast – very inspiring! Thank you! Grazie!

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