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What is the Nature and Intended Use of Design Methods?

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Interest in the codification and application of design methods is rapidly growing as businesses increasingly utilize “design thinking” approaches. However, in this uptake of design methods that encourage designerly action, the ontological status of design methods is often diffuse, with contradictory messages from practitioners and academics about the purpose and desired use of methods within a designer’s process. In this paper, I explore the paradoxical nature of design methods, arguing for a nuanced view that includes the (often) conflicting qualities of prescription and performance. A prescriptive view of methods is drawn from the specification of methods and their “proper” use in the academic literature, while a performative view focuses on in situ use in practice, describing how practitioners use methods to support their everyday work. The ontological characteristics and practical outcomes of each view of design methods are considered, concluding with productive tensions that juxtapose academia and practice.

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What is the Nature and Intended Use of Design Methods?

  1. 1. WHAT IS THE NATURE AND INTENDED USE OF DESIGN METHODS? COLIN M. GRAY | Purdue University
  2. 2. courtesy of Juhan Sonin: https://www.flickr.com/photos/juhansonin/7797009214 What are design methods in their essence?
  3. 3. courtesy of Juhan Sonin: https://www.flickr.com/photos/juhansonin/7797009214 what is the epistemology and ontology of methods? how does this knowledge relate to design activity? what knowledge does a design method contain? What are design methods in their essence?
  4. 4. THE PROPOSITION While methods themselves may act as reifications of explicit design activities, expressed in an objective or objective-like form, the objective description of a method is not equivalent to the enactment of, use of, or cognitive processing of that method in a performative sense. (p. 3)
  5. 5. ACADEMIA PRACTICE
  6. 6. ACADEMIA PRACTICE methods are attached to assumptions of holism and 
 scientific rigor methods reflect a desire for 
 generative and/ or instrumental
 output
  7. 7. 1970 2010s
  8. 8. Jones, 1992, p. 48
  9. 9. Design Activity ACADEMIA less rigorous than prescribed method PRACTICE reduced complexity for ease of communication (see Gray, Stolterman, & Siegel, 2014)
  10. 10. “ingredients” and “meals,” not “recipes” 
 (Woolrych et al., 2011) “designerly tools” 
 (Stolterman et al., 2008; Stolterman & Pierce, 2012) competence
 (Gray, 2014) Design Activity (see Gray, Stolterman, & Siegel, 2014) ACADEMIA less rigorous than prescribed method PRACTICE reduced complexity for ease of communication
  11. 11. THE ARGUMENT: IN THREE PARTS
  12. 12. THE ARGUMENT: IN THREE PARTS PERFORMANCE1 PRESCRIPTION2 PRODUCTIVE TENSION3
  13. 13. THE ARGUMENT: IN THREE PARTS PERFORMANCE1 PRESCRIPTION2 PRODUCTIVE TENSION3
  14. 14. PERFORMANCE1 1. In situ design activity 2. A next step is needed (e.g., a way to think differently, communicate, extend, collaborate) 3. A method is selected, created, or adapted based on its perceived salience to the design context (i.e., from a pastiche of lived experience and available or known tools) 4. A method, set of methods, or appropriation of method(s) is enacted or performed until its utility has been achieved or exhausted 5. The enactment or performance of a method (ideally) has some perceptible impact on the design situation (e.g., a new insight, validation of a previous hunch, raising consciousness of previously tacit ideas, realization a concept in a new form) 6. In situ design activity continues genericsequence
  15. 15. PERFORMANCE1 1. In situ design activity 2. A next step is needed (e.g., a way to think differently, communicate, extend, collaborate) 3. A method is selected, created, or adapted based on its perceived salience to the design context (i.e., from a pastiche of lived experience and available or known tools) 4. A method, set of methods, or appropriation of method(s) is enacted or performed until its utility has been achieved or exhausted 5. The enactment or performance of a method (ideally) has some perceptible impact on the design situation (e.g., a new insight, validation of a previous hunch, raising consciousness of previously tacit ideas, realization a concept in a new form) 6. In situ design activity continues genericsequence which method? how to apply the method in a unique context? when does the method conclude? 
 and to what end?
  16. 16. METHOD = SHORTCUT PERFORMANCE1 CONTROLLED BY A DESIGNER SHAPED & DISTRIBUTED AMONG STAKEHOLDERS
  17. 17. THE ARGUMENT: IN THREE PARTS PERFORMANCE1 PRESCRIPTION2 PRODUCTIVE TENSION3
  18. 18. PRESCRIPTION2 INPUT
 from previous design or research METHOD NAME OUTPUT
 that feed into future design moves PRESCRIBED ACTIVITY steps or actions to be performed representationalstructure
  19. 19. PRESCRIPTION2example INPUT
 filter previously collected data AFFINITY DIAGRAMMING will… OUTPUT
 elucidating themes and generating insights PRESCRIBED ACTIVITY through clustering or sorting
  20. 20. METHOD = BLUEPRINT PRESCRIPTION2 WITH AN IMPLICIT OR EXPLICIT GUARANTEE OF RIGOR OR LEGITIMACY
  21. 21. THE ARGUMENT: IN THREE PARTS PERFORMANCE1 PRESCRIPTION2 PRODUCTIVE TENSION3
  22. 22. PERFORMANCE PRESCRIPTION as blueprint 
 for activity as shorthand 
 for more 
 complex activities
  23. 23. METHOD = SCRIPT PRODUCTIVE TENSION3 DESIGNERLY TOOL FOR GETTING WORK DONE, WITH AN IMPLIED “CORE” OF DEFINED OR POTENTIAL USE
  24. 24. THANK YOU Portions of this work are supported by National Science Foundation (NSF) Grant Award No. #1115532. My sincere thanks to Erik Stolterman and Elizabeth Boling. COLINGRAY.ME

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