Interrogating might seem like a misfit among the other pillars of the computational design thinking framework. While there exist clear software programs for doing nothing but generating or simulating, computation for interrogating seems more nebulous (or brings to mind a dimly lit room and polygraph machine — which is not what I’m suggesting here). That’s because, of the three, interrogating is the most like a general approach to design work across situations and practices. It’s easier to form a notion of simulating through a collection of simulation softwares and technologies than it is for interrogating, which lacks obvious, material tools. However, as I will show, interrogating, as a critical questioning, is not only a productive mindset for designers when computation enters the picture, but it is one that computational designers are uniquely able to adopt and operationalize.
Researchers have long theorized the practice of design as demanding criticality and introspection on one’s work. Design researcher Donald Schön advocates a ‘reflective practice,’ in which one is continually considering (and reconsidering) the steps one takes in the work one does. Through a process of critical questioning, of interrogating, one can improve on past work, and learn and develop new strategies for future work. For example, Schön describes designers sketching out ideas as “having a conversation with the drawing.”1 The act of drawing is not — can not — ever be a direct translation of immaterial ideas onto paper or a screen. While drawings are certainly informed by the designer’s thoughts, they are also mediated by the tools, the surface, the infrastructure, the language (whether programmed or spoken), the lighting, the mood, the environment, the political climate, etc. Some of these elements are unconscious or ambient background effects. Others, such as one’s tools and thoughts, are open to ongoing negotiating and interrogating throughout the design process. For artists, architects, and designers, the tools today are often digital and screen-based. Computation as commercial, user interface software often takes the form of programs that reveal no trace of their inner workings, but designers, working with and through computation, are particularly empowered to interrogate their tools through subverting and hacking their defaults. In addition, by discarding (or unlearning) certain rigid, computational mindsets they gain freedom from thought processes that are not conducive to the work of design. However, computational technology and concepts can also help in transforming designers’ projects, helping them to see and understand their work in new ways.
1. Schön, Donald A. The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. Basic Books, 1984. ↩