Tacit and semi tacit knowledge: Overview

By Gordon Rugg and Sue Gerrard

Tacit knowledge is knowledge which, for whatever reason, is not explicitly stated. The concept of tacit knowledge is widely used, and has been applied to several very different types of knowledge, leading to potential confusion.

In this article, we describe various forms of knowledge that may be described as tacit in the broadest sense; we then discuss the underlying mechanisms involved, and the implications for handling knowledge. The approach we use derives from Gordon’s work with Neil Maiden on software requirements (Maiden & Rugg, 1996; reference at the end of this article).

In brief, the core issue can be summed up as whether people do, don’t, can’t or won’t state the knowledge. If they do state it, it is explicit knowledge, and can be accessed via any method. If people don’t, can’t or won’t state the knowledge, then it is some form of semi-tacit or strictly tacit knowledge, which can only be accessed via a limited set of methods such as observation, laddering or think-aloud. Because of the neurophysiological issues involved, interviews, questionnaires and focus groups are usually unable to access semi-tacit and tacit knowledge.

The image below shows the key issues in a nutshell; the rest of this article unpacks the issues and their implications. There are links at the end of the article to other articles on the methods mentioned in the table. The image below is copyleft; you’re welcome to use it for any non-commercial purpose, including lectures, as long as you retain the coplyleft statement as part of the image.

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User Centred Design and Person Centred Design

By Gordon Rugg

There are often problems when a concept has a name which looks self-evident, but which is actually being used with a specific technical meaning.

This is the case with the terms User Centred Design (UCD) and Person Centred Design (PCD).

So what are these approaches, and why are they so different from other approaches to design, and why do these names lead to confusion?

In brief, User Centred Design and Person Centred Design with uppercase are names for methodologies containing specific methods and concepts. They’re terms of art, used with specific non-obvious meanings, hence the common confusions relating to them. So, what are the reasons for these approaches having arisen, and what is in them?

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Iterative non-functional prototyping

By Gordon Rugg

Sometimes, product development is straightforward. The client tells you what they want; you produce it; they’re happy with it, they pay you, and everything is fine. This is known in the field as the waterfall model of development; once the client has signed off on the requirements, the process then moves irrevocably onwards, like a river going over a cliff.

When you and the client are dealing with familiar territory, this approach usually works reasonably well. Sometimes, though, things don’t work that way. You’re particularly likely to hit problems when you’re developing something that’s new territory for you and/or the client.

One common problem involves the client changing their mind part-way through development.

Another involves the client being unhappy with what you produced.

Communication problems are another frequent source of trouble, with you trying to make sense of just what the client wants, and getting more and more frustrated.

If you’re in that situation, or you think there’s a risk of getting into it, you might want to try iterative non-functional prototyping. It’s a lot simpler than it sounds, and it’s a fast, cheap, efficient way of getting to the heart of what the client wants, particularly when clients don’t actually know just what they want at the start. It involves looping through mockups systematically until the requirements are clear.

This article gives a short introduction to the core concepts and the process. It should be enough to let you get started; there’s supporting material elsewhere on this blog which goes into more detail about the underpinnings, which I’ve linked to within the article.

Waterfalls and loopsbannerv1Images from Wikimedia Commons: Attributions are given at the end of this article

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Creativity and idea generation

By Gordon Rugg

So what is creativity, and how can you generate more and better ideas?

There’s pretty general agreement that:

  • Creativity is a Good Thing
  • Thinking outside the box is a Good Thing
  • Thinking laterally is a Good Thing

That’s a good start.

However, when you start asking about how creativity works, or just how you’re supposed to think outside the box, or think laterally, an element of vagueness starts to roll in, like a dense bank of fog off the Atlantic at the start of a horror movie…

You start hearing stories of people and organisations that thought successfully and laterally outside the box, in a way that solved their problems with designing better elevators. You encounter puzzles involving people and items being found in improbable situations, such as stabbed to death with no weapon visible, in the middle of a field of unsullied snow. It’s all very edifying and interesting, but it doesn’t get to grips with what creativity really is, or how to do anything systematic about creating new ideas.

This article gives a brief overview of a systematic framework for making sense of creativity, and for choosing appropriate methods for generating new ideas.

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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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Making designs interesting with skeuomorphs: What’s in a shape?

By Gordon Rugg

In another post, I discussed ways of making a design interesting by making it difficult or impossible to parse.

This article looks at one way of achieving this, by using skeuomorphs – in other words, deliberately making part of the design look like something else. It’s a long-established design concept, though with variable results…

800px-Teapot_Dome_Service_Station https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Teapot_Dome_Service_Station.JPG

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Making designs interesting

By Gordon Rugg

Making a design interesting can be a significant challenge for designers, particularly when working in a well-established field.

Two simple but effective ways of making a design interesting are:

  • making the design novel, in terms of deep structure and/or surface structure
  • making the design difficult or impossible to parse.

Both these approaches have a long history in applied design, though usually without much explicit reference to the underlying principles.

This article discusses the underlying principles, and then looks at practical implications for making a design novel. I’ll look at the issue of parsing a design in a separate article, for reasons of space.

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Designing for efficient use of space: A user-centred approach

By Gordon Rugg

Often, simple examples illustrate important principles. This article is about one of those examples. It involves a real café, near a major university in London, which did a brilliant job of designing the layout for fast, efficient and low-hassle use. The key concepts behind this apply just as much to design of huge buildings as to tiny cafés. I’ve used the café as a worked example of how simple task analysis, hassle analysis and design rationale can make produce an outcome that is good for everyone involved.

The café is tiny. It has a service counter on the right as you go in. There’s a door to the kitchen and toilets beyond the service counter, and there are a couple of small tables at the back. That’s about all there is. A lot of the trade is university staff and students who want take-away coffee and sandwiches, and who want fast service. So why is the design so good?

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Definitions of “good” design: User-centred design in three layers

By Gordon Rugg

Design is a subject that tends to provoke strong emotions.

It’s also a subject where people tend to have opinions that appear deeply conflicting.

This article looks at why this situation arises, and at how we can move beyond it.



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