Members of this research project will present paper at both CHI and DRS Cumulus these coming weeks. It is exciting that our studies have led to papers that hopefully reflect some of our work so far, even though it still feels as if we are in the early phases on our research. We are getting almost overwhelmed with the potential richness of the field that we are studying–design practice is distinct but elusive, universal but particular, common but unique. It is fascinating to see how our attempt of framing design practice and particularly its relation to theory, methods and tools, faces a number of contradictions and dilemmas. This complexity can of course be seen as a research problem but I think it is instead possible to see it as something extraordinary that has to be approached carefully, with an open mind, and with a sensibility towards its richness, complexity, and inherent contradictions. You can find the papers that will be presented at these conferences on the publication page.
We started this research project on design methods in September 2011 (funded by NSF). We have already conducted several studies, most of them are interview studies with professional interaction designers We focus on a range of aspects related to design practice and particularly the use of design methods (“methods” in its broadest possible meaning).
As always when you interview professionals they impress you with the competence they express and their understanding of design and the design process. These practitioners stress aspects of the design process that in many ways are opposite to what non-designers or students believe, for instance that process is more important than outcome, and that judgment is more important than method. They are constantly unwilling to make clear statements about “what works best”, “what method is best”, “what are crucial skills”, etc. Instead they always bring the discussion back to the particular, the particular situation, particular user, particular client, particular technology, and particular design challenge.
It is also fascinating to find that, even though they are highly skilled and competent in what they do, they are also somewhat worried that other professionals in the field are doing things differently and maybe in a better way. This is the case even though they are engaged in professional communities, workshops, conferences, and reads a lot.
It is also clear that the level of knowledge when it comes to design methods, their names, their history, their usefulness, etc. differ drastically.
Anyway, every interview leads to new insights about the everyday conditions of professional practice for interaction design. We are now more than ever looking forward to this research and can see many exciting results in the coming years.