Two members of the team that created the Dashboard, Mark Watson and Mark Stevens, were interviewed in June 2008. After working together so long, their answers ran into each other, so they are just termed Mark 1 and Mark 2.

Journalist: So here we are in the Institute Without Boundaries' glamorous basement studio. It’s a nice space but I hear that you’re moving out.

Mark 1: We certainly are. There’s a different group of people who come to the Institute each year. Our time is up, sadly.

Mark 2: The Institute iteself is also moving out, to even more glamorous digs a block away. These really are the final days in this space.

Journalist: The home of the fabulous Dashboard.

Mark 1: Exactly. It’s now a holy place, like the Cavern Club or CBGBs or something.

Mark 2: We’ve asked for a plaque. And if they don’t give us one…

Mark 1: …We’ll just use the 3D printer to make our own.

Journalist: You’re pretty pleased with it…

Mark 2: We think that it’s a contribution to the field.

Mark 1: And it’s kinda funny…

Journalist: But you’re serious about it.

Mark 1: Absolutely. If you’re looking for a post-postmodern design position, well this is it. There’s a nod to the plurality of postmodern theory but it also harks back to modernist systems thinking.

Mark 2: So it provides a framework in which to map design space but lets you choose your own path though it.

Journalist: So you’re theory buffs?

Mark 2: Strangely we both have a background in philosophy. But we've worked in communications, computer science, design stuff. So we’re sort of writer-designer-researcher types. And no, the Dashboard isn’t straight theory, though it is a theory.

Journalist: Let me try and get this straight. It’s a theory and design tool that is presented as a digital device that doesn’t actually exist?

Mark 2: The device doesn’t exist yet but we've created a working model that’s on the website.

Mark 1: And now there’s an analog version that we created on the 3D printer. So it exists in multiple forms. There’s also a pdf print-out version that's actually the most interactive.

Mark 2: We’re interested in making theory physical to have people interact with it and make use of it.

Mark 1: And we call these physical manifestations ‘theory objects’, which is a term we stole from Bruce Sterling, though he means something else by it. Sorry Bruce.

Journalist: And this is what the Institute Without Boundaries does?

Mark 2: Partly…

Mark 1: It’s a design think tank, experiment in multidisciplinary working practices and it tackles real world problems too.

Mark 2: And these three elements overlap and influence each other. So the Dashboard grew out of a project commissioned by the Government of Costa Rica to generate designs for rural renewal in the province of Guanacaste. It was very complicated and there were lots of different agendas, so we created the Dashboard to navigate our way through the project.

Mark 1: Once we had that, it got much easier.

Journalist: So how did you use it?

Mark 1: First we classified the design work we had already done. Once we had the basic DNA of the designs inputted, we could go ahead and change them by engaging the different Forms and playing with the Intentions. This is all covered in the Manual that’s available for download from the website. In the end we used the Dashboard generatively, to develop ideas very quickly.

Mark 2: Weird ideas.

Mark 1: Yeah.

Journalist: So you see the Dashboard as a kind of navigation device for complex design problems?

Mark 2: It’s that but it’s helpful in lots of ways. We believe that it’s a great tool for design strategists because once you get the hang of it, it’s super easy to use and clients can understand it very quickly too.

Mark 1: And designers can use it in their practice. It’s really good for clarifying a brief and great when you’re trying to generate ideas. If you change the settings even slightly, projects can transform entirely. It’s like a hyperdrive for creativity. And designers that we’ve shown it to were eager to get their hands on one.

Journalist: So do you see the Dashboard replacing design process, particularly the kind of user-focused design processes popular now?

Mark 1: It certainly gives you more freedom. You don’t have to move down a linear design process. But it’s not a question of replacing anything. User focused design, for instance, still has an important place but it’s a position, not everything.

Mark 2: The dashboard can fit in with design processes easily. It’s very compatible with other design technologies! So, say you know that you are going to do some ethnographic research and then go into an iterative design process. No problem. You might like to use the Dashboard to clarify the brief with your client and then bring it out for brainstorming sessions.

Journalist: In brainstorming sessions, does the Dashboard speed them up or generate more ideas? What’s the Dashboard’s killer ap there?

