The Role of Design Research: 8 Authors, 2 Questions

Over the past 2 weeks we’ve read a variety of articles that touch on theories, frameworks and practices of design research. We were asked to consider if they were designing with or designing for. I interpreted that as designing with or for the end user. As a designer I was most curious about where each author would put the designer in the problem-solving process.

8 authors and where their theories land in the cross-section of these two questions.
8 authors and where their theories land in the cross-section of these two questions.

 

1. Paul Dourish
As human computer interaction expands, Dourish wants us to consider, or rather reconsider, context when we’re gathering data. I placed him toward designing with. And I doubt he envisioned designers being at the forefront of that process, though I don’t think he’d be against it so he’s in the middle.

2. Liz Sanders
Sanders extols the value of co-creation, which she defines as collaboration to create something not known in advance. She thinks there’s value in using co-creation at all levels of a company and at various stages of the design process depending on the goals. She does say that the earlier in the process co-creation happens, the greater and broader the likely impact so I’ve placed her in the upper left.

3. Jodi Forlizzi
Like Dourish, Forlizzi wants us to think about context. Her Product Ecology framework clarifies how we should select design research methods to solve problems. As her focus is mainly on qualitative research and product design I’ve placed her in the designing for quadrant with the designers entering the process later in development.

4. Jane Fulton Suri
In her articles, Suri illustrates the benefits of experience prototyping and corporate ethnography. In every prototyping, the designers are running the show but she’s absolutely designing for since she’s not utilizing the end user in her process. In discussing corporate ethnography, she acknowledges that it’s useful but still needs to go deeper in order to solve the wicked problems.

5. William Gaver
Gaver takes a wholly unscientific approach as he explains the value of using Cultural Probes. His point is that by posing open and even absurd questions, we’ll get surprising answers. He’s bucking the traditional system of being objective. So while he’s using designers at the beginning of the process and designing with the end user in his data collection, he’s not interested in doing anything with that data.

6. Christopher Le Dantec
I’ve placed Le Dantec at the top left because he’s out in the world using design research to design with. He describes his process to gain empathy from the homeless community and understand how technology affects their daily lives.

7. Don Norman
Norman argues that there is no room for design research in innovation. He points to random past inventions (planes, trains, automobiles) as proof that we don’t need design research. His tone is very get-off-my-lawn and I think he’s uncomfortable with the idea of designers at the helm of the innovation ship, a position he, as a technologist, has traditionally enjoyed. I don’t even think he necessarily believes his own argument but he wants designers to prove that they should be there.

8. Jon Kolko
Kolko wants us to use all research to learn from and emphasize people, not technology or business. It’s possible that lightning-strike innovation (of the kind Norman references) exists but design research + synthesis is a formula for getting us there without lightning.

When I first thought of making this graph with the vertical axis being the role of the designer, I thought it would make a straight line of dots from the upper left to the bottom right. Upon deeper reading + having deeper conversations I was both surprised and intrigued to find the outliers.