Daily Reflection 21: Research Question Draft 1

Almost two weeks ago I presented my first attempt at a research question to my supervisors. Since that time I have made little progress on delving further into the question, as some other items of business have taken up a good chunk of my time. So this post will attempt to summarize some of my recent activities, starting with the question I proposed not too long ago. To start, here is the question as it currently stands:

How can externalization and representation support sensemaking in collaborative problem framing methods of design?

My question relates directly to a statement by design author John Kolko in his book Exposing the Magic of Design (2011): “Sensemaking and framing can be enhanced and supported through externalization and through representations” (pg 15). Although Kolko describes examples of professional practice to support this claim, he doesn’t reference specific studies regarding the phenomena. Inspired by the growing trend of design practice with a social agenda, I have started questioning the role the of the designer as a gatekeeper to methods for managing complexity, identifying opportunities, and driving innovation. My hope is that gaining insight into the practice of design methods will lead to better approaches for managing their “magical” qualities to engage wicked problems.

The feedback I have received is that this is a decent starting point, but it lacks specificity and definition, which will be influenced by the epistemological stance I take in my research. For instance, the language I currently use — “externalization”,”sensemaking”, etc. — will have very different meanings based on how I view knowledge of the world. Additionally, I was encouraged to be more concrete when I discuss “collaborative problem framing methods”. Describing a specific activity or aspect of collaboration or problem framing should help both my reading and my research.

In addition to the feedback I received on my question, I had another chance to reflect on my stance during a Design Faculty seminar on “Theories of Practical Knowing” at Gothenburg University last Friday. Two lectures in particular pushed me to think critically about my research. The first lecture came from my advisor Anna Rylander, and focused on the classical pragmatists: Peirce, James, Dewey, and Mead. Although the lecture covered a range of topics within pragmatism, for me the biggest question that emerged was in regards to imagination. It seems that imagination plays an important role in pragmatist inquiry, a process that takes place in both what we consider “art” and “science” practices. As Anna finished her presentation, I was left wondering exactly what imagination is, how it might be studied, and how it relates to design methods. In our discussion after the lectures, I posed my question to the group and was met with some promising leads to theories of imagination. Yet, in the spirit of the course, the answer seemed to come from a very philosophical perspective. The tone was striking enough that I began wondering what other perspectives, research, and theories exist regarding imagination.

Therefore, over the past couple of days, I have looked into some research in neuroscience about imagination and creativity. While I am only briefly acquainted with the research done into the processes of the brain that relate to creativity, it is something that I feel obligated to address. If design methods have a strong connection to creativity and imagination, it seems important to consider different approaches to understanding what they are and how they work. So far I am quite intrigued by the relationship between brain functions and our experience with the world. In particular, I came across the work of V.S. Ramachandran, a neuroscientist who has studied brain function by conducting experiments with people who have suffered brain injuries. According to work conducted by Ramachandran, brain injuries highlight how physical structures of the brain impact our perception of the world. Understanding how different brain structures influence interactions (e.g. people engaging in design methods), could have important implications for my work but also design research. I’m still getting a grip on the epistemological stance issue, but it seems I should not overlook these experiments in neuroscience during my research into collaboration and sensemaking.