Choosenick. Notes and observations on service design, as well as other interesting things/thinking. By Nick Marsh.



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Designography: Rethinking the tension between academic and industry uses of social science research tools

Jaimes Nel has posted a thoughtful piece on how to harness the perceived methodological tensions between 'traditional' social science practitioners (academic anthroplogists/sociologists etc) and the young upstarts using these techniques to inform design and innovation initiatives in the service industries.

This is creating confusion (and sometimes arguments) as traditional social science research tools, created for getting at answers and evidence get hacked and modified to suit the new needs of the design industry - principally questions and inspiration.

I know this from first hand experience. My Dad, a professsor of sociology, is always appalled at what he sees as my slap dash/good enough approach to what he calls 'social science' that I refer to as design research. I'll call a couple of home visits an 'ethnography', he thinks an ethnography is two years in the field. Of course our ends differ (him, understanding the fundamental dynamics of families, me, trying to improve the experience of airport check in - sigh), but its surprising how much our means cross over.

Anyway, in the article, Jaimes posits that a re-conceptualisation of what constitutes 'the field' might help bridge the gap, at least for design researchers working in the context of service. He imagines a new definition of the field to be the service design process, a kind of constantly iterating, temporal field in which we (designers, researchers and subjects alike) are protagonists, all participating in a simultaneous, continuous programme of researching and re-designing. Jaimes is a social scientist by training, but with a strong sympathy for design. This comes out when he pragmatically states:

Frankly, I’m quite happy to just drop the use of the word ethnography altogether, just as I’ve happily dropped the use of anthropology or sociology. These are increasingly market orientated terms and get away from the goal, which is to discern understanding of the past in the service of the future. Maybe what we are engaged in is “designography” and our completed work, our theory is the design itself.

He goes on to make a startlingly obvious point that I hadn't really considered before - 'traditional' research is in the business of finding answers, but the type of design research practiced by Jaimes and other service design researchers tends to be in the business of finding questions and options - often to fuel creative design work. (Design itself is firmly in the business of the future, or as Jack Schulze calls it 'cultural invention'.)

Inspiring stuff. Head over to his blog and let him know what you think in the comments.'
May 26th, 2009 / Trackback / Comments