Luke Williams addresses Prediction vs. Provocation. Reporting and Images by Ciara Taylor
The speakers at the Design Research Conference, held in Chicago recently, explored a variety of topics relevant to design researchers. An underlying theme of their presentations, relevant to design professionals in general, was change. More specifically, the designer or design researcher's roles and responsibilities in the process of enacting change, and the resources they can utilize to advocate change in their organizations. Key talks highlighting these themes were given by Luke Williams, Todd Cherkasky, Ilya Prokopoff, and Peter Mortensen and Joyce Chen.
Luke Williams, a Fellow at frog design, gave a talk surrounding Reflections from the World of Consulting: Techniques for Inspiring Change. Williams challenged designers and design researchers to be agents of disruptive change in their organizations. He began with an illustrative example contrasting prediction with provocation, interposing an image of "the happiest guy on the Internet", according to Williams, with an image of Marion Crane, the protagonist from Psycho. Williams uses these images to show attendees what the client's reaction should be when designers introduce disruptive change. He reminds the audience that it is the designer's responsibility to provoke. It's the designer's role to discover insight and areas of opportunity for their clients. In service of this responsibility, he gave attendees a five- stage process for disruptive thinking: craft a disruptive hypothesis, uncover a disruptive market opportunity, ideate, shape a solution and make a pitch.
While Williams spoke about the role of the designer or design researcher, other speakers touched on their responsibilities. In his talk, Tactics for Collaboration in the Age of Analytics, Todd Cherkasky, Global Lead of Research and Insights at SapientNitro, suggests that designers and design researchers have a responsibility to educate. He presented four tactics to consider: talk about the services we provide as designer, not the methods we use; use tools that encourage collaboration across disciplines; build an asset library; and audit your organization's ability to deliver a cohesive customer experience. To elaborate on a few of these tactics, Cherkasky suggests reframing the way designers talk about their work by being specific about the services they provide versus the methods used, such as field studies, research photography, and user interviews. He recommends creating a journey or opportunity map as tools that can be consistently understood across disciplines. He also stresses that a designer's asset library should consist of patterns and user insight.Ilya Prokopoff, Partner at IDEO, spoke on the role of designers and design researchers as facilitators for change management. During his talk, Human-Centered Design for Human Systems: Using Design Research to Understand Organizations, Prokopoff discusses change in our society and how designers can gain insight to help organizations keep up with change. He shared five ways to gain insight into an organization: Don't ask, observe; follow the work, not the structure; provoke the system to reveal it; look to industry disruptors to find prevailing mental models; and find routines, rituals, stories, and myths. These tactics and insights play a key role in the responsibility of a designer and design researcher as they strive to create lasting change.
Conference attendees were also given some resources to assist with the roles and responsibilities of the designer as an agent of change. One such resource was introduced by Peter Mortensen and Joyce Chen, Strategists from Jump Associates. In their talk, Design Research for Technology Adoption, Mortensen and Chen gave an overview of the adoption theory and demonstrate how people adopt new things. They presented stages capturing the way the user adopts new things over time: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. Mortensen and Chen apply this theory directly to design and research planning, which allows designers to choose a strategy and research plan based off the stage of the user on the adoption curve. Within the user stages, Mortensen and Chen add categories of activities for the designer to utilize: Endorse, Curate, Integrate, Economize, Play and Refresh. An example of one of these methods would be to co-create with an innovator to learn to endorse. For this specific example, they recommend activities such as alpha/beta testing, collaborative ideation, and open source innovation. There are different activities and objectives for each stage of the adoption curve, specific to designing and research planning. Referencing and utilizing the adoption curve as a strategy can be helpful in the life cycle and growth of a product.
During the closing remarks of this year's Design Research Conference, Bruce Nussbaum, Professor of Innovation and Design at Parsons The New School for Design, encourages designers and students to find a place they can be authentic and find their voice. Luke Williams challenged designers to be an agent of change by not only finding their voice, but not being afraid to use that voice. Todd Cherkasky and Ilya Prokopoff provided attendees with tactics and insight to educate and facilitate organizational change. Peter Mortensen and Joyce Chen presented resources to assist with the roles and responsibilities of the designer as an agent of change. Now, as designers it is our responsibility to share the concepts we learned and continue the discourse, so that we can take on the challenges together and create future change in our organizations.
Ciara studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and received a BFA with an emphasis in Designed Objects. She is a conceptual designer whose interests include user interaction and social behavior in online gaming, and how they can inform the physical world and the design of tangible objects. Her work focuses on identity, human interaction, and virtual environments, exploring the relationship that people develop with the real world and the virtual.