Newsletter of the Association of Library and Information Science Students (ALISS)




 title of the newsletter: The Silverfish


February 2004

Vol VIII Issue II

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"I" in MSIM with a silent “D” (Design)

By Deepak Kumar, MSIM Graduate (2002) and Microsoft Employee
Before I joined the Master of Science in Information Management (MSIM) Program, the "I" of MSIM – representing “Information” – meant a lot of things to me. But I didn't truly understand what it meant to be an Information Management professional until I discovered that there was also a silent “D” in MSIM for “Design”. It was the IMT548 course (Information System Design) and we were asked to model an Information System for the National Governors Association or NGA.

The project stated "This information system is meant to support the processes of democratic decision making around the priority issue of Home Land Security. The initial focus area for the information system is on high level nuclear waste transportation and storage in the immediate time frame. The information system ought to support decision making for any of the other priority areas the States have identified. The design project is limited in scope to the development of a design brief and a preliminary design for the information system. As a part of the design of the information system, consideration will also be given for how the information system can be utilized over a period of 15 to 25 thousand years for the purpose of informing future generations of the nature of the stored nuclear material".

I remember in the class quite a few of us gasping "15 to 25 thousands years..." – and that to a system as complicated as "Homeland Security"!!! Information technology is changing at the speed of Moore's law, and few in the class believed that we would be designing something which would sustain itself for thousands of years – forget about a century.

By the third week I started getting a hang of this silent “D” of MSIM. It was not about a particular set of theories or axioms or about any sophisticated processes and methods. It was about design culture - understanding about design decisions and composition from the perspective of human beings and their complex interactions within the system of all information objects. The book The Design Way[1] and its authors gave us the complete hundred eighty and degree shift from the existing science of information design in the simplest way possible.

Recently, I read a mini case study by Professor Donald N. Sull and co-authors on how three businesses in developing countries overcome a lack of resources to succeed [2]. The businesses are CEMEX (Cementos Mexicanos), the Mexican cement giant; Natura, a leader in Brazil's cosmetics arena; and China's Haier, which sells appliances in one of the world's most demanding, markets. Each of these companies achieved this feat because they followed the paradigm of "Intentional change in an unpredictable world by understanding your users and their needs through an effective information system".

Needless to say, we all in the MSIM class did complete our project of designing the Homeland Security System which would last for thousands of years [3]. Moreover, we all were able to critique its design sustainability for thousands of years.

After completing the MSIM program, I'm able to understand Information Science from a completely new perspective. I am now an employee at Microsoft, which is working on developing a new operating system. Codenamed Longhorn, it has a complete emphasis on information and users rather than data and its use. Since the last year, Microsoft has also started a new initiative called “ThinkWeek” in which employees are encouraged to think deeply about a range of topics impacting our company and the industry. I see it as a realization amongst us that high-tech research is great but cultivating a culture of innovation and design amongst the employees is equally important. This will empower the company to create a better set of IT based products for the masses.

I suppose understanding the silent “D” in MSIM was one of the most important things I learned while in the MSIM program. I'm on my way to submit a couple of papers for the next “ThinkWeek” that reflect the new insights I’ve gained into the design of information systems.

[1] Nelson, Harold G., Stolterman, Erik; (January, 2003). The Design Way.
[2] Sull, Donald N., Ruelas-Gossi, Alejandro, Escobari, Martin; Strategy & Innovation (Harvard Business School) (January 2004);
[3] Link to Design Brief of Homeland Security System (October 2002, IMT 548, MSIM)