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Developing an Ethically-Aware Design Character 

THROUGH PROBLEM FRAMING
COLIN M. GRAY
Purdue University
CHARLES EAMES, 1969
FRAMING JUDGMENTS
“what is to be included within the purview of
the design process—in other words, what are
the ‘edges’ of the project and what lies
beyond consideration”
(Nelson & Stolterman, 2012)
FRAME CREATION MODEL
(Dorst, 2015, p.75)
DESIGN CHARACTER
“a designer’s
character is his
or her core.”
self-reflection
values, beliefs, skills,
sensibility, reason,
ethics, and aesthetics
design 

responsibility
how do
framing
judgments
serve as a
window into a
developing
designer’s
character?
—————————————Nelson & Stolterman, 2012—————————————
1. What types of constraints
appear to be most salient for
students when constructing a
problem frame?
2. How do these constraints, and
their ethical implications, relate
to the final solution?
PARTICIPANTS
• Undergraduate and graduate industrial design students at a
large Midwestern university
• 100 students (28 females and 71 males)
• Self-organized into 21 teams comprised of 4-5 students
• Students were convinced they already knew “everything”
about problem framing
analysis: 

5.33/7 [SD=0.93]
exploration: 

5.18/7 [SD=1.08]
defining: 

5.02/7 [SD=1.14]
FRAMING WORKSHOP
Create a solution that meets a basic need
in a developing region in Sub-Saharan
Africa, while improving or creating self-
sustaining economic activity.
UNDERSTAND &
DEVELOP CONTEXT
45 MINUTES
SYNTHESIZE &
FINALIZE
50 MINUTES
IDEATE &
ITERATE
50 MINUTES
“
”
WORKSHOP STRUCTURE
Œ
RESOURCES

DEBRIEF
STAKEHOLDERS
CONSTRAINTS
DEPLOYMENT
Œ
RESOURCES

DEBRIEF
Ž
INITIAL FRAME
STAKEHOLDERS
CONSTRAINTS
PROBLEM
STATEMENTDEPLOYMENT
WORKSHOP STRUCTURE

DEBRIEF
Ž
INITIAL FRAME

IDEATION
STAKEHOLDERS
CONSTRAINTS
PROBLEM
STATEMENTDEPLOYMENT
RE
WORKSHOP STRUCTURE
Ž
INITIAL FRAME

IDEATION
S
PROBLEM
STATEMENT

REFINED FRAME
PROBLEM
STATEMENT
WORKSHOP STRUCTURE
AME

IDEATION
M
NT
‘
RATIONALE
BIG PROBLEM
FRAME
CONCEPT

REFINED FRAME
PROBLEM
STATEMENT
WORKSHOP STRUCTURE
‘
RATIONALE
BIG PROBLEM
FRAME
CONCEPT

REFINED FRAME
PROBLEM
STATEMENT
WORKSHOP STRUCTURE
ANALYSIS: FRAME CRITERIA
• Stakeholders: locals (10); government (9);
designers/developers (7); companies (7); local
organizations/businesses (5); families (4)
• Constraints: cost (13); resources (10); culture (7);
education (7); location (7); infrastructure (6)
• Deployment: airdrop (4); external donors (3);
charity programs (2); companies (2)
ANALYSIS: PROBLEMS
Comparison of initial and final problem statements and semantic
differentials along with the final elevator pitch
PROBLEM EXPLORATION WORKSHOP
YOUR TAKE ON THE PROBLEM
Fill out the semantic differential with two different criteria to talk about different types of problems
that you might want to solve. Identify and name a few points on each graph to describe different
use cases or priorities.
FILL OUT YOUR TEAM’S PROBLEM STATEMENT
needs to be able to
when/where
3
USER OR STAKEHOLDER
NEED YOU ARE ADDRESSING
WHEN/WHERE THE SOLUTION WOULD BE USED
PROBLEM EXPLORATION WORKSHOP
DOES IT SOLVE THE PROBLEM?
While looking at the concept clusters you chose, fill out the semantic differential with two different
criteria that represent issues that are important to the success of your solution. Locate each cluster
within the semantic differential, and then chose a final concept (or modification/combination of a
concept) that best addresses the problem.
FILL OUT YOUR FINAL PROBLEM STATEMENT
needs to be able to
when/where
6
USER OR STAKEHOLDER
NEED YOU ARE ADDRESSING
WHEN/WHERE THE SOLUTION WOULD BE USED
PROBLEM EXPLORATION WORKSHOP
MAKE YOUR FINAL PITCH
Draw out your final concept, with a description and/or annotations.
Create a one-minute “elevator pitch” for your concept that you could give to a person not famil-
iar with the problem. This pitch should include the following elements: 1) a brief description of the
big problem (10 seconds); 2) the specific problem your team addressed (20 seconds); and 3) your
team’s concept, and how it contributes to solving the larger problem (30 seconds). Write out the
main points for each section below, and practice giving the pitch to each other.
1
2
3
7
INITIAL AND REFINED 

