DS 95: Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education (E&PDE 2019), University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. 12th -13th September 2019

Year: 2019
Editor: Bohemia, Erik; Kovacevic, Ahmed; Buck, Lyndon; Brisco, Ross; Evans, Dorothy; Grierson, Hilary; Ion, William; Whitfield, Robert Ian
Author: Green, Clare Ruth (1,2)
Series: E&PDE
Institution: 1: ISD, Rubika, Valenciennes, France; 2: EHESS, France
Section: Creativity 3
DOI number:
ISBN: 978-1-912254-05-7


Research for insights into user needs and working with users have been part of design and design methods since the 1960s. Certain ways to better understand people’s attitudes and behaviour clearly pre-date this period thanks to their origins in medicine, psychiatry, anthropology and consumer science. Other research methods are considerably more recent and are much more specific to the design methods toolkit. One such example are the family of methods known as probes, which are aimed at facilitating autonomous self-reporting by people relevant to the design project. This paper presents a number of case studies in the context of design education where students have designed self-reporting kits and subsequently used these to collect user information.

Design probes (or cultural probes/empathy probes) can be seen as a “designerly” tool, with a relatively short, and definable history. They are a method or method-set which could be described as creative research methods. Whilst possessing certain guidelines, probes encourage diversity and re-adaptation both in their design and in their uptake by participants.

In the current design education context, students need to have a broad understanding of a variety of user-research methods. Tools such as design probes involve high levels of user autonomy and implication, and encourage self reflection from participants. In this sense they are a tool set that are particularly relevant for involving non-designers in the creative process and making their involvement more gratifying.

This paper proposes to consider probes and related user-research methods as a wider family that can be termed ‘self-reporting’. Designing and testing self-reporting tools represent a valuable learning opportunity in design education and can be introduced at a number of different stages in the curriculum thanks to the broad range of methods covered by this family.

The case studies presented in this paper are projects repeated over four years in two different design schools, with students in different year groups ranging from Freshmen through to final year Masters students. In all cases students were encouraged to give feedback on their research methods, allowing discussion of this family of research tools. This paper will present insights on designing and using self-reporting tools. These insights relate to designing issues, implementation, information collection, analysis issues and participant feedback on the tools. The insights are discussed where possible with existing research on self-reporting user research tools both within and beyond the education context.

This tool set encourages designers and design students to approach user-research and increased user involvement as a creative challenge. Effective design of self-reporting tools involves careful adaptation to specific user needs and contexts and generates empathy and understanding. The aim of this paper is to position and (re)define this family of user research tools and show their particular relevance in the design education context.

Keywords: User research methods, Design probes, Self-Reporting, Student feedback


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