Kolko, Jon. “Abductive Thinking and Sensemaking: The Drivers of Design Synthesis.” Massachusetts Institute of Technology Design Issues 26.1: 15 – 28. Print.
Jon Kolko in “Abductive Thinking and Sensemaking: The Drivers of Design Synthesis” asserts that synthesis is at the core of the design process. Synthesis is the processing and the structuring of data in order to come to a cohesive and ordered result. Kolko identifies principles and methods that support his claim that designers do utilize synthesis to gain insights and build design concepts. He clearly presents that synthesis occurs and not the “magic” that clients frequently imply. The building blocks behind Kolko’s theory are abductive thinking and sensemaking.
It is key to understand the principles that Kolko introduces in his article. In reference to abduction, he states, “It is the hypothesis that makes the most sense given observed phenomenon or data and based on prior experience” (Kolko 20). Essentially it is the manner of reaching a conclusion based on earlier experiences and patterns. Kolko logically presents how experience can mold abductive thoughts and actions. What is highly significant is that Jon Kolko determines that experience outside of the realm of technology can help build the design ideation process.
Sensemaking is the effort to make correlations and connections. Kolko notes that there is “prioritization, judging and the forging of connections” (22). Abductive thinking and sensemaking are great contributors to the development and the refining of a design. Many organizations make use of these approaches. It is not uncommon to find even areas where designers post a grouping of images. Kolko discusses this practice as he describes a type of “incubation period.” He writes about how designers create real and tangible manifestations of their ideas in this period of synthesis. Some organizations have open spaces where ideas are posted in a public manner so that the active exchange of ideas can easily be achieved. Synthesis is the coming together and the realization of cognitive thoughts and personal reflection. Kolko is rightfully showing that it is time for designers to acknowledge synthesis in the advancement of their work.
Kolko’s aim is to show the essential role that synthesis plays in the design process in order to educate all about the way that designers architect their creations. He reveals, “When synthesis is “given its due,” the results appear to be magical. By applying these methods in practice, by commonly and continually describing the role of synthesis, and by considering synthesis in Design Research, both practitioners and researchers can better realize how life experience drives design decisions, and how inferential leaps can systematically drive innovation” (27). These are the fruitful forces behind those seemingly “mysterious” creations. Kolko would counter the assertion of Dan Myer who claims, “Some designs actually do seem to come out of thin air, like the Citibank logo that Paula Scher infamously drew on a napkin during an early meeting with the client” (Myer, “Examining The Design Process,” Smashing Magazine) Though I do sense that his comment is laced in sarcasm.
Jon Kolko is addressing the designers, the researchers and those members of the larger business community in this scholarly article. His argument is credible. He provides great insights on a process that has been misrepresented and trivialized for years. As he explained in the earlier portion of his article, it is time for all to understand that the design profession is one grounded on keen observation, research and cognitive correlations and associations. His rhetorical style is one of presenting a logical argument. This is effective in his need to face contrary public opinion that is based on impression and emotion.
1. How does abductive thinking assist in the building of a design process?
2. In utilizing the techniques of sensemaking what obstacles can distort the vision?
3. What is the significance of embracing synthesis as being a major factor in the generation of ideas?
Kolko, Jon. “The Phenomenon of Synthesis.” TEDxCreativeCoast. 18 June 2010. Web 25
Myer, Dan. “Examining The Design Process: Clichés and Idea Generation.” Smashing
Magazine. 21 Feb 2011. Web 25 Jan. 2013.
Oldach, Mark. “Creativity for Graphic Designers.” Cincinnati: North Light Books. 2000.