spending two and a half days focused on trying to make sense of
geodesign at last week's GeoDesign Summit in Redlands, California
(complete APB coverage),
I find myself torn. I'm excited about so many aspects of the idea, even
as I'm still trying to understand the concept and justify the existence
of this new term (Wikipedia entry) and resulting concept.
Let me start with what excites me about geodesign. I like the idea that
it is a process aimed at making a better world. Tom Fisher, dean of the
College of Design at the University of Minnesota, laid it
squarely in the role of helping resolve "fractured critical systems"
that are in abundance today (APB coverage
of his keynote). I like that it is very distinctly not "just" putting
dots/lines/polygons on the map and analyzing them; it's aimed at
redefining those dots/lines/polygons toward a better world. I like that
it stretches how we visualize and share our output (3D, physical
models) and pushes us to reconsider methods for input (sketching,
melding clay, drawing in charcoal pencil). I like that it reaches out
to the design community, a community to which many involved in
geospatial have little exposure. I like that the education, technology,
practitioner and research communities have, and will hopefully continue
to, come together to further explore its ideas. I like that geodesign
has a strong participatory foundation.
What gives me pause and makes me wonder about geodesign literally kept
me up nights in Redlands. I wonder why so many people at the event (and
by extension out in the world) stated that they are already doing
geodesign. Perhaps that's how all new ways of thinking or branches of
knowledge "appear": they exist for a time - then are named. Which
brings me to what's gnawed at me since the beginning of this event:
what is it that distinguishes what we know as geospatial and design
approaches from this new concept of geodesign?
I pushed that question a few times at the event. One participant was good enough to pop up an answer during
an IdeaLab session. I challenged him to tell me why he thought one of
the lightning talks was not geodesign. What was missing, I asked, that
kept it from being geodesign? He quickly stated: it didn't use 3D and
it wasn't tested by visualization. Okay, so those are perhaps two
hallmarks of geodesign. Later, after talking to Shannon McElvaney of
Pacific GPS (APB coverage
of his lightning talk), I decided that maybe his concept of 6D (x, y,
z, time, money and carbon footprint) was perhaps a fair enhancement to
the 3D requirement. What else, then, distinguishes geodesign? I suggest
that a list of these distinguishing characteristics might help the
community move forward.
Strangely, those distinguishing characteristics are more important to
me than a formal definition. For this event, we seemed to do okay
without one, though it's becoming clear that if we want to move this
concept forward, we will eventually need a starting definition. I, for
one, need to study up a bit on theory, practice and definition of
design as I further explore geodesign. That may be another valuable
topic to explore in a future geodesign event.
The one big takeaway for me from the event kept hitting me in the head:
there are many ways to get to an end goal. Carl Steinitz, research
professor at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University,
stated it regarding design processes (APB coverage
of his keynote), but I needed to apply it to the process of
inventing/defining/growing geodesign - whatever we were doing in
Redlands. I continued to have a looming "cart before the horse feeling
as the event progressed. How can we talk about looking for funding if
we can't yet define geodesign? How can we talk about developing a
curriculum without knowledge of who might hire a geodesigner? How can
we spread the vision of geodesign without a series of use cases and
case studies? Several people reminded me that when you move into new areas there are no required
paths to move forward, there are only many options.
Geodesign has already overcome a few hurdles, as Bran Ferren, chief creative officer at Applied Minds, noted (APB coverage
of his keynote). He pointed out that the 200 or so people in attendance
at the "by invitation only" event either convinced their bosses they
should attend or were told by their bosses to attend. That means some
subset of the world finds this concept at least intriguing and at most
some part of the future. At this point we can only be patient and see
how the people who are behind geodesign steer it forward and grow it.
And, it's important to note, per Jack Dangermond, he does not want ESRI
to "own this; in fact he wants others (a broad mix of vendors,
professional organizations, NGOs, etc.) to join together to determine
the way ahead.
Ed. note: ESRI helped cover some travel and lodging costs related to Directions Media's attendance at the Summit.