I had a conversation today with a Henning Fischer, a coworker at Adaptive Path, about design process, which got me blabbering something about my thesis paper proposal, tentatively titled the Leap from Research to Design in Interaction Design. I had not looked at it since writing it during finals week, so tonight I read what I wrote.

I cringed a bit while reading it, and invite you to cringe along with me.

Only so much can be gained from user research. At some point, the designer must make a leap from what are seen as the user needs and desires to something that doesn’t exist and that users alone could not identify.

Designers have a reputation for performing magic in the creation of new and innovative products, rather than by a rigorous process that other disciplines and clients understand. Although there have been efforts to establish methods, tools, and models for design practice, designers also need to be flexible enough to create their own tools and methods, diverging from codified methods and models.

Interaction designers need to understand the leap from user data to design in both their own process and in communicating their value to others. I want to explore attempts to model this process, whether they work, and perhaps suggest a new model for understanding the mysterious forces of design in interaction design.

I love my strategic use of “perhaps.” Perhaps I chose it because a model is not what I want to create.

A couple months ago I talked with Shelley Evenson about models and design process. She suggested that there isn’t a single process that can be employed because each design problem is unique. Processes are derived from the needs demanded by the problem. I felt this was a good perspective, and true to my experience.

When I told Henning I was interested in Adaptive Path’s design process, he seemed to interpret that I meant a modeled process. So he said AP does not have one. Good, I thought. But there is still a process. And it remains a curious thing how designers bridge user research to design solution, and that’s what I’m interested in for my thesis paper.

Wrestling with this issue came from my experience this past semester in translating user needs into something that doesn’t exist and that users could not ask for directly because of its nonexistence, and also with trying to evaluate the how user research was indeed influencing the end result even when it seemed like at some point the research was being forgotten. It seemed important to both understand the value of user research and at the same time forget about it.

It also arose from the many readings from the last semester, many of which came from the HCI community. There seems to be some effort to model design. I see HCI embracing design, but applying it’s scientific and analytical slant—wanting to quantify the process. This seems to also have an influence on the interaction design discipline, at least from an academic perspective. I understand the need to demonstrate the value of interaction design, but modeling the process like a quantifiable thing troubles me. It doesn’t feel right.