Embracing Dialogue: Design Philosophy Concept #3

Harnessing the exchange, the feedback, and the conversation.

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Dialogue is the exchange, the feedback, and the conversation. It’s the debate and the discussion that brings us together and adds energy to our actions, and nuance to our understanding.

We love to think of the lone genius, the auteur with singular vision and full control. But it simply isn’t true. Even those who appear that way are rarely working in a vacuum. They inevitably have their collaborators, muses and mentors. The debates, discussions and arguments they have with these people are key to achieving great work. They ensure quality, focusing and strengthening the idea. They provide the rigor. I recently watched the great designer Paula Scher presenting the visual identity she designed for The New School. She is the designer but she’s not alone, it’s the interplay between herself, her team, the agency (Pentagram) and the client(s) that ensured the delivery of a great project. As a member of the client team put it, “one of the greatest tools is dynamic discourse… a really robust dialogue that pushed… the design to be a great as it can be”.

By incorporating dialogue into our systems, we help support the feedback loops that happen when people debate and discuss things. This helps people iterate, challenge and defend ideas. It helps them build persuasive fact based propositions. It’s an essential part of the decision making process.

Dialogue can take many forms, from human conversation to human-to-machine interactions, and even machine-to-machine exchanges. What enables the success of these exchanges is shared understanding. It helps when we all know what we are talking about, who’s talking, and when to open our mouths. This matters just as much in a group as it does between two people, and the simpler the common language is, the more accessible and open the dialogue. To support dialogue we use the following three cornerstones:

Artifacts - These anchor a conversation and give a group a common reference point to base the discussion on. They help us understand what we are talking about and can be easily referenced and pointed to. Whether that’s a chart, a tool or a number, it’s essential that we all can see it and if necessary challenge it.

Trust - It's important to understand who you are talking to and the authenticity of the thing being discussed. Feeling secure that the conversation is private or contained to a ‘safe’ group can be essential for healthy debate. Equally, when things are opened up to a wider group, the group should be able to trust the source of the information.

Timing - Knowing when to shut up, when it's time to engage and when it's time to interrupt is the art of good conversation. Getting the feedback right is essential to ensuring a conversation flows, and that all parties can remain orientated in the discussion.

Those three are valid for all dialogue, be that human-to-human, the UI or the APIs. Through them, and the debate they support, we can strengthen our understanding of the data and insights we share. Helping us to step beyond blind faith to active engagement framed by the moment we are in. And as you’ve probably guessed, the next piece will be about that moment and the importance of always ‘considering context’.

Photo credit: Skley / Foter / CC BY-ND 

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