FRAMING CRITERIA
Team Initial Framing Criteria Refined Framing Criteria
M4 Education v. Income Community v. Sustainability
M5 Cost v. Volume/Accessibility Technology level v. Innovation
M9 Tangible Product v. Internally developed Consumer operated v. Uninvasive/invasive to culture
M10 Cost v. Complexity Feasibility v. Sustainability
M11 Population size v. Age Population size v. Age
M13 Aesthetic v. Cost Filtration v. Size
A1 Manufacturing (difficult to easy) v. Distributing Maintenance v. Ease of use
A4 Cost v. Durability Cost (low to high) v. Durability
A9 Filtration (-/+) v. Bountiful water (-/+) Cost (-/+) v. Automation (-/+)
A10 Rural v. Family Life Impact (lo/hi) v. Self-sustaining
A11 Technology v. Cost Labor v. Cost
CASE:
Improving Maintenance of Water Filtration Systems
CASE:
Improving Maintenance of Water Filtration Systems
1. Internally developed v. tangible product
“Local, small business owner (in any area w/ weak
infrastructure/poor water quality) needs to be able to
provide a water purifying system made with regional
materials & maintenance service to evaluate & test the
effectiveness of the system to be used/maintained for
household & small group use but located in the vicinity of
the community well.” [bold text provided on worksheet]
CASE:
Improving Maintenance of Water Filtration Systems
1. Internally developed v. tangible product
“Local, small business owner (in any area w/ weak
infrastructure/poor water quality) needs to be able to
provide a water purifying system made with regional
materials & maintenance service to evaluate & test the
effectiveness of the system to be used/maintained for
household & small group use but located in the vicinity of
the community well.” [bold text provided on worksheet]
CASE:
Improving Maintenance of Water Filtration Systems
2. Consumer operated v. uninvasive to culture
“Water filtration technitions with a small business located
near a well/area w/ poor water quality need to be able
to manage/test/maintain the water filtration system
without being culturally invasive when/where there are
communities w/ a regional water source that is in need of
water management.” [bold text provided on worksheet]
CASE:
Improving Maintenance of Water Filtration Systems
2. Consumer operated v. uninvasive to culture
“Water filtration technitions with a small business located
near a well/area w/ poor water quality need to be able
to manage/test/maintain the water filtration system
without being culturally invasive when/where there are
communities w/ a regional water source that is in need of
water management.” [bold text provided on worksheet]
Big problem Specific problem Concept contribution
Water filtration systems in
sub-saharan Africa are not
well maintained
Lack of technical
knowledge/skills, as well as
materials, are factors that
contribute to ill maintained
community water sources
Local small business
technicians install and
maintain underground
pump filters next to
communities/existing wells
DISCUSSION
Problem framing provides access to designers’
assumptions about the end user and context
ETHICAL
CHARACTER
TRAVERSAL OF 

THE SPACE ARTICULATES
DISCUSSION
STUDENTS’ ETHICAL AWARENESS GREW
• complexity apparent in the debrief
• but altered (often in a Eurocentric way) when the students
moved to their initial problem statement
STUDENTS’ FRAMING ABILITY GREW
analysis: 

5.33/7 [SD=0.93]

5.40/7 [SD=1.02]
exploration: 

5.18/7 [SD=1.08]

5.41/7 [SD=1.14]
defining: 

5.02/7 [SD=1.14]

