Thoughts on "Design Values" by John Sharp
In Bootcamp this year we initially considered including John Sharp's 'Design Values' essay in our syllabus as a homework reading. But we then decided to cover it during an in-class lecture and touched on many of the points John discusses in the essay in the lecture. I don't have anything negative to say about the essay and my opinion about it is the same one I have about every other attempt that has been made to deconstruct and give structure to the design process.
I think the design community, in general, is well aware of the dangers of trying to scientise the process of creation. We know that it is naive to believe that true creativity (or inspiration) will always come to you just because you follow a set of rules. The true value of any attempt to scientise the design process in my opinion is not in the end result of a project produced by following the objective rules, but it is the understanding one gains about their own thought process. For this reason, I think the scientisation of design should only be applied to an iterative process where the rules can be tweaked and tampered with to yield different kinds of outcomes that the designer can then observe and extract knowledge from. Any design method is simply a tool that is meant to empower the designer, to help them feel in control of their own thinking, making and decisions. Such methods are a tool for a more rewarding design journey (because you gain knowledge from using them), and not simply a means to arrive at the perfect project with no hassle - how can it be when we don't know what a project will become; if we knew, would there be need to go on this journey in the beginning? If we know what a project will become, we are simply giving up the opportunity to generate new knowledge.
Just as Aristotle's Poetics does not attempt to generate rules for producing drama, and instead the "goal was to observe, analyze, and report on the nature of the drama"... 
Similarly, just as the design science revolution R. Buckminster Fuller brought on was not about generating rules for designers to follow to achieve the perfect design (to think of it that way is in my opinion too shortsighted and completely underestimates the scope of the work Fuller started)... 
Any proposed methodology that attempts to rationalize the design process, or any creative process, should be taken as a tool for navigating complexity as opposed to reaching the ultimate destination. For this reason, methodologies like John Sharp's design values, or the d.School design thinking process are best applied not in the very beginning of a project, but after some ideas and forms have been generated, to help steer the wheel in the right direction. And of course, the rules are malleable in my opinion; they are only the starting point to begin the iterative process.
Having said these, in my opinion, the five things that really spoke to me when reading the Design Values essay, or, more precisely, the five values that I extracted the reading in relation to a creative process are that it is helpful to have guiding principles:
- to understand a designer's intentions with their project
- to help evaluate the success and failure of a project - by identifying the what, why and how of this intention
- to keep the project on track
- to ensure feedback is relevant
- to create shared understanding - for wider dissemination
1. Laurel, Brenda. "Dramatic Foundations." In Computers as Theatre, 2nd edition, 41-77. Pearson Education Inc, 2014
2. Fuller, R. Buckminster. and Applewhite, E. J. Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking, 172–173. New York: Macmillan, 1975