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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All Design Begins with Research

Our latest tussle with design theory had us examine the role of research in design. If we break up the design process into component parts, research sits at the very beginning, and thus influences everything that comes after.

As designers, we will often be challenged to explain how our design process works and why it has value. At a glance, observing the behavior of a small group of individuals does not seem like like a rigorous approach that could lead to valuable design solutions. It is our job to understand and communicate how the design process is different from market research and the scientific method, while also providing insights those two approaches cannot reach.

Our class read and discussed articles from the eight authors below, and each author posited a view on how designers should think about research in design.

Paul Dourish
– Asserts a conceptual theory for designers
– Context is dynamic and complex
– Designs for designers
– Can test if a technology is responsive to chaining social settings

Chris Le Dantec
– Design needs ambiguity and interpretation
– Designs with people using Participatory Design
– Subjective results due to designer’s insights and interpretation

William Gaver
– Focuses on designs that evoke pleasure
– Design research is about inspiration for the designer
– Uses Cultural Probes
– Subjective results due to designer’s interpretation

Jodi Forlizzi
– Creates a formalized research framework for designers to follow
– Subjective results as designer’s decide which methods to use

Liz Sanders
– Values co-creation in social impact projects
– Social design should include all stakeholders
– Subjective results are dependent on people’s needs and inspiration

Jane Suri
– Advocates for a variety of research approaches to understand users
– Approaches focus on the designer’s experience

Don Norman
– Technology drives innovation
– The role of design research is o make incremental adjustments
– Designers respond to user demand
– Objective results as design products are either adopted or, otherwise, fail

Jon Kolko
– The role of design research is to assist the designer
– Design for people using mainly observational methods
– Subjective results rely on designer’s inspiration

Phew! – That was a lot to get through! The reading was heavy at times, but very rewarding.

We were asked to synthesize the authors’ views and represent them in a diagram with one axis labeled “Design for / Design with” and the other axis labeled any way we choose. I labeled my y axis with Objective Results and Subjective Results. You can see how I plotted each author below:

Author views on how they work with people in research and the results they can expect.
Author views on how they work with people in research and the results they can expect.


As I examined my placement for each author, I started to think about what their quadrant represented.

In the first quadrant, Norman and Dourish represent the role of designer as a Genius-Creator – someone who builds things that are objectively useful to people.

The second quadrant is empty, but would represent the designer as an Educator – someone who teaches the “right” way to design for particular results.

The third quadrant holds Forlizzi, Kolko, and Suri, who represent the role fo the designer as an Autocrat – someone who knows what’s best for the people.

And finally, the fourth quadrant houses Gaver, Le Dantec, and Sanders, who view the role fo the designer as a facilitator – someone who guides the process of, more or less, co-creation.

My main takeaway from this section of readings is an “ah-hah” moment when I realized that Kolko had synthesized all of the other authors’ views, neatly explaining that the value of design research is that it leads to unique insights about people. While the engineer and the marketer bring predictions about how people might behave, the designer can give insight into why people interact as they do.

Design Research: It’s Research But It’s Not Science

Design Research Presentation

Everyone and their mothers have been moving to Austin. Sometimes it’s for a job, sometimes it’s because they hear it’s a cool and weird oasis city. After living here for a while their friends from whatever city they came from ask them, “what’s so special about Austin? How does it move you, and why should I move there?” The answer totally depends on the person. It’s subjective.

Everyone in the innovation industry is moving towards design thinking and with that comes design research as a technique and methodology for collecting qualitative data. When a traditional boardroom client encounters a design researcher for the first time they will ask, “what’s so special about design research? How does it move you, and how does it move my business?”

The answer is hopefully personalized to each designer’s own subjective, creative process and how they interpret design research. No matter what, clients are taking a leap into newness (which is what defines innovation).