5.23/7 [SD=1.24]
DISCUSSION
BUT THIS AWARENESS (GENERALLY) DID NOT RESULT IN
REGIONALLY APPROPRIATE SOLUTIONS
• difficult for students to position take with their target user
• inability for students to embrace the ethical complexity of
their role in providing a solution for developing nations
• distancing between students’ own experiences and that of
the users for which they were designing
CONCLUSION & FUTURE WORK
• We have limited ability to view the ethical development of
individuals, only on the team level
• It appears that students thought they already knew how to
engage in problem framing, but realized in working through
the problem the limits of their abilities (flat pre/post)
• Need to encourage ethical development in a systemic
way throughout design curricula, allowing students to
understand the ways in which their normative
commitments affect and shape their design process
THANK YOU
COLIN M. GRAY
Purdue University
This research is funded in part by the National Science Foundation, Division of Undergraduate Education,
Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (TUES Type II)
Grants # 1323251 and #1322552. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this
paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
COLINGRAY.ME

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Developing an Ethically-Aware Design Character through Problem Framing

  • 1. Developing an Ethically-Aware Design Character 
 THROUGH PROBLEM FRAMING COLIN M. GRAY Purdue University
  • 3. FRAMING JUDGMENTS “what is to be included within the purview of the design process—in other words, what are the ‘edges’ of the project and what lies beyond consideration” (Nelson & Stolterman, 2012)
  • 5. DESIGN CHARACTER “a designer’s character is his or her core.” self-reflection values, beliefs, skills, sensibility, reason, ethics, and aesthetics design 
 responsibility how do framing judgments serve as a window into a developing designer’s character? —————————————Nelson & Stolterman, 2012—————————————
  • 6. 1. What types of constraints appear to be most salient for students when constructing a problem frame? 2. How do these constraints, and their ethical implications, relate to the final solution?
  • 7. PARTICIPANTS • Undergraduate and graduate industrial design students at a large Midwestern university • 100 students (28 females and 71 males) • Self-organized into 21 teams comprised of 4-5 students • Students were convinced they already knew “everything” about problem framing analysis: 
 5.33/7 [SD=0.93] exploration: 
 5.18/7 [SD=1.08] defining: 
 5.02/7 [SD=1.14]
  • 8. FRAMING WORKSHOP Create a solution that meets a basic need in a developing region in Sub-Saharan Africa, while improving or creating self- sustaining economic activity. UNDERSTAND & DEVELOP CONTEXT 45 MINUTES SYNTHESIZE & FINALIZE 50 MINUTES IDEATE & ITERATE 50 MINUTES “ ”
  • 15. ANALYSIS: FRAME CRITERIA • Stakeholders: locals (10); government (9); designers/developers (7); companies (7); local organizations/businesses (5); families (4) • Constraints: cost (13); resources (10); culture (7); education (7); location (7); infrastructure (6) • Deployment: airdrop (4); external donors (3); charity programs (2); companies (2)
  • 16. ANALYSIS: PROBLEMS Comparison of initial and final problem statements and semantic differentials along with the final elevator pitch PROBLEM EXPLORATION WORKSHOP YOUR TAKE ON THE PROBLEM Fill out the semantic differential with two different criteria to talk about different types of problems that you might want to solve. Identify and name a few points on each graph to describe different use cases or priorities. FILL OUT YOUR TEAM’S PROBLEM STATEMENT needs to be able to when/where 3 USER OR STAKEHOLDER NEED YOU ARE ADDRESSING WHEN/WHERE THE SOLUTION WOULD BE USED PROBLEM EXPLORATION WORKSHOP DOES IT SOLVE THE PROBLEM? While looking at the concept clusters you chose, fill out the semantic differential with two different criteria that represent issues that are important to the success of your solution. Locate each cluster within the semantic differential, and then chose a final concept (or modification/combination of a concept) that best addresses the problem. FILL OUT YOUR FINAL PROBLEM STATEMENT needs to be able to when/where 6 USER OR STAKEHOLDER NEED YOU ARE ADDRESSING WHEN/WHERE THE SOLUTION WOULD BE USED PROBLEM EXPLORATION WORKSHOP MAKE YOUR FINAL PITCH Draw out your final concept, with a description and/or annotations. Create a one-minute “elevator pitch” for your concept that you could give to a person not famil- iar with the problem. This pitch should include the following elements: 1) a brief description of the big problem (10 seconds); 2) the specific problem your team addressed (20 seconds); and 3) your team’s concept, and how it contributes to solving the larger problem (30 seconds). Write out the main points for each section below, and practice giving the pitch to each other. 1 2 3 7
