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The Role of Design Artifacts in Design Theory Construction

Zimmerman, J., Forlizzi, J., (2008) The Role of Design Artifacts in Design Theory Construction, Artifact 2(1), 41-45

In this paper Zimmerman and Forlizzi present two main arguments for research through design in HCI as a mode of research, focusing on what they term Philosophical Design and Grounded Design Methodologies. The paper addresses how these two approaches can be used to lead to the formation of design theory. For Zimmerman and Forlizzi designing is a process of disciplined imagination which can be used to solve wicked problems. The paper is split between two research methodologies and uses some key examples to diagram how both seemly opposed methods can both contribute differently to the progression and disciplining of design theory. This paper then helps to chart some possible research methods, but uses a catch all term of philosophic design to encompass a range of practices such as Design Probes, Speculative Design, Design Fictions, Critical Design Practice etc. Zimmerman and Forlizzi recognise that the designer, through the authoring of work, inscribes the articfact with a politic, ideology and rhetoric; “In taking a philosophical approach, researchers begin with a specific philosophical stance that they wish to either investigate or embody through a process of making.” (Zimmerman and Forlizzi 2008 p43)

Useful Quotes

“HCI has shifted its focus from a narrow view on usability — increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of task completion — to more broadly consider the human experience. This expanded scope has shifted the type of investigation from tame problems that can be more definitively evaluated to messy issues more associated with wicked problems” (p 41)

“Designers focus on the creation of artifacts through a process of disciplined imagination, because artifacts they make both reveal and become embodiments of possible futures. Design researchers have particularly turned to this method to address emerging social situations triggered by technology and materials that are so new, they have not yet generated interaction conventions or social norms around their use [Davidoff et al. 2007]. By practicing research through design, design researchers can explore new materials and actively participate in intentionally constructing the future, in the form of disciplined imagination, instead of limiting their research to an analysis of the present and the past.” (p 42)

“In taking a philosophical approach, researchers begin with a specific philosophical stance that they wish to either investigate or embody through a process of making [and] in taking a grounded approach, design researchers focus on real world problems by making things that force both a concrete framing of the problem and an articulation of a specific, preferred state that is the intended outcome of situating the solution in a context of use.” (p 43)

“Using a grounded approach, researchers move from fieldwork that details the messy complexity of the problematic situation to a process of ideation and iteration that forces them to codify their knowledge in specific thing that has a specific, intentional outcome as a preferred state.” (p 43)

“One of the challenges a research through design approach takes when intended to develop theory is the mismatch between the goal of theory – a unifying whole – and the goal of design practice – creation of an ultimate particular [Stolterman, 2008].” (p 44)

“Weick defines theory as disciplined imagination that proceeds like artificial selection, where the researcher “defines, conducts, and interprets imaginary experiments” [Weick 1989, p. 516]. Weick’s constructs map well to the natural process of sketching and prototyping in design, where sketches evolve from a grounded understanding of the problematic situation and systematically explores framings.” (p 44)

“The challenge for the design research community is to connect the outcomes of research through design (the creation of the particular) with the focus in theory development (the creation of the universal).” (p 44)

Further Reading

Davidoff, S., Dey, A., and Zimmerman, J. (2007). Rapidly Exploring Application Design through Speed Dating. Proceedings of UbiComp. Springer: 429-446.

Stolterman, S. (2008). The Nature of Design Practice and Implications for Interaction Design Research. International Journal of Design, 2(1): 55-65.

Weick, K.E. (1989). Theory Construction as Disciplined Imagination. The Academy of Management Review, 14(4): 516-531.

Published inPhD