Wk 7 – Working processes and wicked problems

Week 7 featured a lecture by Paul Dennis, a Perth-based designer who has been running his own company for 20 years. Paul talked us through some of the designs and brands he has been involved in developing over the years, giving us an insight into the process of creating and working professionally with clients (Dennis, 2012). It was really interesting to see behind the design process, especially from someone who has been in the Perth industry for so long. It turns out that Paul had been involved in branding many iconic products; Leeuwin Estate, Brownes, Peters, Mrs Mac’s, Barking Gekko and Fit Chips are just a few of the brand styles that Paul has assisted in creating, with many more impressive works to his name.


[Image 1; Image 2]

As part of my current role as a project officer, I have been involved in the design process as both the creator and the client. However these have been relatively small projects where I have worked independently. As such I found it helpful to hear of the process employed by such an influential WA company, to give me a better idea of what I have been doing right (and not so right). Using examples of brands he has worked with, Paul outlined the stages in their creative process:

Fit Chips Logo
[Image 3]
    • The Brief
    • Research
    • Concepts
    • Development of Ideas
    • Production

Paul noted that the most important stage is that of ‘the brief’, as this lays the foundation for the entire project; just as with a pyramid you need a wide foundation, otherwise when you build upon it will not be able to support itself and will topple over (Dennis, 2012). While I knew the initial brief was important, I had never really thought about just how integral it was to the whole project (but in hindsight, duh jess. duh).  Upon reflection, I often do not want to ‘impose’ upon the creative freedom of other designers, especially when I feel that they have more experience in an area than myself. However perhaps it would be better for me to think of the brief as being platforms to build upon, as Paul describes, instead of imagining myself to be boxing in the potential of others.

[Image 4]
This is especially relevant as recently I have experienced great frustration on a project that could perhaps have been avoided, or at lessened, by being mindful of this. For the project, although I had given a design brief I thought to be sufficient and my partner assured me of their comprehension, by the time we had reached the ‘concepts’ stage the huge gap between my expectations and the eventual products were apparent. While I feel there were a number of factors involved which lead to the outcome, perhaps if the brief had been more comprehensive there would have been a greater ‘foundation’ for the project to be built upon. As I am aiming to work in the Game Design industry it will be very important for me to effectively communicate my ideas and plans, as well as work with the plans of others, so I will certainly need to make full use of ‘the brief’ stage of the creative process.

During the class tutorials we discussed another aspect that is important to understand when working creatively, known as the ‘Wicked Problem’. Due to a change in the guest-lectur timetables, I don’t think that these particular readings were originally intended to overlap with Paul’s talk, but nonetheless they are certainly handy to consider. A wicked problem, as discussed by Crouch and Pearce (2012) is one that is “highly resistant to any kind of solution” (p. 50).

The class presentation for the week helped better cement the concept in my mind, so I take a Wicked problem to be something that cannot wholly be solved, because it is made up of a tangle of intertwined, ever-changing problems. These smaller issues may be ‘tame problems’ or more even more wicked problems, just to make the whole mess more confusing. One of the activities that helped us come to grasp with thinking through wicked problems was to form groups and work together to sort-of-solve a wicked problem.

Working together we sought to tackle the problem of the Great Eastern Highway construction – the current bane of many a Perthians existence (what can I say; it’s a simple life, so at least our banes are relatively inconsequential). The key problem in this instance is that due to long-term roadworks the time it takes for people to travel the Great Eastern Hwy route has easily doubled, with a great deal of that time spent ‘parked’ on the highway.

As far as wicked problems go, there is a sea of possibility of things an individual ‘could’ do, but they wouldn’t necessarily solve the issue so much as cause different ones. For example, If it were me who lived on Great Eastern Highway, some options would be that I could just stop going to uni or work, I could move somewhere else, I could camp out at work, I could break the law and drive on the footpath; perhaps the counsel could just stop the roadworks and we can drive over the dirt to our destinations. Technically these are all options, albiet very problematic and illogical ones, however it seems to me that the key to a wicked problem is finding the lesser of many, many evils.

