Design Research as a Design Problem

I had an impromptu conversation with the indomitable Chad Camara the other day that left a mind bomb in my head. Well, not a mind bomb, per se, because he didn’t leave the thought and let it go off later, but rather was blunt about his point and it stuck with me. In any case, I thought I’d blog about it.

You see, Chad made the most excellent point that I am doing something out of the ordinary for design research. While doing my capstone, which is a research-themed capstone, and therefore is termed as design research, I have recognized I have two levels of users:

  1. Designers
  2. End users (i.e. the designer’s users)

I realized this for a number of reasons. I had an inkling about this from the start, which helped my preliminary research. As mentioned in a previous post, I unveiled the first draft of my design theory to members of my cohort and quickly realized it wasn’t tailored to them, but their supposed users. Since then, I have been careful to conduct end user interviews to help build my design guidelines while always keeping my user in mind, the designer. As mentioned previously, I want to create an infographic which brings relevance, meaning, a convincing argument to designers to use my design guidelines.

Bridging the Gap

This brings me back to Chad’s point: the method in which I am conducting my design research is helping bridge the gap between design academics and design practitioners. Typically, a design academic will do research about end users and artifacts, determine a theory, and present it to design practitioners as-is, believing the research will do the convincing.

This, as I’m sure we can all guess, rarely works with practitioners. Why? Because the design theory hasn’t been put into context. The theory isn’t meant to be digested and used by practitioners in a practical way, as a practitioner might expect. At least, that’s how it seems to me. The way my method differs from this traditional method of design academic -> design practitioner is that I recognize it isn’t a one-way street from academy to practice.

Designing Design Research

In fact,  I’m treating my research as if it were a design problem itself. I am treating my design guidelines/framework as if it were an artifact where I need to keep my user (design practitioners) in mind if I want them to use it. And I do. I think it’s so important that we, as design practitioners and academics, look at how we can empower our users to make artifacts their own. If I want design practitioners to take my guidelines seriously, it is imperative that I consider them as I create my guidelines. I need to design for my user.

This seems like common sense to me. If I’m going to design for my user, I’d like to bring my user in for “testing” to make sure I’m on the right track. This isn’t the case, however, with much of design research. It seems rare to me, and to Chad obviously, that design academics bring design practitioners in to poke holes in their theories.

I want designers to poke holes in my theory. I’d rather they do it now, while I’m in the midst of forming it. This way, I have a solid idea, rather than later, when I’m presenting to my cohort before graduation and look foolish for having not considered X, Y, or Z.

Again, this seems obvious to me. I am glad Chad reminded me that the obvious, the common sense, the everyday, is more often than not anything but for anyone who isn’t privy to the ever-churning thoughts in my head.

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