Design Investigation Method


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Design Investigation Method presented at SECAC 2013, Greensboro, NC. A simple research method that can be taught to beginning design students to strengthen their design solutions.

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Design Investigation Method

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  2. 2. In the book “Design Research: Methods and Perspectives” Brenda Laurel states (and these are excerpts): … designers who can harness the power of research will help design to become a more muscular discipline, acknowledging and utilizing its implicit power in explicit ways. … A designer who knows how to deploy formal research appropriately may introduce strong new currents into the ocean of possibility. Design has power; this has always been true.” This idea, that research can bring muscle to design, began to affect my graduate work as well as my teaching philosophy. I realized that, as a future teacher of graphic design, I wanted my students know this from their very first design class; for it to become part of their design DNA. I have been a graduate teaching assistant since I began my MFA program 2011, and I’ve had a lot of freedom with the curriculum, so I’ve used the classroom as a sort of laboratory to refine my ideas about research and design. 2
  3. 3. My challenge in the classroom became: How do you introduce the way of design thinking to beginning students? How do you inspire students to conduct thorough research? I wanted to challenge students to stay open to novel solutions, ones that bubble up from their investigations – somewhat unexpectedly -- instead of them jumping to conclusions. I wanted them to see graphic design as an interactive, functional product – that their work could change lives – and that it is not simply about decoration. Most of all, I wanted to create people who were first and foremost, “creative problem solvers” – regardless of their future professions. Today, I would like to present to you my current thesis, “The Design Investigation Method,” for your constructive feedback. The method emerged from my previous career in design and marketing, combined with what I was learning in graduate school, and evolved over several semesters as I interacted with beginning graphic design students and sought feedback from colleagues and mentors. 3
  4. 4. My career in museums as a designer provided me with an excellent environment to design and test, design and test, design and test – rapid prototyping. We could observe visitors as they interacted with our designs for exhibits, information and navigation, and then interview them on the spot. And our users were incredibly diverse in terms of age, experience, expectations, energy level and more. Computer example: I remember the difficulty we had during the mid-90’s introducing computers into the museum experience and the interesting ways we tried to solve those problems. Computers are ubiquitous in today’s environment, but they were quite novel to encounter in a museum exhibit 20 years ago. 4
  5. 5. Museums were also adopting a learner-centered method of delivering educational content. (And this is a diagram derived from Kolb’s Experiential Learning theory.) It honored what visitors already knew –either about a subject or simply life experience – and allowed them to map that onto the information we were giving them in their museum experience. Hopefully, it would challenge them, causing them to alter or even abandon what they already knew. It’s human-centered learning. When I began my graduate studies, I was surprised at how much of the material to which I was being introduced had been going on in museums for several decades. We were multi-disciplinary, pulling expertise from diverse sources. We were delivering human-centered design. We even had our own research community called “Visitor Behavior Studies.” So my design ideology was formed from an understanding of its impact on humans. 5
  6. 6. As I began teaching beginning graphic design students, I quickly realized that beginning graphic design students do not always grasp what constitutes a thorough investigation for a design project nor do they understand how it can inform and strengthen their design solutions. The Design Investigation Method is a simple heuristic that can be taught to beginning graphic design students to aid them in information gathering toward design direction or solution. 6
  7. 7. The Design Investigation Method consists of an iterative cycle of read, interview, observe, participate, and analyze. 7
  8. 8. It is prompted by the design brief or assignment, and it leads to a Design Direction. 8
  9. 9. The Design Investigation Method is situated within Design Thinking; through traditional and novel research methods, it focuses the design student on the needs of the user. It demands knowledge building and reinforces the activity of research as an indispensable aspect of designing for visual communications. And it positions the designer as a problem definer as well as a problem solver. 9
  10. 10. My experience in teaching this process and refining it over four semesters has resulted in increased (and lively) student engagement during the problem definition phase; heightened empathy of user needs; and an emphasis on solutions that solve problems rather than merely decorate. Students are also bringing new and unexpected voices into the process of design naturally through this method. Let’s go through each step of the method now… 10
  11. 11. I don’t discourage googling or wikipedia sources. I tell them those are ways to start, but to then think outside the net. What can you read that is unexpected? Unpredictable? Seemingly arbitrary? 11
  12. 12. Don’t forget to LISTEN! 12
