Author: andrew

Daily Reflection 10: Facilitating Design

Since starting graduate school I have been exposed to a number of perspectives on contemporary design practices. Aside from learning about emerging disciplines such as interaction design or service design, I have also started to consider the role designers play in groups and organizations. Practices such as co-creation and co-design have fostered a new kind of relationship between designers of all sorts and non-designers, or people not trained in a design discipline. A leader in participatory practices, Liz Sanders has written extensively in partnership with several Scandinavian designers and researchers on roles in the co-creation process. She sees researchers (who may be designers), as facilitators of design. Rather than responding to a design brief provided by a client, in co-creation, designers (who may also be researchers!) aid non-designers in externalizing and analyzing their needs and desires. In addition to work done by Sanders and others in the area of co-creation, there is also an emerging trend toward design consultancies aiding organizations in the design of strategies and services. In such a scenario, designers harness the techniques they use for collaborating, ideating, prototyping, etc, to help organizations gain insights into the way they work both internally and externally.

While the concept of design facilitator seems to be gaining a lot of traction in the field, there doesn’t appear to be much knowledge or research around the practice. A fair amount of digging today dug up only a few resources that explicitly had “design facilitator” in the title. My journey to Sweden started with an essay about the role of design methods in addressing complex social problems. Reflecting on the current trends in design practice, it seems my research on generating knowledge about design methods and practices in relationships to design facilitation. Some preliminary questions I have on my mind on the topic are:

1. Do design practitioners identify as “design facilitators?”
2. If so, in what situations, and in what capacities? Basically, how do designers go about facilitating design?
3. What resources support design facilitation? Are there trained design facilitators?

I am pretty exciting about pursuing this area because it seems quite relevant to trends in design practice, and could fill a gap between the buzz surrounding “design thinking” and the critical theory and research that support its practice/development.

Daily Reflection 09: Design Research & Epistemology

The most fruitful part of today came from a short reading titled Epistemological Positions in Design Research: A Brief Review of the Literature by Luke Feast and Gavin Melles. Coming out of my research topic presentation last week, I gave myself the goal of really getting a hold of what research is and what research in design is all about. Throughout grad school I had a chance to learn a good amount about research, but the depth of my personal research was rather limited. Reading a few articles about the current state of design research has pushed me to seek a thorough understanding of what research is before I undertake the process myself. Today I started digging around for some articles related to the topic, and although Epistemological Positions in Design Research provides only a cursory look at research, it seemed like an accessible starting point — especially as it was written from a design perspective.

In particular, the article highlighted a definition of the research process and the relationships among epistemology, theoretical perspective, methodology, and methods. The reading reinforced what I learned last week in my trip to Gothenburg. Whatever epistemological stance I choose will influence the way I practice research. From their lit. review, Feast and Melles highlight three epistemological approaches to design research: objectivist, constructivist, and subjectivist. While they don’t compare or critique the approaches, they do describe how the epistemological stance affects the view and practice of research. I haven’t done quite enough reading to position myself yet, however I am starting to understand the need for theoretically grounded research. In the conclusion to the article the authors reinforce the interdisciplinary nature of design, and that design research should reflect the interdisciplinarity of the practice. Inevitably I will be revisiting the topic of research for the foreseeable future. It will certainly be fun to look back on these early thoughts once I have taken some classes (such as the Philosophy of Science), and actually set up my research project.

Daily Reflection 08: Thoughts on Design Methods

This week revolved entirely around my trip to Gothenburg to present my research topic at a small internal conference of researchers in the Fine, Applied and Performing Arts from Gothenburg University. It was a great chance to see another part of the country, get introduced to some of my new colleagues, but most importantly, to think critically about my research topic.

Aside from the great benefit of receiving feedback from a diverse and experienced group of researchers, I also came away with a strong desire to find a solid direction. In crafting my presentation, I tried to draw a very broad, yet clear representation of what got me here. Up there, talking through things, I felt like I was explaining a lot of fluff. Why is this? I don’t believe I have clearly defined or articulated what my research focus is. Up until now I have talked a lot about “design methods.” The problem is, design methods is itself extremely broad and I can honestly say that I am not sure I knew what I meant by design methods. Since I began working on design methods in my graduate thesis I have been grappling with a definition, or distinction between methods and tools. Unfortunately, I think I left the matter unresolved in my thesis and it has clearly followed me here.

