The Role of Design Research

We live in a world that is constantly evolving & in flux, and that makes design research relevant today. As AC4D students, we account for this in developing our designs:

Our design research to date is focused on capturing the experiences of the outliers, painting a picture of the people who sit on the outside of the norm.

We are tasked with developing probes and exercises that allow our participants to give definition to their personal experiences. We conduct interviews with questions formed around “why do you” and “show me”  instead open ended questions and directives to perform tasks.

The most recent module of our theory class focused on the different ways of describing the role of design research and included 3 sections: Designing With, Designing For // Participatory Design // Synthesis & Value

The following diagram allocates the 8 authors of our readings along the x-axis according to the role of the end user in the design research methods they describe. The authors on the far left side of the axis practice design research that includes users during research and design development. The authors on the far right axis engage users to obtain research and then move forward with the design phase independently. For they y-axis, I initially labeled my line to represent the predictability of users’ behavior with a range of ‘People are Predictable’ to ‘People Do Crazy Stuff’ – I kept the language clean for the presentation. After feedback from the group, I decided to update the axis to a range of ‘People Are Predictable’ and ‘People are Autonomous.

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As illustrated in the table, most of our authors view people as unpredictable and that is something we as designers should take into consideration at all stages of the design process.

Our assignment began as imagining these 8 authors having a conversation about their perspective on design research. After determining the authors opinion on designing with and designing for a user and how they view the users that user’s behavior I  evolved my analysis to include how the final design artifact fits into the construct. Below is a diagram representing the influences for change of an artifact.

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Week 3 Recap

Another week of jam-packed mental gymnastics has passed! I’ve been focusing hard on getting ahead of assignments and have finally entered a rythm where I find opportunities to begin assignments when (or close to when) they are assigned. On Sunday, I sat down at a coffee shop to read more of our theory assignment, which although I enjoy the messages the reading poses, it is a long and painful process for me. Sometimes I even make a mental list of what torture I would endure if it meant I didn’t have to read; one particular set of readings, I mentally agreed I would be willing to have my toenails ripped out! Luckily the degree of torture is decreasing closer to a stubbed toe. As I mentioned I sat down to do my readings, at a coffee shop to do the readings and after 2 hours, I had sketched the coffee shop as a start to drawing my studio assignment, read 2 pages of theory, and then wrote my blog post. It is comical to me that procrastination is not about cleaning the house or doing errands, but about doing a different assignment. Did I mention I had completed only 2 pages of the theory article when writing the blog?

Starting assignments as they come works well in theory but with demanding assignments I still end up in “fire drill mode” and imagine there will always be those moments at AC4D, that is a reality we are being equipped to survive in the working world. When I step back from school work, I remind myself I am immersed in a 9 month program of expanding knowledge, training of new thought patterns, building communication skills (within group and visual-verbal bridge) and increasing self-awareness. Even when I wish there were 28 hours in a day to finish assignments, I am remiss the days are passing and even 3 weeks in, I am cognizant each week that passes is one week less of the explosion of knowledge and experience we have 9 months to experience. I am so excited to be challenged again and hope the path will continue after completion of our course. It is a real privilege to be at AC4D and learning from accomplished  industry professional who share their passion by taking time to teach us.
Some highlights of the week:

Stories of APA!
Gaining clarity on the different organizational functions and viewing the business in new perspectives. For example, is the kitten nursery’s main mission to “process” as many kittens through to fosters in order to maximize cage availiability?

It was hard to find 100mobjects to sketch…It was a priceless moment when I found my classmate sitting on a stool in the middle of the bathroom sketching the toilet!

Week 2 Recap


A discussion following Week 2 at AC4D with Adam and Catherine:

Week 2 was no different from the preceding two weeks in that we faced a lot of new information to not only digest, but to put into action. It was satisfying to get into the field and conduct a couple of interviews at Austin Pets Alive! with my partner, Aaron. A benchmark of Week 2 was that we have now completed assignments for all of our courses. Juggling three balls and making sure one does not drop requires a rhythm; now that we’ve completed our first round of assignments, time blocking will be the key to keeping those balls off the floor.

The Value of Users in Design Theory

AC4D_IDSE_102_Assignment 1

During our first 2 weeks of IDSE 102: Design, Society, and the Public sector, we read works from Edward Bernays, Victor Papanek, Maurizio Vitta, Neil Postman, and John Dewey. Considering how each author views the role of design in society, we were assigned to plot the 5 authors on an scale of not important to important. The criteria I developed for ranking is how each author values the individual.

The theme of individual autonomy has been at the forefront of my mind since arriving at AC4D. In IDES 101/201: Interaction Design and Research Synthesis, Aaron and I wrote a research plan with questions aimed to gain qualitative data from interviewees through their unique lens. Focusing on the individuality of the outliers provides valuable insights into problems and better informs solutions.

