Reading through the Koskinen excerpt, I felt like the majority of it was devoted to distancing critical design and “traditional” empirical research methods. While there is obviously a need to separate the futurist outlook of critical design from the fiscal and technological pragmatism of the present, there were still moments where I wasn’t  entirely comfortable with the direction the passage was headed. The discussion of the Presence Project underscores this discord:

…the Presence Project constructs the notion of “aesthetical accountability.” Success in design lies in whether a piece of design works, not in whether it was produced by a reliable and replicable process (as in science). Hence, designers are not accountable for the methods: anything goes. They do not need to articulate the grounds for their design decisions. (p92, emphasis added)

Granted, the very next paragraph goes on to describe some of the problems with these particular characterizations, especially that of science. But it seems that for Koskinen, that is the point: “it underestimates the power of science and overestimates the power of art and design to change the world,” and emphasizes the need for both empirical review and the cultural implications of the social sciences. The “agnostic ethos” that Koskinen frames the remainder of the discussion about the Presence Project talks about project goals as “projective” and centered around a series of design proposals or tactics based on “returns” rather than data.

And this is all well and good; I can certainly understand and appreciate the need to examine a problem (particularly a people-centered one) using non-empirical methods, there is definite value there. What I’m uncomfortable with is the non-accountability portion: where anything goes, and design disappears behind the curtain. I believe building and fostering trust in design involves making your process transparent, however non-linear and seemingly “messy” it may be. It is obvious that the researchers in the Presence Project utilized a carefully structured process, and though their data doesn’t resemble what a traditional notion of “data” looks like (i.e. something you can draw “conclusions” from), it nevertheless culminated in the “tactics,” which help to ground future design directions.

In short, design methodologies don’t strike me as “anything goes” with respect to accountability, even if the data that emerges from them appears that way. We are all accountable for the designs we bring into the world, and by extension the methodologies we employ to reach the insights that lead to those designs.

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