Design and research processes

Looking back at how I entered my bachelor’s and master’s, it is safe to say that I have developed many hard skills. But more importantly, a way of thinking creatively and way to handle long-term but sometimes very open-ended projects. I have learned many different approaches to projects, whether more iterative using the double diamond, more user-centred or more data-centric. I also learned ways to think about behaviour, societal values and interactions. Most importantly, I learned how to critically think, how to adapt these methods and theories into a way that we can use them in our projects. I also think that that is the best assets Industrial Designers have. The fact that we can take on projects from A to Z and have something to add in every step. I’m not an expert at anything, but I can do research, work with users, program electronics, and bring everything together from a business perspective where I can explain the value and next steps needed.

For me, U&S and T&R have always been the most important pillars. If you have a problem that users face and you truly understand their issue, then in my opinion the next step is to build prototypes that might help and explore what might help. This way you can have a minimal viable prototype that people want in a very short amount of time. The other expertise areas serve more supportive roles for my process. While they are important, they are usually not my main goal nor what I get most enjoyment out of.

 

User and Society (U&S)

For me, U&S means thinking about real-life issues and their implications in society. It’s about thinking about the user and its stakeholders and using different perspectives to gain a better understanding of them and the context. Through courses such as Design for behavioural change and Community experience design, I learned different ways to think about users, behaviour, and its societal context, and different ways to include them in the design process and for what goals.

Within my projects, I have always tried to engage users at different points within the design process, e.g. during the problem scope, ideation, testing, and evaluation. Discussing my process and design with them made my projects helpful, valuable, and desirable.

 

Technology & Realization (T&R)

For me, T&R means being able to go from idea to prototype. This way rather than a concept, you can test out interactions and evaluate ideas with users. This is another thing that sets us apart from other TU/e studies. Through rapid prototyping methods such as laser cutting, 3D printing, working with Arduinos or foamboard, we can go from sketch to at least a wizard-of-oz or MVP in a few days/week time. These skills are what allow us to be creative and think iteratively, it allows us to test with users and test potential value before spending months on development.

Within my projects, I have always focused on making experienceable prototypes so that we could do a user evaluation that relied on technology rather than the imagination of the user. (This is also nice, but can be difficult for non-designers.) When I started with my master’s, I was quite bad at coding and working with electronics, however, by trying, exploring, and for instance, making flow charts of the functionalities, I was able to learn and improve.

 

Math, Data & Computing (M,D&C)

For me M,D&C means being able to both work with gathering data (e.g. sensors or communication between devices), as well as being able to process that data. For me, that means being able to set up prototypes that either measure and compute such as my FMP – RayNood or to use technology to work together such as in M11 – Debatably.

In my projects, this expertise connects very closely to T&R, as M,D&C involves mostly the foundation for technology and its results. Without data and computing, technology is nowhere. Nor are the results. For most projects, I tried to combine qualitative and quantitative data to ensure a broad evaluation. I believe that that method ensures that the technical aspect as well as the usability are being evaluated. For this, a few methods such as affinity diagramming as well as using Python and MATLAB were explored.

 

Business and Enterpreneurship (B&E)

For me, B&E exploring paths that are not paved yet. It has close ties to U&S, but it is about the bigger picture. Not just the user, but the system and market on which the solution-problem space lives. It’s about finding a problem and looking beyond to for instance stakeholders that you might be able to collaborate with or get inspiration from. To looking at a way to raise awareness on the issue and ensuring that the value can be understood. It’s about making a difference beyond courses and taking ideas further than a business plan but also in practice.

The development within this competence has come from extracurricular activities, e.g. being project lead at student team CORE, doing pilot design for ABS or my board year, combined with courses such as Design for social innovation’ and Innovation and Entrepreneurship Processes. I learned about networking at business fairs and setting up collaborations with interesting companies, evaluating business plans, or looking at ways to get subsidies from the government. I also learned more about evaluating the value that you bring onto the market and how to pitch that.

 

Creativity & Aesthetics (C&A)

For me, C&A entails two different expertise: creative thinking and thinking about aesthetics. Creative thinking is I think the most valuable asset we learn during our studies. It’s about iterative thinking, not going by a first gut but exploring different options, views, and ideas. It’s an underlying expertise for all the other competencies. For instance during the course ‘a designerly perspective on IoT’, the way you have to think, was very different from what I’m used to. Nonetheless, was it also interesting to think about things from a different perspective. In my opinion is this the true strength of a designer, being able to adapt to different processes and try to creatively think about problems.

Nonetheless, do I view aesthetics as a step that can come later in the design process. As I’m trying to work on issues that people have intrinsic motivation for, I have always preferred to ensure technical feasibility rather than spend time thinking about the aesthetic. However, I do recognize that for most designs aesthetics do play a big role early in the process as well, the aesthetics can greatly impact the user experience, so it does make sense to include this in the design process earlier on than what I usually did.