It’s tempting to formulate structures and frameworks to give the peculiar practice a backbone of intellect and explicit wisdom. But I would suggest that there is danger in overdeveloping the methods. It could lead to the limiting stiffness that the hard sciences struggle with. For design thinking to be relevant in innovation, it needs to have the flexibility and agility to morph and improve itself outside of strict frameworks. This is where design research differs from scientific research.


Theory Assignment 2

This week for our Design, Society, and the Public Sector class, we were asked to create a visualization that compared the views expressed about when and how design research should come into the design process, views expressed in 10 articles by 8 authors.

I choose to analyze the approach of each of these authors from two points of comparison. The first being, “Would these authors more advocate for utilizing users perspective in the design process or not?” The second being, “Would these authors advocate for using data from prior research and other fields or analysis of a current product in the design process?”

This task felt especially difficult to me because the question of how and when and where is the best way to conduct design research is one that has stumped me since we began class, and before. However, what these readings revealed to me was that there are clearly differing opinions. Writers like Suri and Le Dantec would advocate for folding in findings from other fields or deferring to those who are experts in a user population during the process. Others like Norman or Forlizzi would advocate for using an existing product as a basis for further design (on or outside that product). Authors like Gaver and Sanders might more advocate for simply observing people in their environment and identifying problems from there.

This exercise has helped me see that there is no way to be completely objective in design as an aspect of personal judgement is involved in every design process. The when and where and how of going about collecting data from users will and (these authors have helped me see) can affect your process. Maybe the aspect of working on teams can help provide checks and balances that make our process as accurate as possible?

Regardless, I have really appreciated the insight of each of these authors and hope to use aspects of their approach in my process at various points.

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.

The Role of Subjectivity in Design Research

The past couple weeks, we have read ten articles by eight various designers. Below I’ve mapped each of these designer’s positions on a chart depicting whether we should be designing with or for the users and what level of importance the designer’s own subjectivity has in the design process.

William Gaver, Paul Dourish, and Don Norman all fell on the side closer to designing for their participants rather than designing with their participants. Although they each have very different processes, in the end, these processes ended up with more reliance on the input of the designer than the input of the participant.

Jon Kolko, Jodi Forlizzi, Christopher Le Dantec, Liz Sanders, and Jane Fulton Suri all fall on the side of designing with over designing for their users, of course each of them to varying degrees.  In her article “A Social Vision for Value Co-creation in Design,” Liz Sanders makes a case for the insightful applications of co-creation. This argument puts her at the far end of designing with the users as she proposes co-creation should start during the pre-design phase, specifically for societal design projects.

Along with the ideas of designing for or designing with, I also broke down the designer’s position on the importance of the designer’s own subjectivity. The ideas that a researcher needs to be objective and there should not be any personal bias in their work were strong pillars of research methodology that were hammered into my thought process from an early age by the hard sciences. As a Biology major, I was well versed in how to keep my subjectivity from creeping into the results. Repetition, statistical analyses, and statistical significance were all ways of correcting for bias and making sure that you had statistical significance to back up your analysis of the results.

For me, design thinking has been shaking this (once solid) notion of researcher objectivity to its core. In his chapter “The Value of Synthesis in Driving Innovation,” Jon Kolko writes that “Avoiding bias is irrelevant. The goal is not to be objective but instead to be rigorous.”

Where does my voice come into play? Where should it be present and where should it not be present? Am I getting subjective data from my participants? Were all ideas swirling around in my head as I learned new information about the design research process.

It was a difficult task to map out these authors from more subjective to more objective. I started mapping out each author individually based on their respective articles, but the amorphous nature of subjectivity kept evading me. After mapping and remapping where I thought each designer should go, I started to realize that my line dichotomy, subjectivity versus objectivity, was the problem.

Subjectivity can occur in many places within the design research process. We can gather subjective data from our participants and we can use our own subjective lens to analyze the data. As I was trying my best to position each of these designers onto the chart and understand their perspectives on subjectivity, I realized that it was necessary for me to break down subjectivity into participant’s subjectivity and designer’s subjectivity. The below diagram maps out the author’s position on the importance of the designer’s own subjectivity within the design process.

