All posts about
Design research

Christopher Alexander’s Battle for Beauty in a World Turning Ugly: The Inception of a Science of Architecture?

Patterns from the physical world finding its way into the virtual one. Still relevant and urgent, after all these decades.

“Christopher Alexander has been a leading pioneer of academic research on architectural and urban design since the early 1960s. He is also a practicing architect and builder with a passion for creating and restoring life and beauty to our physical environment. In this essay I review, evaluate, and reflect on some of his particularly fruitful, promising, or problematic ideas. I will put forth some ideas of my own for clarification, and to indicate avenues for future research. I argue that Alexander’s notion of patterns (a verbal medium for capturing and conveying design knowledge in a systematic, reusable form) is in need of conceptual development along lines I suggest, even though Alexander downplayed the significance of patterns as he moved on to other theoretical ideas (mainly about aesthetics) later in his career. While I go into some detail about selected parts of Alexander’s work, the intended readership of this essay is not restricted to specialists. I have made an effort to provide guidance and background information to readers not already familiar with Alexander’s comprehensive body of theory.”

Per Galle a.k.a. /per-galle ~ She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation 6.3

Designing Behaviour Change: A Behavioural Problem/Solution Matrix

Human behaviour as a new design focus after design for human experience.

“Behavioural design has emerged as a critical new area of research and practice. However, despite the development of extensive lists of possible problem features and suggested solution principles there is little guidance on how these should be connected. Therefore, in this work we systematically examine interactions between major problem features and solution principles, based on an analysis of 218 behavioural design interventions drawn from 139 cases across design domains and foci. This forms the basis for a number of contributions. First, we bring together behavioural and designerly perspectives on problem characterisation via two proposed problem features: change demand and behavioural constraint, related in a two-by-two framework. Second, we synthesised recommendations from across domains and foci to operationalise a list of 23 solution principles relevant to designers. Third, we link these insights in a proposed Behavioural Problem/Solution (BPS) matrix. Further, we identify a number of potential systemic challenges in the reporting and evidencing of behavioural design interventions. Together, these insights substantially extend both theory and practice surrounding problem-solution mapping in behavioural design, and form a foundation for further theory development and synthesis in this area.”

Philip Cash, Pramod Khadilkar, Joanna Jensen, Camilla Dusterdich, and RuthMugge ~ International Journal of Design 14.2

Design Inquiry Through Data

From the caves of design research.

“The emergence of the internet and subsequent massive data collection and storage is creating vast opportunities for design research and practice. In this dissertation, we investigate the interrelationship between design and data science practices and explore data as a new creative lens for design inquiry. While digital data has been increasingly used by designers, such as using A/B testing to drive design decisions for internet products, data has been less explored as a resource for inquiry about the world. Despite how data-connected artifacts increasingly facilitate human interactions, designers’ repertoire still primarily relies on practices established for inquiring in the physical world. The current industry practice of integrating data scientists into the design team is neither affordable nor feasible to apply across the vast majority of contexts and cases where design operates. To address these problems, in this dissertation, we aim to deepen the theoretical and practical knowledge on the intersection of design and data science, and to develop methodological contributions to support future data-rich design practices. The main research question we pursue in this dissertation is ‘How can designers integrate data practices into design inquiry?’ We address this question through conducting a Research-through-Design program to gain, on the one hand, a better understanding of how the fields of design and data science intersect, and on the other hand, to develop methodological contributions for future data-rich design practices. The resulting conceptual framework of Design Inquiry Through Data has been constructed throughout a series of empirical studies in which data-rich design practices are studied. For each study, practical data methods and techniques have been curated and/or developed.”

Peter Kun a.k.a. /peterkun | @kuniiii ~ TU Delft Repositories

Educating the Designer of 2025

Some much needed insights on design education (in this special issue).

“​I am not inclined, for several reasons, to believe there are straightforward goals for educators seeking to shape the designer of 2025. The embedded assumption that there are broad similarities among designers is my first worry. I don’t just believe that differences are inevitable—I believe in the value of diversity in individual experience and individual points of view. I see thinking through making as vital in my little corner of design, and as valuable resource for educators in general. Thinking through making—once a common way of approaching the world—has largely disappeared, but art and design programs would do well to preserve this important approach. (…) To some extent, the popularity of design thinking has demonstrated the value of a variety of thinking through making. Much of the conversation around design thinking assumes that the future of design is in the tackling of larger, more complex, and often immaterial tasks. While I embrace that, I wonder whether moves toward larger, more complex, often immaterial projects as the center of undergraduate training undermines the learning of the sort of skills we hope designers have.”

Gunnar Swanson a.k.a. /gunnarswanson ~ She Ji 6.1

Changing Design Education for the 21st Century

Deep thinking on (design) education (not training!) in combination with a practical implementation.