Under the lens the of value for the individual, the authors we read covered the polarity of the scale. Bernays views persuasion as a tool for shaping people’s beliefs and justifies this is moral because individuals in a democracy have free choice, hence only the best ideas survive. The act of persuasion in itself renders the individual to have no power, no ability to withstand the sway of propaganda. Yes, we live in a democracy with individual choice, but we also live in a free market where the volume of demand determines what survives, individual preference has little power on its own. The next author on the scale, Papanek, believes design must be sensible and responsible in a world with depleting resources. He cites a barrier to design innovation is cultural blocking, preconceived notions of the public that prevent adoption. In this context, the individual user is held in low esteem, they doesn’t consume with intention but only within what culture prescribes as normal.

Vitta believes design has the power to shape culture but designers must beware of the consequences. The identity of the designer becomes lost as commodification creates a shift where consumption becomes a source for consumer identity. While this acknowledges the user seeks individual identity, they are expressing a specific identity within the constraint of an image prescribed not by themselves, but by society.

In his support for experiential education versus traditional education, Dewey concludes teachers are responsible for creating meaningful experiences that will positively inform future interactions for the individual. Dewey shows a high regard for the individual in his desire to ensure protection of the individual user and create positive interactions to provide a continuum for future success.
Postman addresses a group of computer technologists and warns design innovation creates both winners and losers. It is imperative we consider the reprecussions of our creations; history shows that technology diverges from the original intention of the designer and can result in dangerous consequences. While computers can provide a plethora of valuable information, information has the ability to create chaos. Postman assigns ultimate regard for the individual in stating “The human dilemma is as it always has been, and we solve nothing fundamental by cloaking ourselves in technological glory.”

Design serves numerous functions across our society from helping us move through our daily lives to fueling our capitalist economy. In all realms of design, artifacts are meaningless without the individual user. Our authors have ranged from considering the individual as something to control, believing the user consumes for the purpose of identity, to celebrating the complexity of the human dilemma.

Week 2

Saturday marked the completion of our first week of classes. It has been a whirlwind of navigating new experiences, processing new knowledge, and honing time management skills.

On Monday, we received our first assignment for IDSE 101/202 which entailed identifying a philanthropically minded business, pitching them to obtain access to their organization to interview 15+ employees over 30 hours, and pay us $1000 for our design research (research only, no solutions). Upon hearing the assignment was to be presented in 48 hours, I decided to not stick in my initial state of terror and to instead trust the process and take it one step at a time. It was somewhat comforting to hear a classmate voice that they didn’t really hear the content of the lecture once the $1000 clause.

Aaron and Cristina and I, gathered as a team in the morning to share companies we had identified to approach and brainstormed some more as a group. There was an additional level of challenge because Cristina and I moved to Austin a day before orientation and a day after orientation so did not have a knowledge bank of local organizations; Google, along with some creative search titles, was key to identifying business options. I think what made this assignment particularly difficult was that at every point, it seemed like we were working on the most challenging task but the next one seemed larger once we arrived at it. It was somewhat akin to trekking up to a plateau, but once you near the top you see there is another steeper portion ahead, and again when you believe you are nearing the top you see yet another steeper section ahead. I’m not quite sure how this analogy will continue into this week; one of our team members joined a different project and concurrently our verbal contract with REI didn’t go further. I am assuming this next phase is going to feel like trekking across a field of skree searching for the angle of repose and for that I am thankful and excited for the adventure. Sometimes we learn by falling and to me there are few feelings better than getting up and going forward with new perspective.

This week also marked the start of IDSE 101: Design and Society, our theory class,  and it was a nice balance to engage in active reading and commentary in contrast to identifying action items and finding solutions. I really enjoyed seeing the overlaps with architectural design history and theory in the writings. I found identifying the parallel design movements occurring in the architectural world at the time of the readings publication highly correlated.

We finished the week sketching in IDSE 103, our studio foundation class. Pat had great exercises for us to do and made our class really fun. Although I have taken a number of drawing classes, I was frustrated and in complete agreement that sketching is a skill that needs to be continually practiced. Some time ago, I read a study about success which focused on people who were innately good at something as opposed to people who struggled with the same topic. The conclusion was that the people who lacked the innate ability needed to dedicate more time to reach the same goal but in the mean time they gained an exemplary   expertise in the subject. And so I will sketch, and I will sketch…

Looking forward to the adventures to come next week!

Assignment 1 – REI

Aaron, Cristina, Christina

To begin our first assignment focused on Design Research, Synthesis and Service Design we brainstormed as a group to identify socially minded business to offer our design services. We identified portals listing co-ops, b-corps, and incubators, as well as drawing on Aarons knowledge of local Austin businesses.


