The New abcs of: Achieving Breakthrough Collaborations by Ben Shneiderman (review)
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THE NEW ABCS OF: ACHIEVING BREAKTHROUGH COLLABORATIONS by Ben Shneiderman. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2016. 320 pp. Trade. ISBN: 978-0-19-875883-9.

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Questions about the nature of—how it is, how it might be, how it should be—abound in the Leonardo community. At this time, for example, Ken Friedman and Jack Ox are leading a publication project investigating The PhD in Art and Design. That project is looking at the role of practice in research, the significance of the artifact within research and, as an outcome, the relationship between art/design research and, for example, scientific research, and so on. Thus, in this context, a book proposing a new approach to research by a pioneer of human-computer interaction and author of Leonardo's Laptop—a book that promoted the use of computers to support creativity—must be worth a read.

Shneiderman quotes Goethe: "Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do." Researchers in art and design will surely agree. But how? Two principles guide much of the argument of the book: Combining Applied and Basic Research (ABC) and Blending Science, Engineering and Design (SED). The fundamental proposition is that by somehow combining basic and applied research, we will be more successful at making advances that will enhance lives. To do this, Shneiderman argues, we need to adopt methods that enable this combination, encourage collaboration and (given that the focus is essentially in the scientific domains) blend science, engineering and design. The book presents recent history, very relevant case studies and examples to make its case. A good portion of the book presents well-founded advice.

We are reminded of the scientific paradigms that have shaped research funding and initiatives over the last century. The powerful argument that Thomas Kuhn made in his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is cited as an important influence on the accepted narrative of scientific development and, hence, desirable research processes. However, policy makers and funders of research may not have noticed that Kuhn actually saw science as a social enterprise. Since then, historians of science have increasingly turned to social and anthropological methods to understand research. They have found that artisans and craftspeople, for example, have often played an important part in scientific discovery. Applying and doing, as Goethe recommended, matters in advancing knowledge. The historians fundamentally back Shneiderman's conjecture.

Attitudes toward research—the relationships between basic and applied forms—differ around the world, and whilst examples are taken, for example, from Europe, the focus of the book is research in the United States. The book addresses policy makers as well as practitioners, so it was important to pay particular attention to making an argument that will be understood in Washington, D.C. It is interesting to notice, though, that research in some countries is a little closer to Shneiderman's model than in others.

This book's ABC seems close to what is, in Australia, known as Strategic Basic Research, "work undertaken to acquire new knowledge directed into specified broad areas in the expectation of useful discoveries." On the one hand, it does not emphasize blue-sky research that might by chance prove useful but, on the other hand, does not press for limited applied research that reaches for short-term goals. In the EU's funding programs, Strategic Research Agendas are set, and these agenda would probably find favor in the context of this book.

Kennedy's challenge to put a man [End Page 331] on the moon was a grand version of the sort of goal at which ABC research might aim. Strategically we can conceive a mission, whilst in practice we pursue research programs that point in that direction without pretending to specifically hope to directly reach the goal. To solve big problems, we need to build up a big bag of knowledge—much of it "basic"—that can put us in the position to understand just what needs to be done: to understand exactly which detailed problems need to be solved.

So what about design? Well, of course, Shneiderman's book very directly and strongly brings design into the center of his proposed...