A couple Notes from Listening to Richard Saul Wurman and SenseMaker Dialogs

Familiar & Strange, Strange & Familiar

While attending SenseMaker Dialogs for their second event I was quite impressed with Richard Saul Wurman, the first of the two speakers last night. The term speaker is probably not the correct term to describe him though. As I walked in fifteen minutes early he was already on stage having a conversation with the audience that was there. That conversation continued until he stopped just before 8pm. His fluid approach as a conversationalist as opposed to lecturing was quite refreshing.

I probably wouldn’t do justice to his talk by trying to relive the whole conversation in a post though a couple points and observations did stand out for me. He strongly suggested that listening is a skill to strengthen at all times and to hold of on writing stuff down. That’s a contrast for me because I’ve always thought it was best to write something down as I’m more likely going to remember it. In terms of concepts he talked about the interplay between familiar and strange and the inverse of strange and familiar. Recognizing those patterns often lead to insights that in turn be acted upon.

Here’s my 140 tweet review of Richard…

If you get the chance to hear Richard Saul Wurman, I highly reccomend paying whatever it costs. Great conversationalist...

Following Richard’s talk there was a brief introduction of the SenseMaker Dialogs series and their speaker format of inviting two guests to present for forty five minutes each a couple times a year. While they have a Facebook page I hope they launch a normal site for SEO purposes. As far as I can imagine they have no way to check the analytics to see who’s visiting the site, who’s pointing to them or what’s being said outside of Facebook.

After that introduction Garry K. VanPatter talked about Humantific’s approach to design. I winced at seeing the concept of design mashed together with numbers like 3.0 or 4.0 because it felt forced. I think we’re passed the versioning thing. With that said there were a lot of points that I could consider as I continue to design. I’m just not a fan of someone on stage suggest that they’ve been at the forefront of a generalized concept of design for the last ten years and now everyone is ripping him off. The most fascinating part of his talk for me was the sketched design processes of a number of different types of people—students, to designers to business people. He could have easily just talked about that for the entire time and would have kept people interested.

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  • jonnygoldstein

    Those slides on that students did about their design processes were amazing!

    Sure, Gary did cover a lot of ground and could have focused for hours on many of individual slides, but I enjoyed the rapid run through Humantific's practice.

    As for Richard Saul Wurman, I loved his talk. I have been a huge fan of his since I picked up “Information Anxiety” many years ago. He talks the way his book reads—-lots of sidebars and stories. A treat to see him in person.

  • http://www.humantific.com/ GK VanPatter

    Michael…to clarify: The NextD complexity scale framework that contains Design 1.0 – 4.0 is not about versioning design. Its about acknowledging difference of problem scale & difference of activity space. For example what you do and what we do are very different.

    Since the degree of sensemaking shifts as one becomes involved in larger scale challenges its an important distinction for those truly seeking to understand how sensemaking is changing today. This change is the focus of the SenseMaker Dialogs series and thus the reference to the framework.

    You probably know that without some kind of post-discipline sensemaking framework most conversations about design are meaningless today. We wince when we see well meaning, half-baked, unenlightened bloggers mashing all forms of design into one lump in service of their own interests. This lumping tends to undercut recognition for the need for change in the design community. Lets get smarter. Design today is not one thing but rather a series of patterns in motion. Rather than replace each other, those patterns exist in parallel. If you are sincerely interested you can learn more about the NextD complexity scale here:


    Good luck.

  • http://designnotes.info/ michaelsurtees

    Thanks for filling in the gaps from your perspective Garry. While I do agree that there's many ways to understand and scale design issues it seemed like the process you described was better suited for pre recession manufacturing days. Anyone in the digital space probably doesn't need your help. I do wonder how your scheme translates to the post recession digital spectrum where everyone has the same communication tools. Maybe I was just bothered with the toolbox icon from your presentation—an old relic of industrialization. I also sense from your “half-baked, unenlightened bloggers mashing all forms of design” comment that you're okay with passing on “design” exercises to middle managers that in your own words have changed people's lives that may or may not get design once they go back to excel and in turn trying to put down anyone that doesn't agree with your self appointed design process. Good luck transitioning in the not so distant future.

  • http://designnotes.info/ michaelsurtees

    I didn't think Humantific's practice was presented rapidly at all. What aspect did you enjoy?

  • jonnygoldstein

    Will be blogging about my take on the GK Van Patter talk in a few days. Stay tuned.

    Meanwhile, here's my take on Wurman's talk.