The Designer’s Paradox – the key to unlocking the brief

Oliver Broadbent miming weighing up different factors to illustrate the concept of the Designer's Paradox

For me the Designer’s Paradox is a key concept in helping people understand what the process of design is. The term was coined by my colleague at Think Up Ed McCann.

The Designer’s Paradox states that the client doesn’t know what they want until they know what they can have

Ed McCann – see Think Up (2018). Conceptual Design for Structural Engineers (online) – notes and resources. Available here [Accessed: January 2021].

In this post I’ll explain why I think this observation is so useful and how we can use it.

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Creative thinking tools for projects: the Eiffel Over guide

montage of 9 photos in which Oliver Broadbent is miming different tools in the Eiffel Over creative tool box.

We need creative thinking tools in our project toolkit to get the most out the opportunities that a new project offers. Projects provide a setting in which people can come together. They provide a focus point for joint attention. They can lead to outcomes that are probably far greater than what we could achieve on our own. In organisations we rightly focus effort on achieving project goals within project constraints – this is project management. But what I think gets neglected is investing in the creative thinking will help define those goals and help reach them in new ways.

The need for creative thinking in setting goals and figuring out how to achieve them is greater than ever before. The climate and ecological emergencies show us that the usual ways of thinking have failed us. We need new thinking. We need creative thinking.

I have spent much of the last five years researching, developing and teaching practical creative thinking tools. People use these tools to help develop their personal and team-level creativity in projects. Based on feedback from workshops with hundreds of engineers and other professionals, I have developed a shortlist of tools and techniques that have the most impact: either in terms of how they help people understand creativity; or how they empower people to be creative with more confidence.

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Training course – Introduction to Conceptual Design for Structural Engineers

Diagram showing a kaleidoscope that I use to represent the Kalideascope concept

This course, which I deliver at Constructivist for the Institution of Structural Engineers is my longest running conceptual design training course. It is an introductory course, which splits conceptual design up into three phases: establishing the brief, creative thinking and convergent thinking and provides simple models for understanding each of these phases.

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It’s the invisible ingredients in the design dough that makes it rise

There used to be a sign outside a bakery in London that said something along the lines of, ‘it’s the invisible ingredients – love, care and attention – that make our bread taste so good. This aphorism often comes to mind when I am running sessions on how to interpret a design brief. Understanding the ingredients can really help the design rise.

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Unreliable briefs – finding the deeper design narrative

Oliver Broadbent looks into an attache case to illustrate the concept of unreliable briefs in design

It is tempting to think of a design brief as wholly reliable, a document that contains all the information necessary to execute the design. But design briefs are rarely as reliable as that. In fact we should expect them to be unreliable to start with. Our job as designers is to make our briefs more reliable. To help, I have been playing with the literature concept of the unreliable narrator to help characterise types of unreliable briefs.

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The satisfaction of learning what the buttons can do

A Casio fx-570s calculator, shown to illusrate a blog article called 'working out what the buttons do on machines'

I am reminded this morning of much I like working out what all the buttons do on a machine. Quite often the machines we use, be they an oven, a sports watch or a computer, have many more functions than we realise. Not all of these devices have the levels of user interface design that you might get from say a modern phone. While I’m a fan of good user design, I quite enjoy pouring through manuals to discover these more obscure functions… or better still, trying to discover them for myself.

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#15 Show-notes – Oliver Broadbent interview by Alexie Sommer – Creativity, climate and clowning

Photograph shows Oliver Broadbent leading a swing dance lesson at Pete the Monkey Festival with the Mudflappers.Image used to create link between teaching swing dancing and creativity training for engineers

I spend most of my time designing creativity training for engineers. In this episode we flip the format. Alexie Sommer, Independent Design and Communication Director and collaborator on many of my projects interviews me about why I set up Eiffel Over and Constructivist Ltd, and what our plans are for designing creativity training for engineers in 2020. We get into:

  • Techniques for teaching creativity
  • Our programme of training support people tackling the climate emergency
  • And what engineers might learn from clowns.

Listen on Apple Podcasts , Sticher or by download here

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