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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.


The description of youtube says this: “Using billions of searches, Google has prototyped an anonymous profile of its users.This reflects the fears, inquiries, preoccupations, obsessions and fixations of the human being at a certain age and our evolution through life”

For me it is also very thought-provoking. I would argue this also reflects our conception about the social norm of sexuality. When we are expected to have sex or a sexual partner for the first time, and when we are supposed to get pregnant.

Today’s class reminded me of a few things and I wanted to share in hope that they will start a discussion and helps your design/research projects.

Generalizability vs Transferability

Colorado State university has this guide to understanding Generalizability and/or transferability

It might help clarifying the similarities and differences between the two terms? They definitely aren’t mutually exclusive, it seems like a fairly subtle difference.

Relationships and Action Research

A while back, Shaowen suggested I read the book “The Action Research Dissertation”  [2] for my own research. There are a few visual which have really stuck with me that I wanted to share with you, especially as you move forward in capstone and other design projects. The following two images and citations are paraphrased from this book:

The first is the four squares of knowledge, which helps us see where we position ourselves as researchers/designers. this was originally introduced by Luft [3]. If you are in III, you are positioning yourself as an outside expert, rather than a collaborator and placing yourself in a privileged  power role. This renforces having insiders place themselves and stay within quadrant II, undervaluing their professional and vernacular knowledge and experiences. However, quadrant IV is where action research comes into play.It helps to reduce the tendencies of people in II and III in order to reach an understanding of a topic mutually and collaboratively (Quad I).

Screen shot 2013-04-09 at 1.45.07 PM

The second is seeing the different types of relationships and participation levels between researcher/designer and local people (participants/user group). It is taken from Cornwall [1].

How do you generally frame your work with those for whom you are studying?

Screen shot 2013-04-09 at 1.44.52 PM

It’s a great book and I’m happy to talk more about it! I really liked the 3rd column in this chart;  it made me think about my own work and how I view my role. Reflexivity and self-awareness, FTW!  🙂


[1] Cornwall, A. (1996). Towards participatory practice: Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and the participatory process. In K. De Koning & M. Martin (Eds.) Participatory research in health: Issues and experience (pp 94-107). London: Zed Books.

[2]Herr, K., Anderson, G. 2005. The Action Research Dissertation. Sage Publications Limited. Thousand Oaks, CA.

[3] Luft, J. (1963). Group Process: An Introduction to group dynamics. Palo Alto, CA: National Press Books