William Gaver falls at the top end of this spectrum with a high level of importance given to the designer’s own subjectivity. In his article, “Cultural Probes and the Value of Uncertainty,” Gaver presents a very subjective method to studying participants. Not only is the data he collects from participants subjective, but his methods of synthesizing that information is also very subjective and carries a lot of bias from the designer.

As I went on to map out the rest of the designer’s positions, several of them resonated with me and began to help reform my perspective about subjectivity and its role in design research.

In her article, “Going Deeper, Seeing Further: Enhancing Ethnographic Interpretations to Reveal More Meaningful Opportunities for Design,” Jane Fulton Suri, states the following:

Many times when people describe the role of the researcher, they will comment ‘The researcher is the objective one on the team.’ Instead, we prefer to think of ourselves as people who immerse ourselves in other people’s subjectivities.

This idea resonates with me. We are immersing ourselves in other people’s subjectivity. The more we immerse ourselves in other’s subjectivities, the less our own subjectivity as a designer plays a role. Here enters Empathy.

Our quest for empathy and understanding our participants helps us ultimately become less subjective. While we can never truly be another person, as we immerse ourselves in their subjectivity, we can start to see through their lens and this changes the influence of our own subjectivity. It moves us from relying on our own thoughts and opinions to relying on theirs and, in a sense, we as designers become more objective.


The above chart maps out several prominent designer's views on designing with or for the user and the importance of the designer's own subjectivity in the process.
The above chart maps out several prominent designer’s views on designing with or for the user and the importance of the designer’s own subjectivity in the process.

Co-designing government: innovation through design

When asked in theory class “how do you react to the concept of co-design?”, my first reaction was “wistful”. These past two weeks we have been reading the works of eight authors who each have a slightly different take on design’s place in the world. In this blog post, I will, in turn, offer my perspective on where these authors fall on the below spectrum of “designing for” people versus “designing with” people. To make this perspective a bit more interesting, I will additionally offer insights on whether these authors believe in the value of designing for – and/or with – the citizen versus the consumer.

Allow me to briefly explain why “wistful” was my first reaction. I am currently working for the City of Austin, and I’m on a team which does a significant amount of interfacing between the operations side of the department and the community which we serve. The concept of co-design is often used as an umbrella term for participatory and open design processes. As Jodi Forlizzi describes it, co-design is a sort of “collective creativity as it is applied across the whole span of a design process.” It encourages co-creation between companies and their consumers, but this concept may also be applied to governments and their citizens.

The City of Austin is currently working to scale its capacity to design and build services that grow and adapt to residents’ needs. This is fabulous, and makes me feel like I’m in the perfect place to be both working at the City and learning about how to design and build services. However, in government, there is always be room for growth, hence my gut reaction as we discussed the concept of co-design in a reading by Liz Sanders. This reaction made me think about the other authors that we’ve been reading lately, and whether the audience (or collaborators) that they hold in their mind when thinking about design leans more toward the “citizen” or the “consumer” side of the spectrum.

co-designing govt
Chris Le Dantec and Jodi Forlizzi were relatively easy for me to place. Chris recalled his methodology for including specific populations in his design process, so some might argue that he was designing “with” these populations then he should fall on the “with” side, yet I feel that since his aim was to design the product/service for that specific population, he should be staunchly on the “for” side of the scale. Since he focused on a population experiencing homelessness, I believe that Chris would agree that he was designing for citizens, as opposed to designing for consumers.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have Jodi who introduced us to product ecology, a design framework to help describe how products evoke social behavior. She falls squarely in the “designing with” camp, yet her main collaborators discussed in our readings were consumers of products, hence the placement on the below map. As mentioned before, Liz (who introduced us to the concept of co-design) is also on the “with” side of the scale and – while she mainly discusses designing with product consumers in our reading, she does point out that the co-creation process is valuable within communities, earning her a spot just barely tipped to the consumer’s side.

