Asking an American Designer to Copy American Designs

When I was working in Shanghai few years ago, I was constantly asked by both the clients and employers to copy other people’s designs from the interior design magazines from the US, and the funniest part was one of the employers asked me to copy a project which was designed by me and published in the magazine few years back in the US. Stop asking me to copy American designers’ designs because I am an American designer! I had my interior design college education in the US. I also had all of my interior design work experiences in the US. Nationality wise, I am also an American. Do I need to dye my hair blonde or wear blue contact lenses in order to convince you that?! Show me some respect, You Asians!!

Brainstorming or Brainthundering?

Does brainstorming really work? That is the question I have been always wondering. I always felt my ideas were blocked during the design meetings by certain people who were holding higher positions at work, and I found a great article on UT Arlington Magazine written by Camille Rogers which is right on! Here is the article I would like to share:

Does brainstorming really work?

Scientist’s research sheds light on the effectiveness of group creativity

Brainstorming—a technique to get the creative juices flowing—may not be as effective as many people think. According to College of Science Dean Paul Paulus, group brainstorming tends to be unproductive.

“The formal brainstorming process is the exchange of ideas under conditions that encourage individuals to exchange as many ideas as possible without worrying about quality,” he explains. “The assumption is that through the uninhibited exchange of many ideas, more good ideas will be generated.”

Advertising executive Alex Osborn studied group idea generating in the 1940s and coined the term “brainstorming.” He proposed that group brainstorming is more likely to generate a higher number of good ideas than will individual brainstorming.

Contemporary research, however, suggests otherwise. Most current literature asserts that group brainstorming is half as effective as individual brainstorming.

But that hasn’t stopped the practice.

“It is widely used in creative industries like design, advertising and film, although it takes different forms,” said Robert Sutton, co-director of the Center for Work, Technology and Organization at Stanford University. “And the question of whether it is effective is, in my view, completely unanswered by rigorous research.”

Dr. Paulus has dedicated the past 15 years to researching group brainstorming and making it more effective. He has conducted dozens of experiments in an effort to demonstrate the presumed benefits of group creativity.

For up to two hours, subjects, predominantly university students, were placed in groups of four and told to generate ideas on a topic of interest. They typically interacted face to face but sometimes were asked to attempt computer-based idea exchange.

Paulus’ findings were consistent with other studies. Group brainstorming did produce a number of ideas, but few were any good. He compares group brainstorming to a thunderstorm.

“There’s plenty of rain in the storm, that is, plenty of ideas falling from the sky. But there’s not much lightning—the exceptional ideas that have the potential to set things on fire.”

Group brainstorming becomes ineffective when “blocking” occurs—when group interaction inhibits an individual’s flow of good ideas or limits the ability to contribute. Thus, groups provide the perfect environment for some people to do nothing while others do the work.

Paulus says these kinds of barriers are especially detrimental for professional groups like those in the lab-based sciences. “If we care about staying ahead in the innovation race in this world, it would seem important that we use the most effective means of tapping our creative potential.”

Most people apparently are not even aware of the factors that sabotage their group brainstorming. Ironically, many groups deem their sessions productive. They have become accustomed to unproductive brainstorming sessions producing few quality ideas. Bad group brainstorming is the norm, so participants have the illusion of being more productive than they actually are.

Paulus and researcher Vince Brown (who now works at Hofstra University) developed a cognitive model of group brainstorming that predicts positive effects.

The model is based on the idea that creative group interaction consists of both cognitive and social dynamics. The collaborative exchange of ideas between members introduces them to new ideas and allows them to discover connections in their “knowledge network” that they may not have been able to create on their own. For productive group brainstorming, the benefits of cognitive stimulation should be heightened and the negative social forces limited.

To “get the most out of group brains,” as Paulus puts it, participating members should be able to process as many of the shared ideas as possible. One way is to eliminate the blocking effects of face-to-face interaction. He has found that two techniques alleviate the problem.

“Brainwriting” and “electronic brainstorming” enable people to share their ideas via pieces of paper or on a computer network, respectively. A high number of ideas can be generated because members don’t have to wait their turn in the discussion process. But there’s a drawback: People can become so wrapped up in producing their own ideas that they don’t take time to process those produced by others. They must fully pay attention to the ideas being shared if they want a quality brainstorming session.