Of course, I continue to feel that these are good realizations to have now. However, they are matters I believe that I should already have a grasp on. With the feedback I received from the audience, and a few conversations with some other colleagues dealing with very similar issues, I feel like I already have a better understanding of design methods — or at least what aren’t design methods. I am looking forward to next week when I will have a chance to methodically work through some of these issues.

Daily Reflection 07: Presentations & Proposals

Today was a busy day, starting off with a brief presentation introducing myself to the office at Ergonomidesign. As usual, nerves made the start a little shaky and I forgot to say a few key points. However, by the end I started to feel slightly more comfortable. I was pretty aware of my usual presentation quirks: muttering awkwardly hurried sentences under my breath and waving my hands around as I talk, which I will continue to work on next time I present in the future — which is Wednesday.

Segue to the recap of my day. After the morning meeting, the rest of my day was spent working on my research proposal presentation for Wednesday. Basically I am working on a way to present the maps of my topic area. Ideally I would like to be able to offer some specific literature to support my justification, however at this point I have yet to dive into any key texts. My presentation for Wednesday will mostly focus on the justification that design methods used for analysis and synthesis in problem solving are valuable to study because the more we know about them the greater opportunity we have to teach them and scale them to drive social innovation. Looking forward to receiving feedback on my progress so far. At the very least, I hope to articulate my project much more clearly by the end of the week.

Weekly Update 02: Early Topic Mapping

My main efforts this week have been placing my project within the bigger picture of design. The system I have mapped out (see attached) is meant to help me target resources/literature and understand how they relate to each other. I hesitated about diving into mapping methods without having a clear understanding of what I was looking for. Hopefully these more general maps will be a useful guide when I start mapping out methods.

Here’s a little summary of what you’ll be looking at:

Page 1) Overview of how I progressed from the initial DESMA prompt to my working argument and direction of study

Page 2) Map of where my research could be positioned in the design process and design field. I am using a model developed by Hugh Dubberly that provides a very generic description of the design process. I think it is helpful for positioning my project without getting too bogged down semantics over steps in the design process.

Page 3) Diagram of literature and theories that are relevant to, or support (hopefully) my argument and direction

Although the maps are designed, they are still very much working visualizations and I plan on revising them continuously as I work. Right now they are mostly filled with my own initial assumptions. My goal is for them to help me focus my reading a little bit. For the most part I have only limited understanding of a lot of the concepts/theories I have put down right now, so don’t be surprised if you find something totally ridiculous or unfounded.

Daily Reflection 06: Covering the Same Territory

Interesting time to reflect at the end of a productive day. I made a fair number of things, and perhaps made some forward progress, but just before starting this reflection I realize that I have finally made it to a point that I already knew existed. I have written a little bit before about the importance in maintaining perspective during my research process. For the most part, I do feel the work I have put in so far has been valuable. However, as I set down my pencil to review the third diagram I completed today, I noticed that my ideas look and feel like a lot of material I have already read. This may not necessarily be a bad thing.

I am naturally influenced by what I follow and read. I think the important lesson here is that I now have the opportunity to sit down and compare my direction to the work of others. I have done a pretty successful job of putting my initial notions of the research project down on paper, in visual form. My ideas are out there staring me in the face. Now is the time to take a hard look at them, refine them, and put them up against the work of other people. Am I covering ground already well traveled? If so, is there anything new I can bring to the table? I would say that it is a quite premature to actually answer these questions. However, I am beginning to see some dust off on the horizon. Once I catch up (by reading, mapping, critiquing, reflecting, and refining my ideas) to other people who have done work on design methods and social innovation, I can take a more detailed look at how I stack up. Knowing that it may be awhile before I get there, I guess I will just have to keep putting my ideas down on paper to understand just how much progress I am making.


Over the last few years I’ve been wondering about a lot of big questions: what are design methods? do design and “method” go together? how should we talk about “design method” in a way that respects the emerging and innovative ways that designers work? and most recently, how might we explore and describe new forms of designing based on collaboration and learning?

This blog is a record of my journey through some of these questions. Along with my reflections about design methods, I occasionally post about my experiences in various seminars and courses that I attend during my time as a PhD candidate.