Let us begin out story with a man named Bill Norman. Bill is an academic who believes that inventors invent because they are inventors, creators create because they are creators. Not out of need, desire for social standing, or to make the next big technological gadget breakthrough that might one day define a persons identity through its shiny silvery exterior. Research is for those who are not these people; that no true groundbreaking innovation has ever come from the tedious expenditure of one man, or a team of individuals who have to seek out the reason for innovation in the first place. This statement is not just provocative and to some people, well, just plain offensive, but also just, well… shallow.
To think that the innovator, the creator, the silent socially awkward genius living in his mothers basement is not in a constant mode of design research, thinking, tinkering, trying and failing… and failing some more until EUREKA, alternating current is born, to me is absurd. Sure this may be true for more product-based iterations, the iphone4, the iphone6? The iwhatever fill in the blank. But what about the first telephone, the first telegraph. The first innovation that allowed a person in one place to audibly communicate with someone on the other side of the world.
This audacious claim inflamed the one Bruce Nessbaum (of Businessweek) who says no way, no how, is Norman correct. That ethnographic research, especially in todays society of crowdsourcing this, and input and opinions from everyone whether deemed to be educated enough to even be an opinion worth taking, sill exists. And certainly not only drives innovation but demands it. How else is one supposed to know what the next world breakthrough will be? AND in that case what constitutes a world altering breakthrough to begin with??
So let’s talk research for a second then. I know this man; some of you may be familiar. Last name Kolko… lots of opinions, and lots of experience to back them up. Research is an interesting and important topic to Jon Kolko from what I gather from reading and speaking with him, but there are really definitive lines to be drawn from this “research” umbrella. There is marketing research, design research, scientific research, and on and on. Lets focus on the design research for now. Jon states that design research is necessary for finding inspiration. That there IS a method to the madness, that from information gathering, fact gathering really, to inference derivation from those facts, to then making an educated yet purely opinionated provocative solution to the problem, or opportunity discovered through the design synthesis process, that the inspiration for innovation is conceived. You find the problem, and you then attempt to provoke an idea to solve it, right?
Well then comes in a man name Bill Gaver. Bill uses a method called cultural probes to gather information and insight to drive the innovation process for design solutions. This is an interesting process because it involves actually giving a user an artifact to interact with, without the implied influence of the researcher, and then receiving back that artifact to then study and either do something with the information, or in Bill’s case, because he is an academic… do nothing but revel in the knowledge that the world has now gained a bit more insight into human behavior.
Artifacts that he notes include things like a disposable camera. What happens when you give someone a disposable camera, say go to town and shoot away at whatever you want, then I am going to study these results and interpret from your active creative process what you are thinking at that time as a human being. Now Bill calls these subjects “non-designers” and the interpreters are the “designers”. What validity do we even get from methods like this if there is no even ideal for creating something to come out of the product of the research? Can you even then call yourself a designer if you make nothing but ideas and inferences? Is this what this what the designer Liz Sanders then calls the process of co-creation?
I don’t think so.
Liz has a different take I think. Rather that completely separating who she considers the “consumer” from the “designer” she instead suggests that we may all kind of be a little of both. Are we all creative? Are we all then, designers because we pin something to pinterest? Is design then just the process of making something that did not in fact exist before whether it is an original idea or not? Pinterest is in fact just a collage of other peoples artifacts collected by an admirer who then claims ownership over the organization of said artifacts which is laid out is a creatively and unique to the individual account owners page. And is this even valuable? What’s the point?
Going back to Nessbaum’s idea, then sure. It is valuable because the masses say so. The social media says so. The masses dictate the innovations of the future, and the innovators need to be listening.
Probably the most well, confusing and sesquipedalianesque of the readings come from the on Paul Dourish, who plots design research into 2 theories. One of the Positivist, in which everything can be traced back to a mathematical derivation, that patterns can be predicted by statistical analysis taken from past experience. And then one of the Phenomenological; that all is a matter of interpretation, of natural progression and is not predictable but organic. My opinion leans towards a little of both, the phenomenological approach, where we are the agents of our future, and yet are inherently influenced by the actions of the past. And that we may actually be able to in some way predict through studying the statistics of the past make assumptions of the actions in the future. I believe both of these research methods should be touched upon if used in order to create a truly effective design solution.
Of all this, this wealth of opinion and information I must say I have to side with Dourish the most. I appreciate the idea that yes we are agents of our own future, but perhaps the positivist approach in research may even be able to dictate how we might react in that free will of agency. This is in conjunction with Kolko’s emphatic and I believe completely accurate and necessary method of synthesis in which to derive a design solution.
But that’s just me