Symposium at TUD: designing for, with, and from user experiences

On May 13th Anouk and I were attending a Symposium at TUD: designing for, with, and from user experiences. About 5 years ago TUD started the contextmapping research at ID-StudioLab. The day before, on the 12th, Froukje Sleeswijk Visser defended her PhD thesis “Bringing the everyday life of people into design” which can be downloaded here.
Anouk: “In the about 400 persons audience I saw a lot of familiar faces; it felt like an Industrial Design Engineering reunion to me.”

Professor Pieter Jan Stappers did the introduction illustrated by the IKEA bag: Everyone is a designer. Pieter Jan states that this idea is not the reality. Not everyone is a designer althought everyone is a user. But what is User Centered? And what is the role of a designer in a User Centered Design Process?

Pieter Jan invited Liz Sanders on stage. She is one of the first who developed methods for a User Centered Design approach. Check out Liz works for the Architect Firm NBBJ where she does Generative Design Research to understand experience. An extensive project NBBJ is working on is the design of a Health Campus in New Orleans.

A video of her full presentation can be found here.

Besides the methods she developed she also talked about the position her team of User Centered designers has within the projects at NBBJ’s: ‘About one and a half chair in a team of about fifty.”

An insight that fascinated me was the divergence between architects and the User Centered approach. They where almost opposites. For example she mentioned that architects view things like bathrooms and sinks in a hospital as details of the project. While for the users (patients, nurses and staff) however, these are essentials not details.
On the question whether how Sanders selects her participants, the answer was “I don’t especially select them, but I prepare them carefully.”
She mentioned designing for and with users, and within this last also made the interesting distinction in co-designing, co-designing with shared learning and co-designing with teaching.

Slide from Liz Sanders’ presentation
Picture 1
I recommend everyone to check out the video including her presentation slides with very nice and clear schematics.

After the break it was Jacob Buur his turn. Jacob works at SPIRE Research Centre, part of the University of Southern Denmark. His presentation dealt with Ethnografic Provocation.
On the question how to make sure every decision doesn’t end up in a not satisfying compromise, Jacob answers “That’s what designers are for right? This is not a democratic design process. It’s a way to make sure that all the stakeholders are heard and have some influence. But the final word is with the designers ”
He came up with some nice oneliners like “Innovation is not about predictability.” and “Innovation hurts!” Jacob also introduced provotyping in stead of prototyping. He also introduced a commonly used Danish saying: ” Cut it Out in Cardboard!” I would love to now the original in Danish. Anyone?

Finally Froukje Sleeswijk Visser shortly told about her thesis.
She also introduced the prepared Pecha Kucha style by former TUD students who use Contextmapping techniques in their daily business. Christa (Zilver) mentioned the fact that a lot of tools are only focused on ‘looking back’. The best quote came from our friend Sanne (Muzus): “Before my Masters I really thought users where aliens”. I’m not surprised by her saying this because the study is still part of Industrial Design at a Technical University.

It was very nice to be able to attend this symposium. Their where a lot of familiar faces from the industry. Both from the design side as well as from the client side.

The one thing that worries me when talking to the User Centered designers coming from TUD is the analytical and very strict approach(*). Almost all former students took courses in context mapping and came up with almost the same sensitizer booklets. An other peculiar thing is that the TUD approach on User Centered still views the user more as an subject rather than as a partner with projects. I sometimes get the feeling that the users are samples to be viewed through a microscope. Even when it’s the context that needs to be viewed.

In our daily business we find that users are very keen on participating. Long term relationships are both valuable and relevant within projects. And people are happy to help, knowing that it is their lives we are designing for.

The last issue I would like to address is the questions from the audience focussing on the costs of User Centered projects. They are time consuming. The lack of a clear view on they final result makes this even worse.
I think we as User Centered designers (wether we work in the service or product industry) need to tell the world that these projects are not costly at all. When one realizes that all projects end up with solutions that fit seamlessly in peoples lives, the created value is unparalleled!
It helps to show more results, solutions, products or services next to the methods used. Therefore the methods used and the solutions created should be evaluated thoroughly. Liz Sanders mentioned there is never budget for this evaluation step. Her hope is it will come with the next level; transition co-creation planning.
This way of working needs clients to be able to make this happen. In other words; projects need to be done to be able to measure results.

(*) Our Anouk is the exception on the rule.
(Anouk: Maybe it’s because I did not attend the Master design for interaction but chose my own electives and my own way of involving users in my processes…)



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