  • 17. INITIAL AND REFINED 
 FRAMING CRITERIA Team Initial Framing Criteria Refined Framing Criteria M4 Education v. Income Community v. Sustainability M5 Cost v. Volume/Accessibility Technology level v. Innovation M9 Tangible Product v. Internally developed Consumer operated v. Uninvasive/invasive to culture M10 Cost v. Complexity Feasibility v. Sustainability M11 Population size v. Age Population size v. Age M13 Aesthetic v. Cost Filtration v. Size A1 Manufacturing (difficult to easy) v. Distributing Maintenance v. Ease of use A4 Cost v. Durability Cost (low to high) v. Durability A9 Filtration (-/+) v. Bountiful water (-/+) Cost (-/+) v. Automation (-/+) A10 Rural v. Family Life Impact (lo/hi) v. Self-sustaining A11 Technology v. Cost Labor v. Cost
  • 18. CASE: Improving Maintenance of Water Filtration Systems
  • 19. CASE: Improving Maintenance of Water Filtration Systems 1. Internally developed v. tangible product “Local, small business owner (in any area w/ weak infrastructure/poor water quality) needs to be able to provide a water purifying system made with regional materials & maintenance service to evaluate & test the effectiveness of the system to be used/maintained for household & small group use but located in the vicinity of the community well.” [bold text provided on worksheet]
  • 20. CASE: Improving Maintenance of Water Filtration Systems 1. Internally developed v. tangible product “Local, small business owner (in any area w/ weak infrastructure/poor water quality) needs to be able to provide a water purifying system made with regional materials & maintenance service to evaluate & test the effectiveness of the system to be used/maintained for household & small group use but located in the vicinity of the community well.” [bold text provided on worksheet]
  • 21. CASE: Improving Maintenance of Water Filtration Systems 2. Consumer operated v. uninvasive to culture “Water filtration technitions with a small business located near a well/area w/ poor water quality need to be able to manage/test/maintain the water filtration system without being culturally invasive when/where there are communities w/ a regional water source that is in need of water management.” [bold text provided on worksheet]
  • 22. CASE: Improving Maintenance of Water Filtration Systems 2. Consumer operated v. uninvasive to culture “Water filtration technitions with a small business located near a well/area w/ poor water quality need to be able to manage/test/maintain the water filtration system without being culturally invasive when/where there are communities w/ a regional water source that is in need of water management.” [bold text provided on worksheet]
  • 23. Big problem Specific problem Concept contribution Water filtration systems in sub-saharan Africa are not well maintained Lack of technical knowledge/skills, as well as materials, are factors that contribute to ill maintained community water sources Local small business technicians install and maintain underground pump filters next to communities/existing wells
  • 24. DISCUSSION Problem framing provides access to designers’ assumptions about the end user and context ETHICAL CHARACTER TRAVERSAL OF 
 THE SPACE ARTICULATES
  • 25. DISCUSSION STUDENTS’ ETHICAL AWARENESS GREW • complexity apparent in the debrief • but altered (often in a Eurocentric way) when the students moved to their initial problem statement STUDENTS’ FRAMING ABILITY GREW analysis: 
 5.33/7 [SD=0.93]
 5.40/7 [SD=1.02] exploration: 
 5.18/7 [SD=1.08]
 5.41/7 [SD=1.14] defining: 
 5.02/7 [SD=1.14]
 5.23/7 [SD=1.24]
  • 26. DISCUSSION BUT THIS AWARENESS (GENERALLY) DID NOT RESULT IN REGIONALLY APPROPRIATE SOLUTIONS • difficult for students to position take with their target user • inability for students to embrace the ethical complexity of their role in providing a solution for developing nations • distancing between students’ own experiences and that of the users for which they were designing
  • 27. CONCLUSION & FUTURE WORK • We have limited ability to view the ethical development of individuals, only on the team level • It appears that students thought they already knew how to engage in problem framing, but realized in working through the problem the limits of their abilities (flat pre/post) • Need to encourage ethical development in a systemic way throughout design curricula, allowing students to understand the ways in which their normative commitments affect and shape their design process
  • 28. THANK YOU COLIN M. GRAY Purdue University This research is funded in part by the National Science Foundation, Division of Undergraduate Education, Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (TUES Type II) Grants # 1323251 and #1322552. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. COLINGRAY.ME