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The Convivial Toolbox

I have just been reviewing my copy of Elizabeth Sanders' new text on generative tools for design research, and it's a home run. Ever since Brenda Laurel published her book (which, though very good and interesting to those who already know how to do research, is not that useful for beginners), I've been looking for a text to use in my courses. Bruce Hannington's Universal Methods of Design (a solid companion to Rockport's earlier Universal Principles of Design) is excellent and I highly recommend it as a reference, but it's not exactly a how-to.

Liz approached me a couple of years ago asking me to contribute a few sidebars to a book that she and Pieter Jan Stappers (from the Delft University of Technology) were writing, and I've been waiting with bated breath for it to come out. I've followed their work for years. In the 70s, Liz, at Richardson Smith, along with Lucy Suchman at Xerox PARC, Jane Fulton Suri at IDEO, and Bruce Archer and colleagues at the RCA, originated the methodology for what we now call design research. Liz has evolved a specialty in co-design practice using generative tools, and it is in this area that I feel the most promise lies for today's designers, so I have been eager to review the book.

It's met my expectations, and I'll be using it in my classes from now on. It lays a foundation of thought to explain generative tools and support their use for participatory design, and then breaks down the methods, the rationales, their use, the analysis of the findings and presentation of results—the whole nine yards, as they say. Fleshed out with real-world examples from 49 practitioners and educators, it's at last the text I've been hoping to see.

The Convivial Toolbox, along with Hannington's Universal Methods of Design, have earned a place on the bookshelf of every designer.

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