Bill Gaver was a curious case. His reading highlighted what he called “cultural probes” and the concept of designing for pleasure. Since this method stresses empathy and engagement to understand the people interacting with a product or service, he seems like he could be tipped to the citizen’s side of the scale, and yet it was often hard to decipher whether he was designing for, designing with, or simply designing with no real goals in mind. This ambiguity landed him at the center of the “for” and “with” scale. And, while we’re talking about curious cases, it feels appropriate to place Don Norman on the chart.

Don self-described his writings as “provocative”, and holds that design research is essentially useless when it comes to breakthroughs. Rather, he feels that it is the inventors and those who deal in technology that are truly innovative in the things that they create. Since he seems to believe that design should be based on the needs of the user instead of less important things like aesthetics, it isn’t a huge stretch to think he might prefer to design for citizens rather than consumers, but he doesn’t offer any insights to propel himself up and over that line in our reading.

Jane Fulton Suri outlined the importance of ethnographic research in today’s world. Since the context of her human-centered design framework was set in today’s marketplace, she falls more on the consumer end of the spectrum. However, Jane she does seem interested in designing for the true needs of people, so she may yet become a convert to design for citizens. We also read a piece by our school’s founder, Jon Kolko, and – since our program is focused on solving wicked problems through rigorous human-centered research – he earns himself a place higher on the designing for citizens scale.

Finally, the reading by Paul Dourish offered a pretty cerebral examination of the role of information technology in today’s world in the context of design. Rather than designing with humans, however, Dourish’s perspective often felt framed around the potential to design with technology as we move forward into the future. His article was written in 2004 – before the iPhone was invented – and yet it feels strangely prophetic as today’s technological world is ripe with ever-improving artificial intelligence advances.

In my attempt to place these authors I’ve realized that there is ample room remaining on the “designing with/for citizens” half of the chart, and I hope that this program helps to propel me into that space.

The Role of Design Research

What role does research play in the design process? Over the last week and a half, we’ve been digesting the writings of 8 authors that have contributed to the discussions surrounding design research, innovation, context, and value. While reading these texts, I’ve been forming an opinion about where these authors would fall on a spectrum between ‘designing for’ and designing with.’ This turned out to be more easily said than done, simply because the spectrum doesn’t address the question of ‘designing for’ or ‘designing with’ whom. Is the focus on designing for/with a person, a user, people, or even other designers? Because each option yields significantly different results. Ultimately I chose to focus on people and how they engage with designers during the design process.

Personally, I identify most with the writings of Jon Kolko, Jodi Forlizzi, Liz Sanders, Jane Fulton Suri, and to a degree, Don Norman. If the design process is one of problem-solving, surely there must be a section of that process that focuses on identifying a problem. I believe design research to be that section: a method of finding a problem, or problems, worth solving. It should acknowledge context that, in an experiential sense, cannot be separated from activity. It should be empathetic, human-centric, and subjective. Designers can get more out of the research phase if they involve others with diverse backgrounds and life experiences. When applied to finding incremental enhancements, it is a very powerful tool.

To illustrate my views, I’ve created a Cartesian plane with ‘designing for people’ and ‘designing with people’ on the x-axis and an analogy on the y-axis. This analogy draws on my time spent producing music. On one extreme is Pop, which is formulaic, often unoriginal, structured, and doesn’t push the boundaries of music. On the other side of the spectrum is Acid Jazz, which does push the boundaries of music, can be unstructured and chaotic, and experiments for the sake of experimentation. Both symbolize an approach to design research. Be it by-the-book as with Chris Le Dantec’s well-structured methodology or like Bill Gaver’s experimental style of research, which seeks to deliberately confuse participants, design research comes in many forms and flavors. Thanks to people like Jodi Forlizzi, designers are creating theories and frameworks to help other designers pick methods that lead to valuable observations. However, Forlizzi argues, and I tend to agree, that the true value is not in the observations themselves but in the quality of interpretation and synthesis that is applied to those observations.