“​Designers are entrusted with increasingly complex and impactful challenges. However, the current system of design education does not always prepare students for these challenges. Designers are moving into new areas, many of which require management, social, technological, and political skills never before thought of as the responsibility of design. Not only has technology increased and changed dramatically in recent decades, but society has become more and more concerned with weighty global issues, such as hunger, health, education. Design skills for developing creative solutions to complex problems are becoming more and more essential. Businesses are starting to recognize that designers bring something special to the work—a rational belief based upon numerous studies that link business success to a design-driven approach. These are all powerful opportunities, yet we are not always training our students appropriately.”

Donald A. Norman and Michael W. Meyer ~ jnd.org courtesy of marcovanhout

Histories and futures of research through design: From prototypes to connected things

Or how information (not data) drives design and research.

“​This article discusses how the artifact of Research through Design (RtD) is changing due to data technology. The article firstly reviews the character and role of the prototype in RtD traditions informed by practices of skillful crafting and industrial design manufacturing. It then describes the move of RtD to data-enabled practices to offer a conceptualization of artifacts as connected things, that is, decentralized objects that actively collapse the division between design participation, user interaction and the creation and distribution of products and services. By considering connected things as capable of ‘making’ things too, the article positions the changing character and role of the RtD artifact in relation to three key shifts in design practice: (1) the agential shift towards the inclusion of things as partners in design, (2) the temporal shift towards always available opportunities for co-creation, and (3) the infrastructural shift towards unstable forms of value. The article concludes with a discussion on the implications of these changes for how knowledge might be generated, critiqued and shared in future data-enabled RtD practice.”

Elisa Giaccardi a.k.a. /elisagiaccardi | @elisagiaccardi ~ International Journal of Design 13.3 courtesy of @g_ferri

The State of UX Research

UX Research is definitely different from UX Design.

“​I have been a UX researcher for 25 years. I did not come up through the usual degree programs available at the time, such as cognitive psychology and human factors. Rather, I came to the field from technical communication, seeing that there was a role for technical communicators to play in advocating for the user and promoting usability testing to understand the user experience, even if it meant conducting stealth testing on the documentation at the end of the product development cycle.”

Carol Barnum ~ Journal of Usability Studies 15.1

Introduction to speculative design practice

Always good to know the relevant backgrounders.

“​The relation between design and art (and other related disciplines) can be observed in several stages, i.e. from the high modernist synthesis of applied arts, visual arts and design in the 1950s, to the scientification of design throughout the 1960s and the emphasis on its rationality and the postmodernist position in which it is once again positioned at the centre of the interrelations of various disciplines, no longer through a complete synthesis, but, above all, through their interaction.”

Ivica Mitrović

The eight pillars of user research

Noticing a lot of overlaps and omissions regarding all things user, field and design research.

“​These eight pillars are the broad areas of User Research. Underneath these pillars sit groups of things that User Researchers or ‘people who do research’ (PWDR) are concerned with. Many of these things are challenges to operationalising research.”

Emma Boulton a.k.a. /emmalouiseboulton | @emmaboulton

Data-driven design: Gathering data for your design project

Getting quantitative insights into your design decisions.

“​This is not the millionth article that will tell you to base your UX decisions on an obscure combination of metrics. Data-driven can be taken quite literally: using real data in the design process from start to finish. This is an overview of where we are now and what lies ahead.”

Peter Vermaercke a.k.a. /petervermaercke | @pvermaer

Five scales to measure customer satisfaction

Fitting qualities into numbers is like fitting squares into circles.

“​Somewhat confusingly, satisfaction scales also have a subgroup called satisfaction scales. I’ve broken this group into three further subgroups (unipolar rating scales, unipolar thermometers, and bipolar rating scales) as some research suggests that they have different reliability and discriminating characteristics. That gives us five common ways you’ll see satisfaction measured, with some notes about how particular scales have performed in published research.”

Jeff Sauro a.k.a. /jeffsauro | @MeasuringU ~ MeasuringU

A new model for the design thinking process

Design thinking process in many variations.

“​One way to frame the relationship between these two is that design properties describe the foundational structures on which design principles are hung. Or to use an analogy, properties are the basic rules of chess (how the board is set up, how the pieces move, etc.), and principles are the various strategies, play styles, and schools of thought.”

Yosef Shuman a.k.a. /yosefshuman | @aleafinwater ~ YosefsHuman.com courtesy of @peterboersma

Simultaneous triangulation: Mixing user research & data science methods

Using DataSci (quant) to get meaning out of UsrRes (qual).

“Simultaneous triangulation is an incredibly powerful tool to generate comprehensive and verified findings. If you only use one method, you could end up with blindspots. If you employ methods sequentially rather than simultaneously, you could run into unexplainable contradictions, like we did at first. The solution is simultaneous triangulation. Next time you have a complex research question, consider using the three-step process to mitigate blindspots and turn discrepancies in learning opportunities.”