Mark 1: We get different reactions. For some designers, they like that the Dashboard can keep the creative process running for a while, things can stay up in the air and you don’t jump on the first solution that pops into your head. Other designers have said how great it is to speed up the creative process and get to ideas quickly.

Mark 2: Yeah and we rather like that. We always say that the Dashboard maps the territory but let’s you choose the path. The designer and creativity are still central. Probably more so.

Journalist: So do you bother playing with the device, given that you’ve worked on it so long?

Mark 2: At this point, we pretty much have it hard-wired into our brains. But we still use the physical version. It’s fun to play with, particularly the new analog version of the Dashboard.

Mark 1: It’s like a design abacus. Having a physical manifestation makes a real difference. Somehow it frees the mind to wander if you’ve got your position plotted out. Does that make sense?

Journalist: Kinda. So are you going to build a Dashboard and sell it?

Mark 1: The Institute has talked about putting the analog Involvement Slider into production. Maybe they want to produce the whole Dashboard. That would be cool. It would be really neat to see it on the desks of design companies around the world. If the Institute does it, you should buy one. Need to do other language versions though…

Mark 2: But we put the STL code on the website, which means that if you have a 3D printer handy, you can build your own. The analog version.

Journalist: And the digital version that I played with?

Mark 1: The digital version would be fun to build. We could do it but we’d want to give it more functionality to justify it.

Journalist: How so?

Mark 2: If we built the device, we could put all the documentation with it like the Manual we wrote and have a series of interactive tutorials.

Mark 1: Perhaps you could upload your designs and store them in the device. So for a project you could see what a, I dunno, prescribed, communication, product with high social intention would look like. And then flip though to see the menu, communication, project with the economic intention pushed up. And perhaps then take it with you to a client meeting, hook it up to a projector and make a little presentation.

Mark 2: But we’d have to figure it out. It’s just a question of time.

Mark 1: We’re both pretty much unemployed now, so we have lots of time…

Journalist: Maybe your Dashboard work will entice someone to hire you guys.

Mark 2: Maybe.

Journalist: So do you think that the Dashboard will take off?

Mark 1: We have no idea. It seems that the time is right for it. There’s a lot of people out there, both theorists and practitioners, struggling with these questions.

Journalist: Like..?

Mark 1: Like how to cope with the fact that everyone is a designer now. DIY design has always been there but now people have these amazing tools. They can do it themselves. The Involvement Slider is a direct answer to that.

Mark 2: It shows that design now is a negotiation between client and designer. It’s ok to do DIY design. It’s ok to do a prescribed solution. Designers can be involved in every position on the Slider, even if they are only observing how others are designing and taking inspiration from it.

Mark 1: So don’t be defensive and try to set up design guilds. Rather we should celebrate the zeitgeist and maybe try to understand what’s going on. The democratization of design isn’t the end of designers, far from it. As the Slider shows, designers have to be able to jump and take up different positions depending on the situation.

Mark 2: And that ability to jump is going to get very important.

Journalist: Other big questions?

Mark 1: It’s not really a question, but there’s this idea that design has so many developments at the moment that it’s easy to get wowed by the latest thing. Rather than chase after the latest trend and the new amazing physical manifestation like biodesign or fabjects or whatever, it’s worth trying to see what’s going on in all design, inside of all design.

Mark 2: Yeah, so the Dashboard is one attempt at a broader understanding of design through the classification of knowledge and then trying to activate this knowledge. It’s theory but not Theory with a capital T. This is something that the Institute is very interested in.

Mark 1. And the Dashboard is one of the first examples of this work. There was another one that the students of the Institute did last year that looked at trying to understand architecture that was kind of similar. They broke it down to 12 systems, which was great for classification but the Institute is now trying to figure out how to make it actionable, to produce results.

Journalist: So there’s much more of this stuff coming?

Mark 2: There should be more theory objects coming out if all goes well. You really need to talk to the Institute about that. They don’t call them theory objects though.

Journalist: So what’s next for you guys?

Mark 2: On the Dashboard we’re just interested to see what response we get. If people seem to like it, we’ll take it further. Other than that, we need to get our lives back on track after this one-year sabbatical. Did I mention that we’re looking for work?