Thursday, September 3, 2009

Some thought questions for Sept 9

The topics of this week are "design knowledge" and "investigating design".

Getting a landscape view: Niedderer provides a short overview of the ways people talk about knowledge and Dorst & Lawson provide an expansive picture of the ways we understand design and designing. If we connect the two - how can they help us understand the nature of design knowledge (feel free to connect to your own experiences as well)?

Exploring methodologies before we read design studies: Craig provides an overview of common ways people have studied designers and designing; Matthews provides a more recent perspective (particularly, language and interaction). What are the many ways people study designers and designing, and what are their relative strengths and weaknesses? Which of the methods fit with your way of thinking or the kinds of things you might want to study about design?


Kevin said...

Hope this is the right spot for the posts? Here is one topic I've been thinking about.

When collecting data on human activities there are generally two approaches, 1) observing behavior without the subject’s knowledge or 2) asking the subject to knowingly participate in the data collection process. In transportation engineering, the former is considered vastly more reliable, however in Matthews (2007) the latter approach was preferred. Matthews (2007) involved the videotaping of respondents, with their knowledge, and the analysis of social interactions/references. However, would not this approach introduce bias? For a study relying on the slightest of verbal and non-verbal reactions to design statements, it seems odd to expect honest reactions with a video-camera only a few feet away. [I know I would be far more likely to be more ‘politically correct’ when contradicting someone if it was to be preserved on tape by the very person I was contradicting.] I wonder what findings would have been made if a similar design meeting was videotaped without the knowledge of the participants (maybe get approval to videotape a future design meeting without knowledge of where or when, or ask people to participate in a psychological study without full information on the study’s objective). To capture true human responses, I feel it is critical to look at the responses in a more natural habitat. While this approach would not capture internal cognitive thoughts, as potentially captured in thinking-aloud protocol studies, I feel it would be more appropriate for capturing design behavior in different activity systems, particularly social systems (Craig, 2001). While this approach may hinder attempts to control the experiment, I believe that there is a certain level of heterogeneity that must be accepted when dealing with complex systems. However, there was another point in Matthews (2007) that drew my attention as well.

On page 381 of Matthews (2007), Matthews admits that it is possible to arrive at contradictory conclusions depending on how one looks at the study. He then goes on to say that this in part comes about from focusing on ‘selective details’. Matthews argument that there are advantages to picking out details is surprising to me. Based on my experience in statistical/econometric models, I have always sought to improve the explanatory powers of the models I develop. To do so, I include as many ‘details’ or variables in my models as possible that have significant t-ratios, regardless of what conclusions I wish to draw. Matthews seems to suggest that we can pick and choose any variables we want to fit our conclusions, but then what does this really tell us? Should not all studies have full disclosure of what is or is not relevant in determining a certain outcome or did I misinterpret Matthews meaning?

Any comments on the advantages or disadvantages of the experiment in Matthews (2007) would be of interest to me.

Bethany Fralick said...

Hi Kevin
While reading your post, I smiled when you talked about capturing true human responses in natural habitat. I smile because I had this issue when collecting my master's thesis data.

This is what makes qualitative research difficult at times. Doing research about people is hard and open to many biases. You have your personal values as a researcher and also those of the culture and community in which your research is done.

It is very hard to answer your question about introducing bias because I feel there is always a bias in research. Someone calls this a "lens" or a different way to view something based on personal experience.

A lot of research done with video cameras is called verbal protocol analysis (VPA). This method records a participant first and then plays the recording back to the participant. A great deal of work is required for the researcher to obtain reactions and insight from the participant. Maybe this way introduces less bias? Maybe I am just rambling....helpful?


SpngRoy SqrPants said...

The Byran Lawson reading forced me to rethink my previous notion of what a design process is. I drew a new picture and hopefully I can post it on here if not I will TRY to remember to bring it to class.

