Week 01: Finding a direction

During my stay in Sweden as part of the DESMA program I will be writing weekly reflections to help document my time, but also work through ideas and questions. Thursdays seem like a good day for now, we’ll see how it goes.

As I finish up my first week here at Ergonomidesign, I find myself somewhere very familiar, off the deep end of design methods. After having just spent a solid amount of the last year devoted to working with design methods for my master’s thesis, I can honestly say it is easy to get lost and overwhelmed in working on them. However, after a few months away from the topic, I have some brief thoughts on my experience with design methods so far:

1. I have only scratched the surface of what I know about design methods (a fact made even more evident from the brief conversations I’ve heard here at Ergonomidesign)

2. My thesis was a proposition for incorporating design methods into other disciplines; I am excited to delve into detail about what makes design methods unique and valuable

3. “Design Methods” can mean a lot of things. It is time to get specific when I use the phrase

Thankfully, I have had this week to take a step back and slowly think about what design methods are, and what they are used for. I have only had a brief chance to chat about my, but I hope to get some more in depth feedback soon — after all, there are certainly plenty of savvy designers hovering around here! My initial challenge is parsing out exactly what about design methods am I going to study. During my graduate work I often got bogged down simply trying to parse through the huge number of examples that people refer to as “design methods.” Now, it is possible that I will head down the same path, but simply realizing that there other areas of design methods to investigate is exciting. I came up with a couple of rough areas that might help explain what I’m talking about:

1. How methods are structured – Time, materials, number of participants
example question: How do design firms structure, organize, implement, etc. design methods throughout a project?

2. How methods are developed/developing – Evolution, value, trends
example question: What are the dominant methods (or types of methods) included in current design methodology?

3. The process of methods – Workflow, communication, evaluation, delivery
example question: How is design methodology practiced throughout the course of a project? (is this basically describing the design process?)

4. The purpose of methods – Describe, define, organize, test, etc. (from my thesis, mostly an effort to categorize different methods)
example question: What are the primary goals of design methodology? What methods are appropriate or used at specific points within the design process/design methodology?

5. The context of methods – Environment, stakeholders, activities
example question: Where does design methodology take place? What does it “look” like? Who is involved?

I am pretty sure there are overlaps in among my topics, but they seem like a good starting point. After considering my current position and the newly formed DESMA network, I have a growing interest in the process of methods. By process, I am thinking specifically how design methods fit into the workflow (e.g. everything from how a method is chosen to how the results of the method communicated to someone who isn’t a designer in a meaningful way?). I may be getting into tricky territory with the terminology: method process within the design process? But as I refine my ideas I hope to come up with a better name. Identifying these five ways to study design methods also led me to an important question: how do I distinguish between the design methods and methodology? The answer I came up with at this point is this:

Method vs. Methodology

a) The methods designers use come from a variety of disciplines and practices that are not necessarily specific to or developed for design (e.g. storyboarding).

b) Design Methodology consists of a combination (or choice) of methods, tools, and techniques that designers use throughout the design process (e.g. interview + affinity diagramming + rapid prototyping).

But soon enough, my next question arises: is there a difference between design methodology and design process? I think there is. Hopefully I am at a good place to start. The goal for me now is to find a direction from which to approach design methods so I can target my readings for a literature review.