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WHAT IS THE
NATURE AND
INTENDED USE
OF DESIGN METHODS?
COLIN M. GRAY | Purdue University
courtesy of Juhan Sonin: https://www.flickr.com/photos/juhansonin/7797009214
What are design methods in their essence?
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?
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)
ACADEMIA PRACTICE
ACADEMIA PRACTICE
methods are
attached to
assumptions of
holism and 

scientific rigor
methods reflect
a desire for 

generative and/
or instrumental

output
1970 2010s
Jones, 1992, p. 48
Design
Activity
ACADEMIA
less rigorous than
prescribed method
PRACTICE
reduced complexity
for ease of
communication
(see Gray, Stolterman, & Siegel, 2014)
“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
THE ARGUMENT:
IN THREE PARTS
THE ARGUMENT:
IN THREE PARTS
PERFORMANCE1 PRESCRIPTION2
PRODUCTIVE TENSION3
THE ARGUMENT:
IN THREE PARTS
PERFORMANCE1 PRESCRIPTION2
PRODUCTIVE TENSION3
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
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?
METHOD = SHORTCUT
PERFORMANCE1
CONTROLLED BY A DESIGNER
SHAPED & DISTRIBUTED AMONG
STAKEHOLDERS
THE ARGUMENT:
IN THREE PARTS
PERFORMANCE1 PRESCRIPTION2
PRODUCTIVE TENSION3
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
PRESCRIPTION2example
INPUT

filter previously
collected data
AFFINITY DIAGRAMMING will…
OUTPUT

elucidating themes
and generating
insights
PRESCRIBED
ACTIVITY
through clustering
or sorting
METHOD = BLUEPRINT
PRESCRIPTION2
WITH AN IMPLICIT OR EXPLICIT
GUARANTEE OF RIGOR OR
LEGITIMACY
THE ARGUMENT:
IN THREE PARTS
PERFORMANCE1 PRESCRIPTION2
PRODUCTIVE TENSION3
PERFORMANCE PRESCRIPTION
as blueprint 

for activity
as shorthand 

for more 

complex activities
METHOD = SCRIPT
PRODUCTIVE TENSION3
DESIGNERLY TOOL FOR GETTING
WORK DONE, WITH AN IMPLIED
“CORE” OF DEFINED OR
POTENTIAL USE
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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What is the Nature and Intended Use of Design Methods?

  • 1. WHAT IS THE NATURE AND INTENDED USE OF DESIGN METHODS? COLIN M. GRAY | Purdue University
  • 2. courtesy of Juhan Sonin: https://www.flickr.com/photos/juhansonin/7797009214 What are design methods in their essence?
  • 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. 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)
  • 6. ACADEMIA PRACTICE methods are attached to assumptions of holism and 
 scientific rigor methods reflect a desire for 
 generative and/ or instrumental
 output
  • 9. Design Activity ACADEMIA less rigorous than prescribed method PRACTICE reduced complexity for ease of communication (see Gray, Stolterman, & Siegel, 2014)
  • 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
  • 12. THE ARGUMENT: IN THREE PARTS PERFORMANCE1 PRESCRIPTION2 PRODUCTIVE TENSION3
  • 13. THE ARGUMENT: IN THREE PARTS PERFORMANCE1 PRESCRIPTION2 PRODUCTIVE TENSION3
  • 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. 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. METHOD = SHORTCUT PERFORMANCE1 CONTROLLED BY A DESIGNER SHAPED & DISTRIBUTED AMONG STAKEHOLDERS
  • 17. THE ARGUMENT: IN THREE PARTS PERFORMANCE1 PRESCRIPTION2 PRODUCTIVE TENSION3
  • 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. PRESCRIPTION2example INPUT
 filter previously collected data AFFINITY DIAGRAMMING will… OUTPUT
 elucidating themes and generating insights PRESCRIBED ACTIVITY through clustering or sorting
  • 20. METHOD = BLUEPRINT PRESCRIPTION2 WITH AN IMPLICIT OR EXPLICIT GUARANTEE OF RIGOR OR LEGITIMACY
  • 21. THE ARGUMENT: IN THREE PARTS PERFORMANCE1 PRESCRIPTION2 PRODUCTIVE TENSION3
  • 22. PERFORMANCE PRESCRIPTION as blueprint 
 for activity as shorthand 
 for more 
 complex activities
  • 23. METHOD = SCRIPT PRODUCTIVE TENSION3 DESIGNERLY TOOL FOR GETTING WORK DONE, WITH AN IMPLIED “CORE” OF DEFINED OR POTENTIAL USE
  • 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