‘Act it Out’ is my favourite technique for shifting creative thinking from the mind to the body. This post is another in my series on Turning the Kalideascope, ways to form new connections in the creative process.
Engineering has important roots in Enlightenment thinking. The Enlightenment put us firmly in our heads, as abstract, rational thinkers. We take inputs from the outside world, process them and develop a reasoned response. Through this approach, humans have made great progress on some fronts. But this separation from our bodies and our environment comes at a cost. We forget that we are not apart from but in and part of a physiology that itself is situated in an ecosystem.
When we use abstract thought we are making use of only one of our ways of thinking. Our brains also evolved in this physiological and ecological context. The emerging sciences of embodied cognition, psycho-geography and psycho-ecology seek to put back in our bodies and situate us in the world.
According to the science of embodied cognition, we think using our bodies. We perceive and understand the world in way that is a function of our size, how we move and how we sense. If we think using our bodies, then could we design using our bodies?
Acting it out
The act it out technique challenges us to answer that question. In this technique, individuals take it in turns to act out using the design that they are imagining. Observers watch the movements that they make. Together they are discovering how that person’s body is experiencing the idea through its movements.
What are the hands doing? Where are they looking? How high does it feel? What is the air like? What can I hear?
Watching how the body responds to stimuli through movement it makes reveals to us how the idea is embodied, and may yield new information that might not have been visible to the purely rational brain.