Design Research: Fit, Stick, Spread and Grow

The phrase “fit, stick, spread and grow” describes the four characteristics of an ideal design innovation. The “organisational learning and design loop” describes an ideal process through which we collectively develop a platform and platform-enabled practices that achieve and sustain fit, stick, spread and grow. This platform/practice development process is becoming the most widespread form of designing. In the higher education context, we are working towards the design idea of the University as an integrated, cohesive platform (of digital and physical spaces, organisations, technologies etc) from which participants (including students) create their own assemblages.

The four terms indicate four aspects of designing and the search for good designs:

  • finding fit with things as they are now and as we would like them to be;
  • sticking in place for a reasonable length of time;
  • spreading to other uses and other users;
  • enabling further growth in our capability for effective designing.

Of the four, fit is the most complex and difficult to evaluate and achieve. To what needs should a design have fitness? An individual’s needs? Those of the group? Present known needs? Do we design to fit with existing practices? Or to what extent should designs and users be expected to transform their practices? Needs that might emerge over time? – this latter possibility complicates designing considerably. Often, unanticipated needs emerge through the use of a design. Sometimes people actively experiment with new assemblages so as to discover what they want from life and the world.

Beyond fitness, the imperative to discover-create designs that stick, enduring over time in a sustainable manner, spread to further uses and to other people, and grow our designerly capabilities, draws designing and the designerly acts of individuals into a wider ethical and social context, giving guiding principles to the process of evaluating and achieving fit. The latter three terms in the formula are then more definitive design values guiding our understanding of fitness.

We are then seeking, as organisations of people, fitness to our individual needs and capabilities in the collective context. Experience has taught us the importance of representing and managing that collective activity as a coherent process. The organisational learning and design loop describes a strategy, based upon a theory of learning and communication, that optimises collective design activity for the continual improvement and redesign of the shared platform.

The strategy

The strategy

The first step is for a core of designers and practitioners to start treating their toolset (physical, digital, spatial, conceptual etc) as an inter-related platform. It doesn’t at this stage have to be a properly integrated platform, just the idea of a platform and the intention to work towards cohesion. People then need to be recruited to the cause, joining the loop. But they have to go beyond mere awareness. Strategies are needed for ensuring recognition occurs in the cognitive processes of the participants – they have to recognise what the elements of the platform are, what they can do, and what value they deliver. Our Extended Classroom set of information cards makes recognition happen with very simple and straightforward statements and value propositions concerning learning technologies.

We then need to help people to build sufficient understanding so as to adopt new practices and adapt existing practices – finding fit. But we don’t stop there. To keep the loop moving on, we facilitate continued engagement and reflection on fitness. This facilitated reflection turns users into informed advocates, who can speak about the use, value, limitations and future possibilities of a design – in a conversation that enables stickiness, spreads to other people (drawing them into the loop) and feeds back into the designing process to refine and enrich the platform further – participation in the use and design of the platform grows.

Lecture Capture Service card for the Extended Classroom initiative, designed using the FSSG approach.

Lecture Capture Service card for the Extended Classroom initiative, designed using the FSSG approach.