Colette Kolenda and Kristie Savage ~ Spotify Design

Writing as a design discipline: The Information Department of the Ulm School of Design and its impact on the school and beyond

Life is full of connections, to be made and to be found.

“At the Ulm School of Design (1953-1968), there was a promising approach to teaching visual as well as verbal communication. Although it took place in separate departments, this pioneering approach attempted to integrate form and content, theory and practice. From the school’s inception, the Information Department was established alongside the Departments of Visual Communication, Product Design and Building: writing was considered a discipline on a par with two- and three-dimensional design. While the Department of Visual Communication flourished, however, the Information Department languished, not least as a result of the school’s policy and staff conflicts. A closer look at the HfG’s history nevertheless reveals the Information Department’s overall importance to the school’s self-conception and attitude. Beyond its relevance for design history, this might also contribute to the discussion of a greater emphasis on verbal and writing competence in present day design education.”

David Oswald and Christiane Wachsmann ~ A/I/S/Design

An interdiscipline emerges: Pathways to Systemic Design

From system design, to systematic design and systemic design.

“In this theme issue of She Ji, we present work from the Sixth Relating Systems Thinking and Design Symposium (RSD6) in Oslo. The emerging field of systemic design has expanded to engage with increasingly important societal issues ranging from housing and quality of life in cities, to foreign policy, immigration, and cultural development, as well as our environments and ecologies. (…) The guest-editors have co-edited a number of works in the past. We normally agree enough to co-create a shared vision for the overall thrust of the publication. But this time, we found ourselves in fruitful argument about the issues of interest or concern posed by nearly every article, which demonstrates the compelling discursive value of the ideas. The viewpoint articles in particular raised a number of micro-arguments between us. Our discussion follows, revealing the distinctions arising from each of these thoughtful essays.”

Birger Sevaldson and Peter Jones ~ She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation Volume 5, Issue 2

Teach Slower to Teach Better

But what’s the speed of learning and how to speed it up?

“Over the last decade, as a rejection to a tired model of higher education, new educational programs and structures have emerged. Many of these are in the fields of design, digital product development, and programming. The new models of education take many forms. Some are short day-long or week-long workshops. Some are meetups and brownbags. Some are online, some offline, and some hybrid. What connects many of these models is their immediate vocational emphasis. The majority intend to train practitioners, not academics. The focus is on preparing people to do design and get jobs. (…) We need educational innovation, but not at the expense of quality. Students need the space to develop problem solving strategies. Speed is not in our favor here. Let’s all slow down.”

Jon Kolko a.k.a /jkolko | @jkolko ~ modernist studio

Researcher introspection for experience-driven design research

Like with second order cybernetics, the role of the researcher in the researched system is essential.

“We challenge the unquestioning pursuit of the appearance of objectivity and ingrained designer-user dualism in human-centred design research and propose a resurrection of introspection as a valid approach to investigating subjective experiences. Through comparing epistemic perspectives and reviewing the histories of introspection in several disciplines, we liberate the research field of experience-driven design from a long-lasting doubt about and the disguised and unsystematic use of this method. To establish a foundation for the further development of introspective methods, we focus on its most controversial type (i.e. researcher introspection) and discuss its strengths and weaknesses, preconditions of use, diverse ways to practise for different suitable experience-driven design research purposes, and useful techniques and tools.”

Haian Xue and Pieter M.A.Desmet ~ Design Studies Volume 63

A novel technique for A/B testing using static prototypes

Fortunately, life is not as binary as you think.

“A/B testing is a powerful technique for evaluating the success of a specific design element, but it is not yet widely adopted among library user experience professionals. Many libraries cannot or choose not to do A/B testing on a live website for a variety of practical reasons. Appalachian State University Libraries recently piloted a variety of A/B testing that has the potential to address some of these shortcomings: a Qualtrics survey of tasks carried out on static prototype websites embedded into the survey as inline frames. The technique allowed us to capture qualitative data in the form of survey questions and link it to quantitative server data typical in live A/B tests. Prototype A/B testing allowed us to reap the benefits of A/B testing without needing to modify a production server environment. Based on our findings from a large sample of undergraduate and graduate students, we were able to justify a post-migration design choice.”

Scott Goldstein ~ Journal of Library User Experience 2.1

Agile research

Agile eats research, design and evaluation for (fast food) breakfast.

“In this paper we ask: “How might we take the ideas, the methods and the underlying philosophy behind agile software development and explore applying them in the context of doing research — even research that does not involve software development?” We look at some examples of agile research methods and think about how they might inspire the design of even better methods. We also try to address some potential criticisms of an approach that aims to minimize a need for Big Design Up Front by developing tighter iteration cycles, coupled with reflection and learning as part of a process for doing research.”

Michael Twidale and Preben Hansen ~ FirstMonday 24.1