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  16. 16. Document means this (see slide). Analyze means: • Review – refresh you mind: re-read the brief, your notes, review video and interviews.  Create an Observation/Analysis Chart: note what you saw, read, heard, etc. in one column, then explain what this might mean in the next column. Look for patterns in what people said, how they looked or acted, or in what you read. Study the semantics, the words, the comments that were made. Re-word them and see what happens. Look for metaphors or synonyms… or antonyms.  Concept maps – quickly map a concept that pops up in your thinking or discussions. Where does this lead? Does it give you new areas for research?  Quick sketches – you are artists, you are visual… sketch or diagrams ideas. Where does this lead?  Share/test ideas – run your idea or sketches past a colleague. What do they say? Where does it lead?  Repeat a step in the method = your analysis may lead you to repeat one or more of the steps in the DIM It’s during the analysis that the students gather lots of ideas (divergence) and begin to refine the ones that have potential (convergence). This is the iterative stage of the 16
  17. 17. method, and here is where questions will emerge. It’s also where a design direction should begin to emerge. I explain to them that they should be able to defend their design solutions by pointing to revelations made during the analysis stage. (Pause to change subject. Next slide begins objectives.) 16
  18. 18. Outcomes are important in education; therefore, I’ve established some objectives and some evaluative indicators to help me refine the DIM. The first objective is to increase student engagement with the problem definition phase of the graphic design process. I use an instructional method that is a mix of collaborative, learner-centered and inquiry-based learning. This is the plan I use to teach this method. I believe there are other ways to do it. I divide students into teams and instruct them on team etiquette – it’s a time we can talk about the diversity of the design field, about wicked problems and contemporary society, and the need for multi-disciplinary teams. No longer is one person to be able to do everything. In classroom discussions I encourage inquiry-based and learner-centered learning. “What if…” “And then what…” This is especially relevant with older students… 17
  19. 19. I determine the success of this objective by gauging student responses during classroom discussions and critiques, and during exit focus groups – I make quick notes during classroom discussions, then hold focus groups at the end of the project where we talk further about their responses. I take pictures of their notes and diagrams and study them later for clues to their understanding. I am also observing to see if students get into an iterative process where they return to the method to help them clarify and analyze their findings, and we discuss this during focus groups as well. 18
  20. 20. The next objective is to increase the emphasis on and the understanding of the users’ needs – to heighten the students’ empathy for their audience. In the classroom I present a diagram that illustrates the position of the designer as a negotiator of meaning – a partner with their audience, and we discuss how designer may determine the message’s content, form and media format, but the audience translates the message into meaning based on their personal experiences, their levels of attention and engagement and the channel through which they receive it. To underscore how differently we all read images and information… 19
  21. 21. …, we do an exercise where each student interprets an ambiguous image, then presents a quick rough to the class and explains why they did what they did. They quickly realize that everyone looks at images differently based on their backgrounds. I evaluate this objective by verbal responses during critique and by the ability of their final project to address the needs of the user. 20
  22. 22. The third objective is often the most difficult to achieve in terms of swaying the attitudes of students. Here is where I am going against everything they may have ever heard or understood about graphic design. Instead of doing something that looks good or is pretty or cool, seek first to solve the problem. If it happens that your final design looks good, then great! But it’s more important that the message is communicated clearly and concisely. I have been requiring the design of a set of pictograms, which usually results in a somewhat banal piece of visual communication, and the students tell me it’s a boring design project for such energetic research. But requiring pictograms takes language and the problems of semantics out of the equation; and GD1 students have not yet had typography. They are forced to work with what they know: shape, color, line, texture, space, in order to communicate. This objective is evaluated through the Critique and the finished product – craftsmanship, innovation, appropriateness for their audience, and professionalism. Critiques can be emotionally charged as students argue passionately for the validity of their images to communicate as they gaze out at a sea of wagging heads that suggest otherwise. 21
  23. 23. Collaborations – not group work. Each student’s participation is vital to the group’s success. Start as group, finish as individual. Final Project: a set of pictograms, but don’t indicate number or their application, such as digital or print or environmental Require professional presentations and a final written report. Brief is in writing…vague, but enough structure and clues to get them started. 22
  24. 24. What’s a persona?! Add also, the brief includes a Persona… 23