[Image 5]
As a group we sat down to pondered the matter, and together we worked to think outside the box each individual might place upon problem. Some of the options we boiled the matter down to in general were to:

  • take side-streets to avoid using the highway, but many other cars now also take this route so it would funnel back into the same problem.
  • take public transport, but it could lead to problems of getting up earlier and issues of being at uni until late at night; I could bus then walk home, but then I would prefer my organs in my body and not being sold on the black market.
  • ride a bike to work or taking public transport, but…. seriously? First of all, it will get stolen. Also no money and no energy. no. just… no.
  • get up earlier so I don’t have to worry about being late but… hahaha… waking up early. Hilarious. See the week 1 blog post for why I am not a morning person by a long shot.
  • stock up on good music, changing my mindset and making the car ride more enjoyable: this is in fact, plausible.
  • go the technically longer opposite direction, to completely avoid the flow of traffic thereby making it shorter.

In the end it seemed to us the best solution (if it were me) would be to go in the opposite direction. If this did not work, well tough luck; either get up earlier or start enjoying your trip!

Following this exercise, our tutor Vanessa tasked us with applying the same kind of wicked problem analysis and problem-solving to our creative projects (Barnett, 2012). Partially because she is not fond of talking about traffic (which is fair; I only like talking about it to complain), and also to help us think about how we can work through these types of problems when they appear in our creative endeavors – because they can and will. Once again a class topic becomes quite pertinent to my current experiences, as I have recently been having issues with the time-management of my project. If I can appreciate this for the wicked problem that it is, perhaps I can tackle it and address it a little bit better.

So as you may have noticed (although probably not, but that’s okay), I have not updated my creative project since Week 4. While I have been doing bits and pieces along the way, my major problem has been managing my time across this, and other various other projects. One of the key elements of my wicked problem is not that I dislike the project or hold it as less important than others, but the fact that I find it enjoyable! I love any excuse to be creative and working in Minecraft is really fun; but rather than be eager to work on this fun thing, I feel guilty about spending time on it, because it doesn’t feel like I’m ‘studying’!!

Some of the potential options I have for completing the project are:

    1. don’t complete it (technically possible but inadvisable)
    2. don’t do my other assignments (again, possible but not a good idea)
    3. do the assignment fast, but poorly (Not a fan of that one either)
    4. pay an army of children candy to build the minecraft ship for me (…tempting)
    5. assign a specific percentage of time to be spent on each project per day/week
    6. attempt to complete a certain percentage of a project before moving onto the next
    7. to work on my perception of project (but then thinking about it as fun is nice)
    8. organise a minecraft party, so my friends can play on the same server as me

Of course there are many, many other possible answers – each solving some little thing while causing other issues. I think recognising the wicked problem I am facing with my assignment and looking at some mini-solutions will help me to get into gear and keep working (even if it’s fun dammit!). Thus far, points 5 – 8 seem like the most viable, although I think I will have to trial them before I can see what other types of problems will raise their heads in response to them.

When I next update the blog on my creative project, I will be sure to mention my progress on the wicked problem of having trouble working because of too much fun. At least as far as problems goes, it could be worse.

That’s enough for one night. Farewell!


Barnett, V. (2012, September). Creative Tools for the Creative Class. Tutorial conducted from Edith Cowan University, Western Australia.

Crouch, C., & Pearce, J. (2012). Wicked Problems: Doing research in Design. Oxford: Berg

Dennis, P. (2012, September 14). Design Principles. Guest lecture presented in Creativity: Theory, History and Practice. Edith Cowan University, Western Australia.


[Image 1] Paul Dennis Designs Logo [Digital Image]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://pauldennisdesign.com.au/

[Image 2] Paul Dennis [Photograph]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://pauldennisdesign.com.au/page33/page33.html

[Image 3] Fit Chips Logo [Graphic]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.karrinyupcentre.com.au/Our-Stores/Fit-Chips—coming-soon.aspx

[Image 4] Upside Dpwn [sic] Pyramid [Digital Image]. (2009). Retrieved from http://www.pxleyes.com/photoshop-picture/4b5ce2f6f1930/Up-Dpwn-Pyramid.html

[Image 5] Great Eastern Highway Meme [Digital Image]. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.reddit.com/r/perth/comments/1010xh/meanwhile_on_great_eastern_highway/

7 thoughts on “Wk 7 – Working processes and wicked problems

  1. Pingback: Wk 8 – Recap with a remix « NOT A BLOG

  2. Pingback: Creative Project: Concepts « NOT A BLOG

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