September 30, 2008

Design Research Conference 2008

The 2008 Design Research Conference was a great success. So much so that we are devoting an entire issue to the conference. For those of you who were unable to attend, here's your chance to get a recap. Special thanks to Amber Lindholm and Matt Gardner for a fantastic conference.


Amy & Kate

Design Research Conference: Bird’s Eye, Rear-view Perspective

by Matt Gardner

matt-and-amber-blogsize.jpgDesign Research Conference 2008 has officially closed.  Besides the energy drain of the two days, not to mention that of the previous two weeks, DRC came off fabulously. The jury is still out on the evaluation cards, but everyone we talked to found value in at least some part of the event. In the weeks preceding the event, we had several comments on the superstar lineup of speakers. During the conference several people told us how great and organized and slick it all was. AND, the food was good—although I did miss the chocolate bundts served Friday night.

But that is all about what it was—what about what it could be? One comment I received during the conference about how the ID students were missing from the picture really got me thinking. Where were the presentations about some of the cool stuff that students were doing? The token piece of student work in our lineup was “Getting People to Talk,” the fabulous video that  Kristy Scovel and Gabe Biller developed for their demo project. And, because student work had become such an afterthought, we were only able to slide it into the lunch hour. The original About, With and For, reputedly featured a good deal of student work, and as a student produced conference, students have a right to be featured.

We considered, briefly, early in the planning for the conference whether we should try something different, like an unconference. We also considered for a short time some more student-oriented features such as student project posters. But, having never had the experience of running a conference, we agreed on a conference format that we knew and understood.

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Design Lingo

compiled by Kate Pemberton

During the Design Research Conference we all heard words being thrown around describing the creative processes of design and research. Some of those words were popular among many of the speakers and now may have snuck their way into your vocabulary. If not, give it time, I'm sure you'll be throwing around the lingo and buzz words soon enough!

Here's a list of the most commonly used words  at the DRC. Memorize for future use.














design thinking







re-... re-frame, re-design

There will be a test next week, if you don't pass you will not graduate from the Institute of Design.

Interview with Steve Portigal

by Amy Palit
photo by Miguel Cervantes

steve-portigal.jpgSteve Portigal, founder of Portigal Consulting, led a workshop at DRC entitled "Did you notice that? Tapping into your super-noticing power".  For the workshop, participants were instructed to take photographs of things they noticed and thought were interesting and bring them in.

This is Steve's first DRC appearance since frequenting the conference in its earlier days as "about, with & for". I had a chance to catch up with him after the workshop and we spoke about ethnographic techniques, the challenges of working with clients, and his computer science background.

What was one of the photographs that was brought in?
Someone showed a picture of someone sitting in Daley Plaza. There was apparently a lot of seating available, but there was someone sitting facing into this fountain and his feet weren't in the water but he was sitting with his feet kind of over the edge, where there were other seats elsewhere. She was really struck by the fact that this person chose to do that, when there was this system that allowed you to do something, but he chose an alternative approach.

The way she described it was really great. "Was he antisocial? Is he trying to get away from it all? What was the reason that he was doing that?" And, in terms of process in order to take his picture, she asked his permission to take his picture and ended up asking this person about his behavior. He revealed that he found it very peaceful over there and that it was a way to kind of get away from everything.

People took pictures they had to submit to me, and they had to write them up. So, in doing that, I think they found that the story came out after. They saw things in their pictures that maybe weren't there at the time when they took the pictures. They didn't conscientiously process that.  That sort of thing ends up being some of what we learned about: What goes on in the moment of noticing? What are some of the ways we can build those muscles up?

Do you usually ask permission to take pictures of people when you're in a public space?
No, but I also try to take their pictures so that they don't see me! I heard a story about a photography class at ID years and years ago. The assignment was to stand there on the street and to shoot people as they are coming at you in order to train you that that's okay to do. I take a lot of signs... they're artifacts, things in the environment that are interesting or curious.

