People in architectural drawings, part 5; common requirements

By Gordon Rugg

This article is the fifth in a short series about finding out what people would really like in life, using architectural drawings and fantasy buildings as a starting point.

The first article discussed how this gives you insights that you wouldn’t get from an interview or questionnaire. The next articles looked at regularities in people’s preferences; at changes in preferences over time and at obsolescence; and at complicating factors that you need to keep in mind when using this approach.

In today’s article, I’ll look at ways of identifying common user activities and requirements that should be incorporated into the design process, and that can be handled cheaply and simply, producing significantly better designs as a result.

This article gives a brief overview. I’ll re-visit this topic in some later articles, which will work through some specific cases in detail.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Waiting rooms, however, usually aren’t…banner5 v1Sources of original images are given at the end of this article

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People in architectural drawings, part 4; complicating factors

By Gordon Rugg

This article is the fourth in a short series about finding out what people would really like in life, using architectural drawings and fantasy buildings as a starting point.

The first article discussed how if you show people a range of possibilities, including possibilities that they would probably never have thought of, then their preferences can change dramatically from what they would initially have told you in an interview or questionnaire.

The second article looked at regularities in people’s preferences; the mathematics of desire, applied to buildings.

The third article examined changes in preferences and in fashions over time; it also examined the issue of practicality, and how practicality could change over time as a particular technology becomes obsolescent.

In today’s article, I’ll look at some complicating factors which need to be kept in mind when examining this area. For instance, why does the sun always shine in architects’ drawings? There are sensible reasons, and they aren’t just about optimism…

Sunshine and rain: Two scenes from Japanbanner4 v2Sources of original images are given at the end of this article; first image slightly cropped to fit.

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People in architectural drawings, part 3; requirements, obsolescence and fashions

By Gordon Rugg

This article is the third in a short series about finding out what people would really like in life, by looking at images of dream buildings.

In the first article, I looked at why the obvious approach doesn’t work very well. If you just ask people what they want, you tend to get either no answer, because people don’t know, or to get low-aspiration responses, for various reasons that are well known in requirements acquisition research. If, however, you instead show people a range of possibilities, including possibilities that they would probably never have thought of, then their preferences can change dramatically.

So, in this series I’m looking at fantasy and concept art images of buildings, which explore as broad a range of possibilities as the artists and architects can imagine. I’m looking at them to see what regularities emerge within those dream buildings; what sort of world do the creators of those images, and the people who like those images, desire?

In the second article, I looked at how human biases affect our aesthetic preferences. I concluded that a lot of people like really, really big buildings. Those buildings look awe-inspiring, but when you stop to think about details like how anyone is going to clean the windows, you start to realise that maybe those buildings aren’t terribly practical. However, how can you tell what will be practical within the lifetime of a building, when the available technology and the functions of the building are likely to change? There’s the related risk that tastes will change, and that today’s beautiful building will become tomorrow’s eyesore.

In this article, the third in the series, I’ll look at the issue of practicality versus obsolescence, and at changes in fashion.

Thinking big, in fantasy and realitybanner pt3

Thomas Cole, the Titan’s Goblet, and a Vauban fortification; full image credits at the end of this article

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People in architectural drawings, part 2; the mathematics of desire

By Gordon Rugg

This article is the second in a short series about finding out what people would really like in life.

The obvious approach doesn’t work very well. If you just ask people what they want, you tend to get either no answer, because people don’t know, or to get low-aspiration responses, for various reasons that are well known in requirements acquisition research.

If, however, you instead show people a range of possibilities, including possibilities that they would probably never have thought of, then their preferences can change dramatically.

This series is about showing people a range of possibilities via images of buildings, which are intimately linked with a lot of other lifestyle choices.

In the first article, I looked at artistic representations of future and fantasy buildings, to see what trends emerged there, and what they could tell us about people’s desires. One trend that emerged strongly was for those buildings to be awe-inspiring, with lofty towers and huge portals.

