Preetham Kolari, of Sonic Rim, gave a talk in Seminar 2 about design research. His message was somewhat unique in that he split design research into methods and attitudes.

The methods included:

  • self ethnography
  • contextual interviews
  • applied ethnography
  • deployment studies
  • participatory design
  • cognitive mapping
  • collaging
  • velcro modeling

I’ve been introduced to or used those. So what interested me were his views on attitude in design research. It should be noted that Sonic Rim does research all over the world. He said 28 countries, I believe. Therefore his perspective has an international component.

  • listen
  • be genuine
  • know your goals
  • be versatile
  • trust your translator
  • become a sponge
  • look for patterns early
  • tools and methods are secondary
  • let go of control
  • loosen up and have fun

I haven’t heard that sort of instruction. It reminded me of my experience as a reporter.

I asked him what he meant by tools and methods being secondary. He clarified that the results are more important than how you got there. This led to a discussion about how to teach students to know which tools and methods to apply to a design research problem, and not just be wedded to a particular method.

Often, as students, we apply methods because we are required to do so to become familiar with them. However, sometimes we are definitely forcing a method on a problem that will not yield much. Of course, as students, we don’t always know that till afterwards. Ho hum.

There is also a question of time for teaching methods to students. I asked how much time Sonic Rim spent analyzing collages. Four to six weeks. As students, we definitely don’t have that sort of time. And I wonder, especially in the case of collages, where many of my peers are suspect of the method, if the method will be tossed aside in later practice as ineffective.

While he acknowledged standardized methodologies help designers, he also mentioned that they sell and help the client understand what they are getting. It’s interesting to ponder how much of methodology is to help sell design to clients versus being an effective tool. With companies like IDEO selling Method Cards, you have to wonder.

Getting back to tools and methods being secondary, he encouraged us to go beyond them to figure out what worked and why. Be reflective.