From the Editor
Welcome to Spofford!
For designers, manufacturers, and consumers who need support and connection around product development and discovery, Spofford Design is THE community that creates a next generation value chain for making and selling furniture, because only Spofford Design fosters meaningful connection to the real people and places behind the objects.
This insights report is an artifact generated from an ongoing, four-stage process based on the human-centered design “double diamond” (see below). It is intended to communicate what has been learned so far in Spofford’s first furniture co-creation process. It also provides an essential foundation upon which the rest of that co-creation process will be based.
The first stage of the process occurred as a series of three lunches that took place over the course of the week of May 7th, and included four participants (the first lunch had two participants). The primary intent of these lunches was to conduct an interview about three different kinds of furniture, using an existing piece of furniture as a basis for the discussion. These interviews represented the first stage of the four-stage double diamond process.
All of the lunches featured freshly cooked meals using handmade pasta (recipes included throughout this report). The process facilitator concluded after all the interviews were complete that 1) his long held belief that interviews go better when there’s an object or prototype around which to base the discussion, in this case furniture, was correct 2) sharing a meal allowed for deeper reflection on the furniture in question and a more intimate and and equal exchange (rather than a interviewer-interviewee dichotomy) and 3) providing everything handmade provided a feeling of hospitality and connection that a catered meal couldn’t have provided.
Future activities like this would include some changes. It was the facilitator’s point of view that serving wine might add an air of fun and put participants at ease. While everyone partook, this ultimately seemed like an unnecessary, unexpected addition to the meal.
Additionally, the facilitator noticed that certain types of furniture elicited a much longer response and engagement than other types of furniture. In this case, discussions around the table quickly grew into conversations about people’s more general experiences in their homes. In contrast, discussions about chairs and a wardrobe were relatively very brief and highly practical reflections. This should not be construed as a judgement on the value of one conversation versus the other. Quite the opposite. Simply, the facilitator had not predicted such diversity in the responses, and future facilitators should bear those possible differences in mind in the future.
This insights report is the second stage of the double diamond. It brings together what was learned during the first stage. Distilling over 17,000 words of transcriptions and additional historical and design, it concludes time spent in the “problem definition” stage of design.
The importance of understanding a problem before generating possible solutions can not be understated. While it may seem like common sense, one simply has to observe any number of products or services, and even the furniture discussed here, to see that we are surrounded by things that are good in theory, but fail to address a problem fully and therefore fail in some way. This becomes all the more apparent once the design process moves into generating solutions, the value of which are equal to the degree they solve the problems laid out in artifacts like the one you read now.
It is the hypothesis of Spofford’s team that human-centered design as it is currently understood will prove to be insufficient. It may perform well as a method for providing services that people find desirable. However, in our experience it fails to provide structure around meeting ideal scenarios that link desirability with viability and feasibility early enough in the process to make a difference.
Additionally, a very strong case can and should be made for human-centeredness that is understood not only from the point of view of the consumer, but the producer as well and his or her quality of life and the type and degree of actualization they seek to derive from their work.
Third, while products that meet the needs of consumers may be more likely using the human-centered design framework, a great deal goes into marketing, distributing, delivering and creating a supply chain for any product. Spofford recognizes these additional challenges by identifying the product development process (referred to above as co-creation), as only one part of a four stage cycle, which itself links to the (hopefully) interlocking experiences we hope to provide to our whole community.
Lastly, the solution to the business problem of accounting for externalities like economic, environmental, and social externalities that result from the production and consumption of any object, again early enough in the process, early in the process and as part of the design remains elusive. It is incumbent on Spofford to identify potential solutions to this and the challenges noted above, iterating on existing frameworks with every design process in order to create a new framework that works for Spofford and its community.
What follows are three case studies corresponding to the three kinds of furniture that interview participants discussed: a dining table, dining chairs, and a wardrobe. Not all design processes will center on finished or vintage pieces. Instead, these objects represent constraints on this process. In the future, constraints may take the form of materials or processes, or a problem to be solved. For now, Spofford will learn all it can from these three items.