This, however, raises one of those issues which are so familiar that we seldom think about them. Why are lofty towers and huge portals awe-inspiring in the first place, given that they can be wildly impractical?

Part of the explanation involves human cognitive biases and human preferences, which are the subject of this article.

In this article, I’ll look at those topics, and look at their implications for competition and change, with particular reference to concepts and literatures that give deeper insights into what’s going on.

From humility to hubris: Doors and desiresdoors2

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People’s dream buildings, part 1

By Gordon Rugg

This article is the first in a short series about what people would like their dream world to be like. Finding out what people would really like isn’t a simple matter of asking them. Most people only know about a limited number of possibilities, so their dreams tend to be correspondingly limited. When you introduce them to new possibilities, their dreams usually change dramatically, in scope and nature and aspiration. That’s what I’m exploring in this series of articles.

One way of introducing people to what’s possible is to show them pictures. The pictures don’t need to be of real scenes; often, the most interesting possibilities are the ones that are completely feasible, but that haven’t been built yet. So, one place to start is with images of imaginary scenes, in the form of fantasy landscapes and of architect’s drawings. In this article, I’ll look at common features in those scenes, to see what they tell us about those dream worlds. Some of the answers are surprising.

I envy the people in architect’s drawings and in the happier type of fantasy world (I’ll look at dystopias some other time). Their world is sunny and pleasant, full of contented people walking and standing elegantly in broad, inspiring plazas, in front of tall, impressive buildings that are clearly destined to win architectural awards. It’s a world where nobody gets caught in the rain, a world without graffiti or grime or the hassles of trying to negotiate a buggy and two small children through a narrow shop doorway in a crowded street.

It would be easy, and unkind, to write a humorous article on this theme. The full story is a lot more interesting, and has deep implications for how we think about the design both of buildings and of the human systems within which those buildings are located. It’s a story of the mathematics of desire, and of physical constraints, and of why we can’t know what we really want until we see it, and of what we can do about building this knowledge into the design process.

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Some modest proposals for educational flexibility

By Gordon Rugg

[Spoiler and standard disclaimer for the literal-minded: This article is satirical, and I’m writing it in my personal capacity, not my Keele capacity. With that out of the way, let the satire begin…]

Whereupon I assured Benaiah that nothing was farther from my mind than the harbouring of wicked thoughts; also, that I was a family man with a positive outlook on the state and its institutions, be they military, administrative or religious.

Stefan Heym, The King David Report. Quartet Books, London, 1977, p.28

Education policy is in flux, so what can a career-minded or survival-minded education worker do to improve their prospects of promotion and/or of managing to survive in post until retirement?

This article contains some modest proposals for ways in which educators can:

  • Show that they have a positive outlook on the state and its educational institutions
  • Ensure that student feedback is excellent, and
  • Ensure that most of their students achieve above average results

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Problem solving skills: What are they?

By Gordon Rugg

There is a general consensus that problem solving skills are a Good Thing. There’s general consensus that the education system needs to encourage them.

So far, so good. The consensus doesn’t go much further, though. It rapidly bogs down in long-running arguments about what problem solving skills actually are, and about how to measure them, and how to teach them. Those arguments follow a familiar pattern, with disputes about the True Definition, and invocations of Great Thinkers such as Socrates and Plato and Wittgenstein. The fact that those arguments have been rumbling on inconclusively for decades is a strong hint that maybe they’ve been framed in the wrong way from the outset, and that framing them differently might be a good idea.

That’s what this article is about. It describes more productive ways of handling these concepts, with particular reference to definitions, education theory and educational practice. It’s based on what happened the field of Artificial Intelligence tried to produce software that would find creative solutions to real world problems. It’s a story of how re-framing the issue with subtly but profoundly different concepts gave a powerful, efficient set of solutions that changed the world. It’s a story that most people have never heard of. It’s also a story that should transform the way that we tackle this aspect of education.

It’s really quite simple…”bannerv1“Viejos mineros asturianos” by Jomafemag – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons (link at end of this article)

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