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Colleen Murray’s Journey to and from ID

by Kate Pemberton
photo by Miguel Cervantes

Colleen Murray opened the second day of the Design Research Conference talking about scenario planning. A strategic planning method that helps a team make smarter decisions can be applied to everyday situations. During her talk she mentioned Peter Schwartz’s book, The Art of the Long View and how it made her realize the importance and relevance of scenario planning. She discussed the five strategies of this method and how each could be reframed:

1. Focus on understanding the problem at hand
Reframe: Look broadly to expand thinking

2. Uncover the most relevant trends that exist today
Reframe: Where are the trends going?

3. Use imperative as a tool to guide ideation
Reframe: Use ideation as a tool to explore solutions

4. Visualize ideas to make them tangible and increase impact
Reframe: Develop rich experiences to give content to solutions

5. Step through process to reach great solution
Reframe: Monitor trends over time

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A brief chat with Rob Tannen

by Ben Davis
photo by Miguel Cervantes

Rob Tannen of Bresslergroup spoke at DRC about using high definition tools for design research. I had a chance to chat with him at the conference.

tannen_pic.jpgWhat technology do you find yourself relying upon most heavily in your course of work?
I feel that it is important not to rely on any technology too heavily; I feel that I rely on my coworkers most as they provide the most meaningful and useful feedback

Where do you see the biggest room for improvement in terms of technology developed for Design Research as a whole?

Well, honestly there isn’t much technology that is developed for Design research.  The amount that design research relies upon the analysis of data predominantly in Excel followed by presentation of that data requires using many different tools for specific tacks.  I see integration of the steps into fewer programs so as to make it a more seamless flow as an area for improvement.

Where do you see technology having the most impact on research design in the next 5 years?
Again moving toward streamlining and integration; rather than using many tools for many tasks using a fewer number of tools for those tasks.

Do you feel that user research has many unique technological challenges and do you feel that current offerings are meeting these challenges? Companies in particular?
There is enormous amounts of ambiguity in the data that we gather any more as we are getting to the point where we have the ability to gather far more information than can be synthesized.  Often times the data gathered becomes so vast that realizing what you’ve got is more of a problem than gathering data.  The question of what is valuable and what is coming more into play and a lot of that is very subjective.  Are companies meeting the challenges… typically no.  Some companies that are producing decent technology for design research include Techsmith, Noldus and QSR International.  These companies are making products for the medical industry and other fields of research but do have some good cross over.

The Invasion of Norman, D.

by Cynthia Breckenridge
photo by Miguel Cervantes

norman_pic.jpgDespite being swarmed by more people after his talk than Lindsay Lohan exiting rehab, the New Idiom was able to steal Don Norman for a quick interview after his keynote speech at the Design Research Conference. Who was that mystery man who kept asking all the tough questions at the conference? How does Norman experience Ikea? And what kind of seasoning does Norman prefer on his food? Read on to learn all this and more, including Norman’s beginnings in design, his view of the field’s evolution, and what he sees as the future of design.

Tell me little about how you got started in the field of design? I know you have a psychology degree and an electric engineering/computer science degree…
Well that’s a really long story.

Was there a sort of ‘aha!’ moment when it all came together for you and you realized you were now a part of the design field?

No. Many years ago there was the Three Mile Island accident, and I was called in as a psychologist to try and figure out how to train operators better so they didn’t make the same errors. We soon discovered that it was really the bad design of the control room. That triggered my engineering  background, so with a combination of psychology and engineering I thought, ‘well that’s perfect for working here,’ and I tried to understand  what the problem was [at Three Mile Island] and how to make people understand it.  So, I changed the work I was doing to look at more applied issues, and I started looking at flight issues, doing work for aviation safety, for NASA, and I became a consultant to a number of companies.