I thought it was clever how the author took a conceptual design approach to studying design itself. What struck me was the statement, “Design is an activity and a way of thinking that is spread across disciplines.” How do you explain an activity that is not completely explicitly explainable? That is what is reflected in the Kristina Niedderer reading, which is actually a good read once you commit yourself to being confused…lol. Thinking about TOTAL design knowledge and the need of inclusion of tacit knowledge in research and the curriculum, I am reminded of my days in an Electrical circuit lab. I had to design a band pass filter which only allows ONE frequency through to be amplified or processed, like a Radio. Using my trusty equations I needed a resistance of 2300 Ohms. Well they don’t manufacture a 2300 ohm resistor, now what? What I learned from that and from the reading is that you cant live in a PURELY theoretical world. I can see how this was addressed in my curriculum i.e. with laboratory time. But I have trouble seeing how to incorporate it into Design research. As far as the methods for studying design it seems from Verbal protocols and Think aloud protocols which seem to very common that Language is extremely important. Not just for obvious reasons not only hearing what someone says but what they actually mean by their statements. What about designers whose first language is not the one they are being forced to express their thoughs in? Like me going to France and participating in one of these studies! (I don’t speak French!)

Laura said...

Haha to Roy’s comment about the confusion in Niedderer’s reading… completely agree!

Something I found interesting was comparing Niedderer’s and Dorst’s approach to defining or describing design. My biggest “design” project I’ve worked on was when I worked at a L’Oreal plant last summer and had to come up with a way to make the cleaning process more environmentally-friendly (decreasing water usage, decreasing soap usage, using more water-soluble soaps, etc.) I realize now that I first began to attack the project using some form of Dorst’s method of formulating-representing-moving-evaluating-managing, which I think is sort of the intuitive way that even amateur designers begin to design. However, as an intern, I didn’t know everything about previous cleaning methods, the current equipment, etc. – or I lacked the “tacit knowledge” according to Niedderer, therefore I couldn’t successfully implement any of my ideas without learning, and then testing and evaluating.

It was interesting seeing both my method and the problem with my design approach described in these readings – also, a little frustrating, because maybe that would have been helpful to me last summer 

And honestly, I feel like these readings and their insights on design just further convinced me that it is impossible to “define” design – and they definitely made me realize just how much I don’t know! But I’m actually more excited for this semester to continue discussing and attempting to realize what design actually is.

Robin said...

Can't tell you all how much I'm enjoying the comments - and that I'm happy we started with these readings.

As you might anticipate - I picked these to make you think about design and how you might go about studying design. There are no clean answers to these questions - which is both great (keeps it complex and rich) and challenging (too much ambiguity which may constrict efforts to move forward). Over time in the course I hope each of you finds your way to navigate answers that make sense for you - and to know that perhaps not everyone will have the same answer (although there will be crossover points).

Kat said...

Getting a landscape view:

Well I can say this was a surprise to me.. I read the Dorst chapter and thought I had all my thoughts under control. But suddenly when i started the Niedderer paper things started to be missplaced again. I guess this happened when she started speaking about designers, and this is when I thought "who are these people?" I always thought that design is a subgroup hidden under a bigger umbrella called "engineering", "decoration", "art".. so design would be for me something that these people would do.. But in Niedderer's paper design is alomst a thing of it's own, and the different disciplines and their practices are now the subgroups. I feel as my whole scheme has turned inside out :)

AD said...

In reading this week’s literature, primarily Eastman and Matthews, I really got wrapped up in the methodology more than the concept of design. I could not help but be overwhelmed by the great opportunity for researcher bias in evaluating the design process. It seems that a group’s communication and interactions could be perceived differently by anyone who analyzed it. Even having prior knowledge of the relationships between individuals in a group could create bias when analyzing how they interact. Matthew’s was a member of the team he was analyzing, so while he may be able to provide a fair amount of insight into the dynamics of the group, he surely has formed opinions of these individuals which may skew his perspective.
In addition to researcher bias, I am concerned about how we can effectively determine anything based on verbal communication. So many factors go into what actually comes out of a person’s mouth. My issues with this are the following: 1) the person’s communication skills and vocabulary, 2) on page 16, the Eastman article states that “think-aloud protocols may misrepresent underlying processes” … duh! It seems impossible to verbally communicate exactly what the brain is doing at all times, 3) talking out loud may influence how one solves a problem, so it’s not an accurate representation of how someone would solve the problem if they were sitting alone, quietly, 4) what about the things that are not being said because of personal relationships, tension in the room, politeness to a sensitive subject?
I composed my post before I read anyone else’s comments, and props to Kevin for pointing out many of what I would consider flaws in the Matthew’s article. And if we could break down the Niedderer article so I could understand what I was supposed to take away from it, that would be fabulous. I don’t know if it was the subject matter or the writing style that confused me more…

Kat said...