  25. 25. Explain what a persona is... … represents a group of people - solve the problem for your persona and you’ve solved it for many. It narrows the students research, and it gets them away from designing for themselves. Suddenly, they realize they DON”T know everything. … includes demographics, lifestyle characteristics, goals, values, education and skill levels including the technology they use and the level of comfort they have with it, health situation. …I usually assign 3 or 4 different persona, 1 for each team of 4 to 5 students. Give the class an understanding of diversity they will one day face in their design work. Some personas can use the computer, some can’t. Some are healthy, some aren’t. …Students refer to the persona by name “Margaret” instead of “user”. All solutions/decisions are scrutinized through Margret’s eyes, not the designer’s. This is Margaret Tischold, she’s 78 years old, she’s a widower, she drives a 2010 Nissan Altima, etc., and she has early signs of dementia. And every time I assign this persona I hear the students in her team saying things like, “Why is she even driving!” and then the next team meeting I hear them saying, “Did you know the state can’t revoke her license only her family…” 24
  26. 26. Here is where the DIM comes to bear. Students realize they’re got… … a human-centered, not graphic design centered problem. … a wicked problem … multiple problems and solutions, and when you solve one problem you create three more. … to focus on solutions as a way to define the problem … 25
  27. 27. a cycle of solutions and tests to better define the problem. And each team has to state the problem in writing. What have I found? … 26
  28. 28. When I’m evaluating the first objective, which is student engagement with the problem def stage, I’ve begun to notice what I consider an organic application of technology … students reach for devices during team meetings…to confirm or deny, reinforce their angle, etc. A lot of emphasis on how to integrate digital tech into the classroom. This seems to be doing it in some way. Maybe good for future research? During critique, students constantly refer to “she” and “him” – their personas. They explain their decisions as being based on the needs of their personas, and they ARE pointing back to what they discovered in their research… Why did you use primary colors? “Old people like primary colors…” And some students get it and enjoy it … 27
  29. 29. … while other don’t. And there seem to be two different “camps” for this. Camp 1 is that some people just don’t want to be problem solvers…want solution decided upon by someone else, they just execute the work. Camp 2 is that some have simply not made the leap from working as the lone, fine artist expressing herself to someone in the applied arts, working as a designer, mediator, problem solver for humanity. And then there’s the anomaly: students in GD1 aren’t on the graphic design track, which I forget about every semester it seems. Their concentration is photography or ceramics, but they are required to take GD1. But most students who are on the GD track are positive and say they’ll continue to use DIM… 28
  30. 30. Whereas most students grasp aspects of the method… “When I started this class, I thought graphic design was about ‘look good’ stuff. I realize it’s about human interaction.” -- Tyler, First Year Graphic Design Student “We started out in one direction, but the more research we did, we discovered there were important things missing, and that gave us a new direction. It changed what we thought the problem was in the beginning.” – Victoria “I realized that what I found when I goggled stuff was what people already knew. Doing the observations gave me new ideas that people hadn’t thought of yet.” --Niki 29
  31. 31. “We started out in one direction, but the more research we did, we discovered there were important things missing, and that gave us a new direction. It changed what we thought the problem was in the beginning.” – Victoria “I realized that what I found when I goggled stuff was what people already knew. Doing the observations gave me new ideas that people hadn’t thought of yet.” --Niki 30
  32. 32. Continuing with findings … Student enjoy the participations… visiting the sites and going thru the motions. They usually go as a team and it seems to bond them. It usually leads them to things like observations. They become animated during class as they re-live their participation. During focus groups, the students comment the most on what they learned from interviews and cite it as the one activity they wish they could have done more of. They have difficultly finding someone like their persona to interview. Students will voluntarily design beyond the final product. They draw maps of the environment and indicate where their pictograms would appear. They’ve designed beyond the pictograms creating entrance maps, floor graphics and street signs. They’ve developed diagrams to explain the motion their pictograms would make in digital applications such as websites and phone apps. I’ve only had a couple of students repeat one or more of the steps of the method. 31
  33. 33. Teaching students how to analyze their findings is difficult…need a way to do this and more time. Concept mapping, “what if…”, etc. They lack experience of listening, watching for patterns. But is this a problem at this point? Isn’t it about the DIM? Assign a project or let them determine? Assigning a project is like solving the problem for them. Some students show up with totally different idea, but mostly they are worried about their grade and stay within the parameter of the brief Group or individual and ways to manage the DIM within the group. Some students divide up tasks, others do it all. Those who do it all claim they get better solutions and better understand what the other people in their group are saying when they’re explaining their findings. How to get them to repeat the method to enrich their findings 32
  34. 34. I believe the Design Investigation Method is creating designers who are ready to be change agents rather than simply decorators; who realize that research brings muscle to design… 33
  35. 35. … who are eager to participate in the pre-design stages of a project; and who will bring change to the design profession and discipline. I know that’s what I’m trying to do. 34
  36. 36. See slides at 35