Face-to-face interaction is usually more feasible than brainwriting and electronic networking, though, and Paulus has also identified what enhances this more traditional approach. People tend to perform better with enhanced motivation, like providing group members competitive feedback about each other’s performances.

The same can be said for the cognitive process, such as asking group members to focus on the quantity and not quality of their ideas. Facilitators are also useful in maintaining productivity. They can guide a group away from negative behaviors like individual domination, criticism or getting off track by telling stories.

Another way that face-to-face brainstorming can enhance group productivity is to alternate between group and individual brainstorming. Ideas may be stimulated during group interaction, but a subsequent period of solitary brainstorming may enable an individual to effectively build on those ideas.

The attitudes of the group members also come into play. People who have a positive attitude toward working in a group tend to perform better than those who do not.

Recently Paulus helped organize a National Science Foundation workshop that focused on summarizing the implications of the group creativity literature for innovation in science and industry. Already this year he has presented his work at a conference sponsored by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that focuses on improving analytical processes.

His findings are being incorporated into textbooks and applied by practitioners. He hopes to do studies in professional organizations that demonstrate the efficacy of various techniques for enhancing group innovation.

So, if your company is still using this old fashioned way to generate ideas, you might want to think about changing it.

Sales, Sales, and Sales

Throughout my design career, I have met many people from different companies, Audio/Visual companies, lighting design firms, general contractors, or kitchen companies, during the initial contact, I always met the people who sounded very knowledgeable, they always presented themselves with great knowledge and also very persuasive. Their sales and marketing skills were excellent and always made the impression that they are trustworthy and professional.

However, after working with some of the companies for a while, I started to realize some issues occurred such as the things were not coordinated or followed up properly, and when the clients and I questioned about the issues, they always showed the great skill to calm you down and ensure everything will be fine with sweet, smooth, and very diplomatic talks, and when the clients and I finally realized the issues were more serious and complained to the owners of the businesses, then all over the sudden, those talkative people just disappeared, instead, the real knowledgeable people started to show up at the job site to solve the issues, and when I asked them why we had never been told about all these problems earlier by those sweet talkers from their companies? they basically said “Oh! He/She was just a sales, so he/she would not have known all these!” What?! a sales? I was very serious here about the issues, and the whole time I had been talking to a sales?!

I had to admit I got fooled few times like that, the people from certain companies I had dealt with were actually sales, but they talked so smoothly, I mistakenly thought they were the actual engineers or technical people, but the funny thing was, those real technical people and engineers usually were the people with few words.

Lesson learned: those who talk the most usually the ones know the least. When I hire anyone from now on, not only I want to know the company owner or the front man but the people who will actually do the work. Sometimes when some businesses are well-known, it is not because they are really good at what they do but because they are good at marketing. We must overcome this blind spot when hiring any professional.

Fast design? You just might get what you ask for.

In this fast paced world, everything has to be fast, fast food, instant noodles, speed dating, everything has to be done not today but yesterday, interior design is not an exception.

It’s nothing new for commercial projects being fast paced, tight deadlines due to tight budget control, the result? poor craftsmanship and poor handling of construction details in both aesthetically and functionally. Why am I not surprised to see this kind of fast paced design practice happened to the high-end residential projects?

Many design firms are trying to come up with a way to digest those high-end residential projects in very short period of time in order to maximize the profits, one way they come up with is to standardize designs by giving all of the clients several pre-designed packages to choose from, package a, b, c, and d. These packages can be different in prices or design styles. The clients pick the one they like and the firm starts to build, because everything is pre-designed with certain styles, colors, and furniture and accessory selections, the design process and construction time frame can be shortened dramatically, of course, the cost also can be lowered. You might think the money saved will go back to the clients, but because it is still called high-end residential project, the design fees remain the same, the extra savings go right back into designer’s pocket.

Which design company will not happy to charge like high-end residential projects but design like commercial grade quality?! It is not the design professionals’ fault but the clients’ responsibility. Next time, if you want your 10,000 sq.ft house to be done in 6 months? you might get what you ask for – a pre-designed package, and you might never find out about it until one day you visit your relative’s or friend’s house and find the interior design in his or her house is almost identical to the one in your home.