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

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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Notes from IStructE Academics’ Conference 2018

There was great energy at today’s IStructE Academics’ Conference, the theme of which was Creativity and Conceptual Design.
If you are visiting this site for the first time, it may have been thanks to Chris Wise’s kind recommendation in his keynote presentation – thanks so much Chris.
I presented a session on how to have ideas. Usually when I’m billed with this title, I run a workshop on idea generation, but I thought for once, I would stand up and say what I think about the subject. I’m glad I did because it seemed warmly received. It was also a chance to talk through themes that will be included in the chapter I am writing in a book on scheme design – more details to follow.

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Secretly teaching design – notes from our curriculum planning day at Imperial

I am just back from taking part in a Design Thread workshop at Imperial College, the aim of which was to co-ordinate activity between the various design-relevant courses on the undergraduate civil engineering course at Imperial. Here are some reflective notes as I whiz home, during the writing of which I came up with the notion of ‘secretly teaching design‘. Continue reading “Secretly teaching design – notes from our curriculum planning day at Imperial”

What makes a good conceptual design statement? – working notes

Gateshead Millennium Bridge
Gateshead Millennium Bridge

Today I am working on course material related to defining what is a good conceptual design. I think, in construction at least, it is quite difficult to identify good conceptual design from the finished project. One can judge a finished project on the basis of the final outcome, but unless you have had an overview of the whole design process, it is hard to know how much the final project resembles the original concept design.
One clue is in competition sketches, if they are available. It is tempting to suggest that if a simple early-stage sketch exists that closely resembles the final project, then we have a good conceptual design. Good examples might include Paxton’s sketches on a napkin for Crystal Palace or the Utzon’s competition sketches for the Sydney Opera House. But (and I’m not suggesting it was the case for these two examples) it is not beyond designers to create a post-rationalised concept diagram. And while this idea of the simple sketch is also beguiling, it is much more appropriate for projects that resemble a sculpted object, rather than a complex system.
From a training perspective, if we were to stand in front of a building and seek to judge the quality of the conceptual design without knowledge of the early-stage design process, I think we’d be on shaky ground. The approach we will adopt instead is to spend time defining what a good conceptual design statement looks like so that designers can judge the quality of their conceptual designs at the start of the project.
There are lots of definitions of what a good conceptual design statement is. My colleague Ed McCann has pointed me towards a helpful description from the world of interior fit out. In his book Shaping Interior Space, Rengel describes the three elements of a good conceptual design statement as:
1. Talking more about the solution than the problem
The place for the statement of the problem is in the brief.
2. Selective
Here he means it talking about the dominant factor which is going to define the design approach. Is it a question of how a long span is going to be achieved, huge forces are going to be resisted, or what the human experience is.
3. Economical
Careful use of words to pack the most into the fewest words.
These three elements are something I can work on with a group of learners. We might begin by asking them to compare different conceptual design statements, and get them to elucidate these rules; and then get them to create their own statements.
One key modification I will make to this set of rules to make them equally applicable to sketching as to words.
If you are reading this and have either your own definition of good conceptual design statements that you use, or particularly good examples of conceptual design that you’d like to share, then please comment below.