We selected Tacodeli, Austin Pets Alive!, Mobile Loaves & Fishes, REI, and The Yellow Bike Project to visit. We also reached out to a local baby food company, Nurture Me, as well as a few local incubators. During each visit we participated in a typical customer experience and documented our interaction with points of service with photos. When we were able to make contact with employees we asked open ended questions about their experience in their roles, which we recorded.


We were excited to reach a verbal agreement with the manager at REI downtown to provide research on the store operations with a focus on the store warehousing and floor stocking. During our visit we spoke with a floor employee, visited the stockroom, and learned about current procedures around inventorying and restocking

View our Research Plan:




Day 3: Themes and insights

We began our lecture today by discussing themes to help make sense of data and identifying patterns by exploding our data. Our group was primed to “trust the process” because prior to beginning lecture we had neatly pinned our data into columns labeled with headers “Problems with tickets” and “purchasing methods,” along with similar buckets.

We discussed the example of a red truck and application of a lens to move away from an objective statement. The subjective statement was that vechicles carry sentimental value. I was excited to see how the variety of our backgrounds would inform our individual lenses to create different subjective statements and how we would persuade and support our unique points of view. For example, when we discussed the stigma associated with digital connections, my mind drifted to considering sensory communication that is omnipresent in the human and natural world. Communicating without physical exchange of some sort simply didn’t seem natural, a violation of some universal law that withstood millenia. Digital communications in word form remind me of an English class I once took called “Can the Narrator be Trusted” in which we read novels told by deceptive narrators. However, I quickly questioned my conclusion when I thought about the ever expanding emoji world that allows people to display emotion without words, almost referencing what we may partake from a persons body language. Taking that into account made digital communication seem less one sided; in a digital communication with visual elements interpretation is required and our own lens is applied to the words we are fed.

When we returned to our group to form insights by analyzing 2-3 interview segments it was challenging to not feel we were forcing connections. When it came time to form insights we spent a great deal of time trying to find verbiage to capture the connections. In hindsight, we probably should have focused more on arguing our individual perspectives and persuading the group to adopt them instead of trying to reach a consensus on a statement that captured elements we agreed were on point in each of our insights. It was recommended to us that we may benefit from separating the components of the insight and reverse engineering. Although frustrating at times, we shared some laughs at what was coming out of our thoughts. Sometimes laughter is a sign you are making progress as you discover  what does’t capture your message! After a break we regrouped and creating insights came with ease.

Generating concepts seemed more intuitive and I enjoyed seeing where our imaginations led us. Flexing our imaginations ended the day on a high note. I look forward to seeing the outcomes in comparison to the concepts I feel I would have developed through my own experience as a first time rider on CapMetro.

Day Two: Field work

Our design lecture today began with an image of an Eames chair and and the day ended with small group discussions about our experience speaking with public transport patrons while riding the bus. Our day truly captured the evolution of design. I was also pleased to have the opportunity to explore bus routes on my third day in Austin.
Our group’s design research today focused on the process of purchasing and using a public transport ticket. When choosing locations to speak with public transport users, we took into consideration where we would be able to approach users who would be a captive audience and decided we would speak to people at bus stops and on busses. I felt the interviews on board the bus were particularly good because we were sitting together with people and sharing a ride together. Sitting on the bus adjacent to someone seemed more natural than speaking to people who were standing and waiting for a bus. In general I don’t like to approach people and ask them questions because I am concerned about interrupting them or invading their privacy, however when I practiced inserting a pause after questions my attitude changed because I felt like the person had space to have their own experience and that I wasn’t forcing something upon them.
After our interviews, I was surprised at the valuable information we learned that I didn’t expect. Perhaps this is partly because I entered the experiment without any Austin Transit experiences; I didn’t expect a recurring topic to be about problems with paper tickets because we have debit style passes in Chicago (a.k.a. Ventra cards). I was able to empathize with people’s troubles with their bus cards because I was frustrated there are systems in other cities that don’t rely on paper tickets.
Gerald, Laura, and Vicky were great teammates and we have some good synergies in play.

Day 1 AC4D

Today we arrived at the new AC4D space where we were greeted with a big smile from Ruby at the front door. We met and chatted with our classmates and Ruby gave a thorough overview of the year, what we should expect, and what is expected from us. Whilst a lot of information, I was relieved it aligned with my expectations based on speaking to alums. We had a break for lunch and gave intros about ourselves. I am a bit rusty in the presentation department and look forward to becoming more concise. I am very excited to begin working together because I think our diverse backgrounds will lead to more comprehensive and informed designs.
I am thankful for the time the alumni took to speak to us. It was reassuring to learn about the strong alumni network and their willingness to be involved with students. I am impressed at the work they have been able to pursue after 9 months at AC4D.
Everything I learned today was exactly what I hoped to hear.