Yesterday I wrote briefly about my need to continuously step back and compare my daily work to my initial research proposal. Today I think I have a little more clarity on where I stand now compared to when I started. I am piecing this together as I write, but it might be better described visually. I’ll put it down in words first and see if I can diagram it later.
Step 1: My application essay
- My essay described basically the democratization of design methods to enable social innovation for positive development without the emphasis on the designer-hero.
Step 2: Getting a grip on methods
- Initially I talked about “scaling design methods”
- First step was to “map out” the landscape of design methods. This may still be possible, but I never accomplished it
- Instead I got wrapped up in trying to figure out what constitutes a design method in the first place
- I tried to position methods within the larger map of design as a whole
- Even without a clear definition of design methods, I suggested that each part of the design process engages methods
- Which helped articulate an interest in front-end methods: analyzing and synthesizing information (intentionally vague) to identify design opportunities
Step 3: The role of the designer
- Considering design methods led me to question: what makes design methods unique?
- Design methods at the front-end are often visual and iterative (these characteristics are unique to design, but are a staple of the design process)
- Not everyone is comfortable with visualizing or the failing/revising of iteration
- Two options emerge: designers facilitate the use of methods (co-design) or teach people to become more “designerly”
- Designers as “facilitators” still maintain a central role in social innovation; “designerliness” takes time to develop, not everyone thinks or works like a designer
- Therefore the concept of “scaling” design methods becomes problematic
Step 4: Structures of innovation
- Refocus on concept of social innovation: “connecting the bees with the trees” — a quote I used from my application essay describes a focus on structures supporting social innovation
- Embedding design methods in structures that relate problems at the “human scale” to organizational/community operations
- Designing for social innovation is different than designing a product or service
- What are some models of structures that support social innovation?
- What structures are in place that could promote positive social development at a community level?
Step 5: Propositional Idea
- Spaces/places can serve as hubs for the design process (e.g. innovation labs)
- School buildings are connected to the geographic communities that surround them
- Students are both connected to the school and the community
- Education through discreet areas of subject matter is failing
- Projects that engage community problems connect many components of the community system
- Schools have a “memory” or “model of the current community” that remains after students move on from a project
- That “model” can be refined, reshaped over time as new students enter the school
- Schools can become hubs for social innovation
This idea actually echoes my graduate thesis work on design methods in service-learning. The key difference is in perspective. Rather than focusing on how students use design, the question is how the people using design affects the community. My focus then shifts from how methods work to how those methods fit into organizations and structures. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean I will build my research around schools or education. Rather the student-school-community relationship provides an example of the importance of the relationship between design activity (people, goals, methods, etc.) and the organization or community. Hopefully walking through my progress so far is helpful. I think my current direction has potential and may lead to some interesting, albeit daunting, research.