Daily Reflection 19: Rough Research Question

A main takeaway from Monday’s supervisory meeting was that I needed a research question. I’ve spent the last two days writing questions that try to nail down what is floating around in my head. Some are very broad and very vague, but I hope that others start getting at something more specific. Below is a list of my first stabs at writing questions. However, I have one brief reflection before I write them out. Previously I have considered my focus to be on the difference between “non-designers” and “designers” but I am considering revising my perspective — while maintaining an orientation toward enabling design practice outside the field of design. Today I began acquainting myself with the concept of sense-making by gathering some readings by Brenda Dervin — which seem quite relevant to the way people interact while using design methods — and watching a short lecture (see end of post) she gave at Eastern Washington University. In her lecture she described how often researchers “divide users into boxes” in their studies. She then presented a long list of ways to divide people: demography, capabilities, person traits, cognitive / emotional styles, lifestyles, domains, tasks, channel, institutional context. The question is how much good does it do to research this way? Dervin suggests sense-making methodology presents a way to focus on communication among people rather than the boxes in which they are placed. I gravitate towards Dervin’s message due to its foundation in communication, a theme that seems of central importance to action in design methods. So I have begun questioning the use of distinguishing between designers and non-designers. Indeed, I have often expressed that everyone is a “designer” in some sense. Altering my terminology will influence how I craft my question, changing the focus to what is happening in the methods rather than who is acting. I am a little unsure how I feel about this, but we’ll see where it takes me.

So here is the unedited list of questions I have been working with. The questions are written in chronological order, many still include the designer/non-designer language. Some are pretty informal, but hopefully it is interesting to see the whole process.

How do people learn through externalization?

How does externalization influence learning?

How does externalization influence learning in groups?

How does externalization influence learning in groups of non-designers?

What influence do different types of externalization have on communication in group inquiry?

What influence does the structure of a design method have on the collaborative inquiry of non-designers?

How does the structure of a design method influence individual learning in collaborative group inquiry?

How does externalization affect collaborative group inquiry among non-designers?

How does externalization affect individual learning in groups of non-designers working in the design process?

What role does externalization play in the identification of design opportunities by non-designers?

How does the act of externalization affect the identification of design opportunities by a group?

What aspects of design methods are the most challenging for non-designers?

What influence does the materiality of tools have on the interactions of a group of non-designers in framing a problem?

How does the act of externalization affect group framing?

When groups of people outside the field of design are defining a problem, what tools / strategies do they use for framing.

What are situations where groups of nn-designers need to plan strategically?

What is the difference between designers and non-designers in identifying opportunities for design?

What aspects of design methods make them relevant to groups outside of design?

What can methods for design synthesis contribute to groups of non-designers?

What aspects of design synthesis contribute to group framing?

What aspects of methods for design synthesis contribute to group sense-making?
– What influence does the act of externalization have on communication in groups?
– What factors contribute to group framing in methods of design synthesis?
– What role do physical artifacts play in actions of design synthesis?

In another approach, I had a very simple question after perusing some writing of Jon Kolko. In his book, Exposing the Magic of Design, he describes the methods designers use for design synthesis. He talks briefly about how design methods engage sense-making: “Sensemaking and framing can be enhanced and supported through externalization and through representations” (p. 15) While Kolko goes on to provide some compelling examples of design methods in practice that support this claim, at first glance I didn’t see him reference any specific research studies. So the question I left off with for today is:

Do externalization and representation enhance and support sensemaking and framing?

And here is the video from Brenda Dervin