Bringing Design Research Beyond the Transactional

Over the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of teaching Interaction Design Foundations, and Design Research, to sophomore students majoring in IxD at the California College of the Arts. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience, and one that I’ll continue in the next year.

While I’ve been teaching my students, they’ve also been teaching me. One of the reason I love teaching so much is because it keeps me fresh—it reminds me of where design comes from and what its core values are, it keeps me questioning the way we do things in the “working world,” and my students help me glimpse into where the future of design might lie. 

In this post, I’d like to share with you a good reminder they gave me related to design research.

Over this spring semester, the Design Research class I’ve been co-teaching with Amy Bickerton, has been studying exploratory, evaluative, and participatory research. On their last project, they researched restaurants, and we focused intensely on what frameworks they should create from their findings—personas, ecosystem maps, customer journeys, service blueprints, and identifying opportunities.

Then, our students served us a good reminder. Design research has incredible value in creating new meaning from information that is gathered, and provides us with the opportunity to better understand the human condition. Research has become very transactional in the working world—participants give me information, and I provide companies with frameworks that highlight opportunities for profit. Yes, this can help you sell research to clients or your boss, but there’s a greater potential for design research.

This greater potential is in truly understanding people, of creating new perspectives from stories—the real stories of real people. Getting back to this core root of design research will help us designers build greater empathy, and ultimately lead to the creation of better products and services that are focused on people, and the meaningful new perspectives that you’ve created with your research participants when you are learning about the world through their eyes. 

At this point, you might be wondering how we’re doing this. In our final project, we’re stepping away from frameworks—there is time for those later—and we’re focusing on stories. By sharing the stories we learn in research, we’re building and sharing these new perspectives on people, and ultimately, this helps us create stronger frameworks with better understanding of opportunities. They’re exploring the use of storyboards, powerful imagery, audio, and video to tell the stories they learned in their research. 

The students will be presenting their work on Tuesday, May 5 from 5:30 – 8:00pm in Room 101 at 80 Carolina Street, San Francisco, CA. If you’re local or in town, please feel free to join us and see how they’re sharing their research stories, and what new insights they’ve learned about research. If you can’t make it, I’ll be following up with a short recap on what they explored and what we all learned together. 

Lauren Ruiz

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