Opinionated design

When it comes to design discussions, I have been described as “opinionated” (at times, harsher words like pig-headed or argumentative – or way worse - have been substituted). It isn’t that I think I am usually right, and I am normally a pretty gentle person, but I firmly believe in Socratic method for identifying well-formulated, clear and transparent solutions.

Two ingredients are required to make it work: an unambiguous statement, and a contradictor, who will poke at the statement until it either crumbles, or gets refined until it is self-evident, with clearly identified qualities and limitations. So I like to take somewhat extreme positions in design discussions, either in my proposals, or in my criticism. It has nothing to do with how much I believe them to be right, and everything to do with understanding what is at stake in the discussion and where the tensions are.

Unfortunately, it has also gotten me into trouble at times, because, well, discussions can get heated. I will honestly try my best to find issues with any design I am presented with, and push for clarification – just like I really appreciate when people do the same with mine. It’s a tricky exercise, because while these are ideas that are under fire, it’s often difficult not to take the criticism personally. I hope to get better one day at sensing when that emotional line is being crossed, so that an honest and open discussion can be maintained.

Anyways, the reason for this rant is that I am finally reading The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn - and I am enjoying it tremendously. The book is mostly concerned with science, but some of the ideas resonate deeply with me, and in my opinion extend beyond science. The two following gems are lifted from the book:

Truth emerges more readily from error than from confusion. Sir Francis Bacon, quoted in Kuhn

… Novelty ordinarily emerges only for the man who, knowing with precision what he should expect, is able to recognize that something has gone wrong. Anomaly appears only against the background provided by the paradigm. The more precise and far-reaching that paradigm is, the more sensitive an indicator it provides of anomaly […] By ensuring that the paradigm will not be too easily surrendered, resistance guarantees that scientists will not be lightly distracted…
Thomas S. Kuhn

I could not agree more.

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