Design Research that Endures

I am writing today to discuss the role of design research. The theories class began with discussing our role and responsibility as designers to society and the ethical challenges. The course naturally followed up, to meet these challenges, with the role of design research, the perspective of how designers may conduct themselves and their team-oriented design research projects. The goals I want to emphasize are my desire to elevate my new profession (upon graduating Austin Center of Design) We can deliver values of many considerations with a broader reach, that is more enduring and value that is more meaningful. Furthermore, we are more directly seeking critical ideas to articulate benefits of and defense for our relatively new roles and methods. This class itself is conducted in a fashion that reflects the values we are learning.

The assignment for the past two weeks included ten articles written by eight thought leaders. The underlying theories focus on the role of the design researcher between to design with the user or to design for the user. We are looking to analyze and then synthesize the considerations in these articles to form a perspective on the role of design research. The authors of the articles are listed here in chronological order:

  • Jane Fulton Suri; 2000
  • Paul Dourish; 2003
  • William Gaver; 2004
  • Jane Fulton Suri; 2006
  • Jodi Forlizzi; 2008
  • Chris LeDantec; 2008
  • Liz Sanders; 2009
  • Jon Kolko; 2010
  • Donald Norman; 2010
  • Chris LeDantec; 2010

I have been able to draw a few themes about establishing the value promise shared among these articles. If one is going to choose which “tool” is most appropriate, one needs to identify the situational advantages designers can bring to who they design for and/or with. The benefit I have identified is that designers can elevate their profession in the long run while bringing value with a broader reach, that is more enduring and value that is more meaningful by designing with the user.

Considerations brought from the reading can be summed up as who benefits and to what range and scope are we concerned?

Who benefits? According to Fulton Suri, LeDantec, Dourish, Gaver, Sanders and Kolko the scope of bringing direct involvement with the users, participants, stakeholders, and design teams fosters a positive, cooperative experience that Dewey could subscribe. Sanders’s 2009 article argues that designing with can deliver longer lasting meaningful values from the outset of a project. LeDantec’s 2008 and 2010 report shows that his considerate and respectful involvement of the homeless could have positive repercussions beyond the success of his study. The publics, or groups of common interests, would have the immediate social self-actualizing experience that Vitta would approve of. Based on this I would argue that designing with your users is ideal for approaching wicked problems.

What range and scope are we concerned with when we talk about designing with the user? I am referring to multiple perspectives of reach in both scope of the problems identified, and the scope of innovation. According to Sanders, Fulton Suri, Dourish, Gavers and Kolko, the extent of problems identified is more significant with a social mindset or research focus. Kolko argues that focusing on human behavior and user-centric approaches open up a broader range of opportunities and potential. Norman, Kolko make an argument about incremental innovation is a strong consideration to make. Similarly, Dourish makes a case for the context and social conversation regarding how relevant and subjective something like how incremental or revolutionary an innovation is for instance. There is no benefit to assigning a Minister of Innovation to determine what is or is not revolutionary.

I have identified that designers who implement a user-centric, behavior-focused “design with” approach will elevate their profession in the long run while bringing value with a broader reach, that is more enduring and value that is more meaningful. Victor Papanek would approve the experimental spirit of cultural probes and experiential prototyping. John Dewey and Maurizio Vitta could support of the social value and the wicked problem addressing potential of designing with.

ac4d_02_idse102_DesignersNeeded-BW-graph
Metaphorical vantage point to observe more and cover greater distance in enduring design.

This graph shows the authors I discussed and the degree to which I believe they are either design with or design for and their potential to accomplish enduring design research.