Artboard 1

Rather than go through and justify each authors location, I’m going to stick with the analogy and talk about the four quadrants of the chart.

Screen Shot 2018-09-13 at 6.05.20 PM

In the top right are the ravers. These are people who like to experiment but also have a pulse on the shared experience among everyone around them. In the bottom right is a theater concert. There is still a desire for a shared experience but it’s organized – people have tickets for a specific seat, there’s a defined start and finish, etc… In the bottom left, which I don’t believe any of the authors fall into, is a marching band. Music is written for them, everyone plays their individual part, and any deviation from the norm is highly frowned upon. This quadrant, for example, would house someone who uses a prescribed methodology to create an app for homeless people that the population neither wants nor needs. Finally, in the top right are dueling pianos. The structure is loose and the performers can improvise, but the experience lives for individuals – who often request specific songs.

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.

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.

A Designer’s Role

An Opportunity to Define.

Over the last decade, the role of Design has grown leaps and bound. The design has branched into many areas and taken on various names including service and system design, interaction design, human factors, human-computer interaction and more, where each one has a unique approach and focus.

Despite the variations and nuances between each field of design, at the core is a unique opportunity. As the methods or design and the value it can provide gains recognition and acceptance, designers have a unique opportunity to define their role in the world of building things.

With the guidance and prominent voices of various authors at the forefront of this designer’s role discussion, I have attempted to define the designer’s role relative to the topic the purpose of the design, and the quality of the result of it.

Designing With or Designing For.

To design with a group,  individuals, or with a purpose is to be empathetic to the user of the system. Successfully designing with requires that the designer attempts to understand the underlying the nature of the situation and try to create a thing that with the focus of addressing the multi-faceted issues, and not just one isolated factor of the system. Additionally, the designer must include the user response and feedback throughout the development lifecycle.

To design for is to collect data and utilize system users as an inspiration for a new idea. The user’s input and response to that design are not necessary.  The newly created thing does not need to solve a problem, but when it does the issue addressed does not capture a complex nature or element of the entire system.


Making something Holistic or Sterile.

Holistic designs are things that are made with the focus of addressing a more complex issue or for a more complex purpose. Some examples are addressing culture, identity, or environmental and sustainability goals. These are all topics are complex in nature and difficult to analyze.  In designing with a holistic purview, the result will often feel more manmade, organic, and have a degree of emotional understanding.

Whereas sterile designs are things that are made with little or no focus on an issue. Designs in this category can be done beautifully for purpose of pleasure or to solve an issue inspired by users but ultimately is defined mostly by the researcher.  In designing with a sterile purview, the result will often feel more simple in nature, fact-based and lacking deep value.


Author’s Position On the Role of a Designer.

The position held and arguments made by each author has landed them a spot on the follow 2×2 Figure.

Designer's Role 2x2

The articles used for this evaluation are:

  • Designs on Dignity: Perceptions of Technology Among the Homeless – Christopher A. Le Dantec, W. Keith Edwards
  • A Tale of Two Publics: Democratizing Design at the Margins – Christopher A. Le Dantec, et al
  • The Product Ecology: Understanding Social Product Use and Supporting Design Culture – Jodi Forlizzi
  • What we talk about when we talk about context – Paul Dourish
  • Cultural Probes and the Value of Uncertainty – William Gaver, et al
  • A Social Vision for Value Co-creation in Design – Liz Sanders & George Simons
  • Going Deeper, Seeing Further: Enhancing Ethnographic Interpretations to Reveal More Meaningful Opportunities for Design – Jane Fulton Suri & Suzanne Gibbs Howard
  • Experience Prototyping – Marion Buchenau & Jane Fulton Suri
  • Technology First, Needs Last: The Research-Product Gulf – Don Norman
  • The Value of Synthesis in Driving Innovation – Jon Kolko