Exploring methodologies before we read design studies

Both papers kind of gave a more "technical" and "quantitative" aproach of the methodologies. I dont mean to repeat them since i don;t think that this is the purpose of the blog. They are pretty clear as methodologies to me, being an engineer, but still it feels that many "doing design" cases are excluded. i.e. how do i research designers when they are not designing for a customer but are just designing for themselves, especially when they are not designers by profession.

The question about a different aproach or about what else I would like to discover when it comes to research and design comes though right after watching a very stimulating documentary. The documentary was about the war in Darfour. The stimulating part is that.. while the journalists would interview the parents about the situation there, they had given to all the village children markers to draw to keep them busy. The parents interviews gave no valuable information about what had happened there since they were afraid to talk and participate. One person noticed though that all children's designs had things in common. Teh designs were passes on 2005 to the "Human Rights Watch". For the first time in court history the International Criminal Court of Hague convicted people as war criminals based on these designs.

Since my interest in in Early and Developmental Engineering I would really like to work on how i could more qualitatively analyse kid's designs, to see how much prior engineering knowlege they would reveal, or even see what more "interdisciplinary" information i could extract from these.

tforin said...

I'm glad that Kees explained a gray area for me. At a recent conference on engineering design, I could tell there was an apparent rift between those who were presenting their papers/ideas. There were those who were from an analytical/scientific space and then there were those who were from a more amorphous space. It's not to say that the amorphous space designers were not able to do a high level of analysis, but their work was not nearly as appreciated as the work done by more analytical designers.

Now why would that be? Kees comically describes designers as being cognitive platypuses which is true. I did hear one designer say that "Engineers are not scientists." and yet as engineers we have to use the language of science to develop/communicate our ideas. In fact if it weren't for the early engineers using science and math to gain recognition from the realm of academia, engineers would probably still be considered a lowly trade vocation. I would argue that engineers ARE scientists, but since we are also designers, we tend to be more than just a scientist.

As engineers, we take in everything that is around us (at least ideally) and design appropriate solutions/products for eager users. So that means that a lot of our work is based on tacit knowledge. The ' designer’s taste' that Kees talked about is exactly tacit knowledge which Niedderer thought is so important to the success of design. Niedderer also points out the issues with communication that arises from the use of non-propositional knowledge. So I’m starting to understand the difference between the designers at the conference; there’s essentially a gap between the two because the knowledge needed for comprehension was not readily available. That can allow for certain designers to be overlooked even if their design processes and decisions were sound. I’m curious at the prospect of having designers being super explicit about their design processes and choices. Would that make a better design because now users and other designers understand where the design is coming from? Or is that an ‘it’ factor that shouldn’t be given away?
It is also very comforting to know that a lot of design knowledge is already found within us. It makes my role as an educator into more of a facilitator. It also allows me to understand the social context of design in a new way. What good would anyone’s design be if the designer can’t adequately communicate his/her knowledge in design?

michihcim said...

When we were asked to draw our views of design last week, I kept thinking about the question of how observing the actions of the designers can tell us about what is going on in their head. The readings (particularly Craig and Niedderer) confirmed that it is not an invalid question. What is going on is mediated by the method with which we use to collect data. Knowing that it is the nature of research that employs observation or interviewing of some kind to probe the complicated human cognition, I would be interested to know how researchers get pass the phase of doubting the methods available and also what constitutes good research.
My view about design was more like the first one that Dorst and Lawson mentioned in that designers move among the different activities. I appreciated the second model mentioned in that the project and process fall under practice and the profession. It reminds me that what we observe about design happens under larger context. The view somewhat resonates with the situated frameworks mentioned by Craig.
If I understand Matthews correctly, he is saying that there is something about design that might be left out with the analytical choices researchers made, and that we should not generalize results of the studies. This reminds me of the discussions in qualitative class: the viewpoints researchers take, what they reveal is a partial view from their theoretical standpoint. I remember the professor talked about hopefully combining the different views of the same phenomenon we can better understand the phenomenon. However, I am not sure how that fits with design since it is very context based and very cross disciplinary.
I felt the same as Kat. Dorst and Lawson ‘s chapter is easy to read and gets me nodding while others tore that nice, conflict-free feeling away =p.