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What’s in the bag?

by Kate Pemberton
photo by Miguel Cervantes

Imagine sticking your hand in a black bag and feeling something hard, possibly cool and smooth. One side is flat with hard edges while the other side is flat with rounded edges. You run your fingers over the flat side with hard edges and you feel a circular shape with a raised circle in the middle. What is in the bag? Do you like the feel of it or do you hate the feel of it? What is your visceral reaction to the material, texture and weight? What characteristics are most recognizable to you? Sounds like one of those games you may have played as a child, minus the sticky, gooey factor, right?

Well, it was fun. I stuck my hand in twelve different bags when I attended Matt Zabel’s workshop at the Design Research Conference. Along with seventeen other people, I spent two hours discussing human factors and the visceral experience of interacting with a product. I got firsthand experience with that interaction when my hand was in a black bag. Tactility of a product is so important. Not seeing the object, just feeling it makes you realize that. When done well, a tactile product “just feels right”. Your fingertips (and lips) are the most sensitive to touch. How a product feels in your hand or how it feels when using it often dictates its popularity in a market. Matt stressed how the design of a product is all about the fit. Making the connections between physical, cognitive, emotional, economic and ecological factors are what make a product a “good fit”.

zabel_pic.jpgDuring a roundtable lunch discussion on Saturday, Matt led a group of us in a discussion about the “emerging discipline” we are in and what it means. Describing what we do to others is often frustrating. I’m sure you’ve all felt that. Design research has only recently been somewhat “defined” as a profession. Stemming from diverse educational and professional backgrounds, design researchers or those practicing design research methods in any capacity have the difficult task of trying to define what it is they do. Simply saying you empathize with people does not cut it. That you help form innovative products and services that best serve a population may sound a little better. But how is “success” measured in design research? Who are we serving? Where is the profession heading in the future? These are all questions we discussed over lunch. Our answers led to more questions, that inevitably we will attempt to answer throughout our entire careers.

Matt Zabel is the human factors and design research manager at Brooks Stevens in St. Paul, Minnesota. His background is in social science and industrial design. Matt is an “advocate for the end user” and when asked what he does…research or design, he says, “I still consider myself a designer”.

Interview with Mark Greiner

by Jessica C. Striebich
photo by Miguel Cervantes

greiner_pic.jpgAfter Mark Greiner's 10 Insights talk at the Design Research Conference, I had the opportunity to chat with him for awhile. I had a chance to find out a bit more about Workspring, among other things. For those of you who missed the Mark's talk, this was his first public unveiling of Workspring. Though careful not to reveal too much, Mark explained that Workspring will be a service (coming out of Steelcase) that offers exceptional project work spaces for businesses, organizations and teams to use. View Workspring's teaser site here.

What is your role at Workspring?
That is a good question because Workspring emerged out of a venture fund. My day job is Senior Vice President of Workspace Futures which is a global research arm out of Steelcase. But in my spare time, I come up with these ideas. And so I came up with [Workspring]. I approached the Board and I said, I'd like to pursue this. So I looked for some of the venture money.

I basically made a proposal to get some of that money and start working on this idea. The idea emerged out of just 3 people. The 4 of us are imagining and developing and building this idea. We don't have titles. We have business cards.  We just have first names. So, I in effect, live two lives. I'm and then I'm When it launches, which is only a couple months off – am I the GM, am I the President? It really doesn't matter to me. What matters is that we're doing it.

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As mentioned at DRC...
Feel free to add your own that you observed in the comments.

Data visualization Commuting Time Maps

Measuring Emotion: The Mind of Tcho Chocolate

Synesthisia: When Math =Color

The Mobility Vision Integration Process

Rob Tannen's high def research tool @ Designing for Humans

Livescribe Pulse - a high def tool with pros and cons

Designing from the Inside Out from Interactions Magazine

Steelcase introduces a new way to work: Workspring

Larry Leifer, Stanford Center for Design Research: "This is what we do at the":
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