Eight Authors on Design Research Metodologies

For class we read eight different positions on theories, frameworks and practices of design research. 

My role  for this assignment was to make sense of these diverse sources and choose another angle to look at the design with, design for paradigm.

In constructing a perpendicular axis to design with, design for I evaluated where each author attributes value in the design process. I also considered two markers: the user-centred, holistic role of a designer (+y) and technology-driven, product oriented approach (-y).

Here are how these eight positions aligned in the diagram below.


1. Paul Dourish. According to Dourish design practice is interactive and dynamic. Many moving pieces of activities create new forms of meaning within his contextual model. To combine representational and interactional approaches the goal is to provide users with a more nuanced interpretation of the meaning of the system’s action. When thinking about the ubiquitous computational systems it is up to a designer to better articulate outputs for appropriate context. The designer’s role here is to translate feedback that is coming dynamically from the software in a more meaningful for the human. This knowledge can be applied to the usability prototyping and usability testing stages of the design process.  For Dourish, context plays a critical role. That is why an end-user in his model will be considered holistically.

2. Christopher Le Dantec in his field research used the “design with” methodology. The participants of his research in homeless shelters helped him share not only pictures from their day-to-day interaction with technology but they participated in later stages of the design process and helped to shape the final prototype. Participatory design added value in the early stage of the design process. The important thing to highlight here is that the design process itself gave voice and legitimacy status to otherwise outcasted public.

3. Jodi Forlizzi looks at the design process from the Product Ecology perspective.  In her model the social, emotional, aesthetic, and symbolic factors as well as the activities and interactions of the user with system are dynamic and interconnected. She puts the end-user in the middle of Product Ecology paradigm and sees him/her holistically. The added value of such design practice happens when a product already exists. 

4. Liz Sanders uses the term co-creation to define “design with” research methodology. Her approach helps to dive deeper in research, especially in finding a social value that changes organizational culture or user’s behaviour over time. For the design team this approach adds value in the early ,“fussy front end” stages of the design process. It helps to provoke conversations and define “fundamental problems and opportunities, what is to be or should not be designed and manufactured”.  In this process Sanders identifies user holistically.

5. William Gaver. Cultural probes are shortcuts for teams of designers to see the world from a subjective perspective, i.e, the user. The user is in the center for this approach. This methodology helps to share glimpses of subjective reality and adds value in provoking new way of thinking about the problem. It can be done early in the process to spark the conversation.

6. Jane Fulton Suri is a proponent of human-centred, observation-based research methods that can be applied earlier in the design process. One particular method she discusses is experience prototyping.  The complex and dynamic systems of todays world require “sensitive product behaviours”, interactions between software/hardware, frontend and backend of the product. There is a need for creating “hybrid artifacts” that get us closer to the future product’s look, touch and feel. Suri assumes that it is impossible to fully integrate context into experience, we cannot be other people, but we can deliberately choose what properties to include in our prototype. Her approach can add value when exploring an existing user experiences and context..

7. To Jon Kolko, the design practice adds value when a designer applies a new lens/meaning to data. This happens in the synthesis stage of the design process, . If the process is rigorous enough the design team can discover valuable insights, which are often an open window for innovation. Kolko looks at the end-user holistically and “design with” methodology has its place in his practice during the sense-making stage.

8. For Don Norman design work can be applied only in the late stages of the production cycle. A designer comes only to iterate and tweak an existing product. He is a proponent of traditional mass consumer paradigm where inventor invents and the designer helps him shape an improve the product through many versions. He sees technological breakthroughs as a driving force of innovation and it comes first.