Entries in design research (9)


Experience Sampling with Smartphones

We tried something new in ID Research last week. I've long wanted to do "beeper studies" using smartphones and the simple capabilities of text messaging - texting participants and asking them to provide a brief description of what's happening in the moment, plus a snapshot. 

This is an old method that allows researchers to collect "samples" of everyday experience that would otherwise be difficult to capture. It was done using beepers back in the day, hence the name Beeper Studies.*

There are ethnographic research apps available that can be used for this, but I wanted to see if we could do it simply and without having people buy a special-purpose app. Using the class as our participants, my TA, Jeff Lin, texted them at various times of day for a week and asked them to text back with a rating of how stressed they were in that moment, along with a brief description and a photo of what they were doing.

We compiled all of the samples into a matrix and viewed the results - a picture of one week in the life of fifteen ArtCenter students. The method worked pretty well. We have a few notes on what we will change the next time we do this, but I think I'll add this to our list of generative tools.

*  For more on Beeper Studies, you really should try to find a copy of the book, "Experience Sampling Method," by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and others. He is one of my research heroes, and every designer should have a copy of his book, "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience" on their shelf. Here's a link to his TED talk, on the topic of Flow.


The New Archetype Deck

Just got the finished Archetype Deck that I will be using in a workshop at the IDSA National Education Symposium in a couple of weeks. It should be great fun for all. We'll be using this tool to conduct research during the conference.

I've been using a deck like this for a while, but without original art. Thanks to talented Art Center illustration alumna, Tiffany Hayashi, and her equally talented colleague Victoria Liwski, we now have our own deck. I've added a few archetypes to Jung's original twelve, creating a generative tool that is effective to fuel discussions about a variety of topics.



In Support of Dedicated Research Courses for Undergrad Programs

Elizabeth Sanders and I have just finished an article for the upcoming issue of Innovation in support of dedicated research-only courses in undergraduate design education (please see the final draft of the article in the "papers" section of this site). As far as we have found, OSU and Art Center are the only programs presently offering such courses at the undergrad level. Many graduate programs have dedicated research courses but it seems rare for undergrad programs, and Liz and I both regret this. We would appreciate very much hearing from design students and faculty who are presently taking or teaching research-only courses in an undergrad design program. We'd love to compare notes.

Image: Analysis exercises by Jocelyn Ma, Siwei Wang, and Susan Zhang for my ID Research course, Summer 2014


The Convivial Toolbox

I have just been reviewing my copy of Elizabeth Sanders' new text on generative tools for design research, and it's a home run. Ever since Brenda Laurel published her book (which, though very good and interesting to those who already know how to do research, is not that useful for beginners), I've been looking for a text to use in my courses. Bruce Hannington's Universal Methods of Design (a solid companion to Rockport's earlier Universal Principles of Design) is excellent and I highly recommend it as a reference, but it's not exactly a how-to.

Liz approached me a couple of years ago asking me to contribute a few sidebars to a book that she and Pieter Jan Stappers (from the Delft University of Technology) were writing, and I've been waiting with bated breath for it to come out. I've followed their work for years. In the 70s, Liz, at Richardson Smith, along with Lucy Suchman at Xerox PARC, Jane Fulton Suri at IDEO, and Bruce Archer and colleagues at the RCA, originated the methodology for what we now call design research. Liz has evolved a specialty in co-design practice using generative tools, and it is in this area that I feel the most promise lies for today's designers, so I have been eager to review the book.

It's met my expectations, and I'll be using it in my classes from now on. It lays a foundation of thought to explain generative tools and support their use for participatory design, and then breaks down the methods, the rationales, their use, the analysis of the findings and presentation of results—the whole nine yards, as they say. Fleshed out with real-world examples from 49 practitioners and educators, it's at last the text I've been hoping to see.

The Convivial Toolbox, along with Hannington's Universal Methods of Design, have earned a place on the bookshelf of every designer.


A Dangerous Idea

This past Friday I attended Bolt | Peters' User Research Friday, and there were a couple of presentations I found interesting. For example, frogdesign's Associate Strategy Director Ben McAllister's talk based on his recent Atlantic Monthly article, "The 'Science' of Good Design: A Dangerous Idea." Evidently McAllister got some flak from folks who were saying he is anti-research or anti-science, when, in fact, he is a researcher but is anti-pseudo science - against designers or design researchers attempting to provide oomph to their argument by using scientific-sounding language about their research, as if Science is Certain. He refers to the mathematician William Byers' Science of Certainty, and the economist F. A. Hayek's term, Scientism - both dealing with the idea that science is not certain, it is an ever-evolving body of work moving toward certainty, with some ideas more certain than others, but nothing immutable.

The Dangerous Idea? That research can be used to provide easy answers. The talk covered a topic I often raise with my students - the idea of trying to persuade with scientific-sounding language rather than a courageous and well-argued rationale based on instinct that is well informed by solid research, iterative testing, and analysis.

McAllister starts with a cogent dissection of the word "strategy," which comes from the Greek "στρατός" (stratos), or army (that which is spread out) and "ἀγός" (agos), or leader. Strategy is, in other words, "leading that which is spread out." Leadership in the face of uncertainty, ambiguity.

Humans don't like uncertainty and ambiguity, so the impulse to find easy answers is a strong one. Without the uncertainty, however, there is no need for real leadership. What we're left with, McAllister says, is merely following directions. To provide true leadership, rather than easy answers, is to face the ambiguity. This is the act of courage required of the designer.

I made a LiveScribe "pencast" of the talk, which you can view here. Click on the handwritten notes to hear the presentation, and you can click anywhere (provided you can read my handwriting!) to skip to different parts of the talk:

Update: Nate Bolt has put this pencast along with Ben's slides up on the Bolt | Peters site, so you can listen to the pencast as you flip through the slides. Ben's slides are delightfully quirky, however, so I defy you to figure out exactly which slides, in some cases, go with which part of the talk. But you'll get the idea.