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So many product research projects focus on influencing a decision, for which the researcher provides very specific insights about a specific portion of the overall problem.The beauty of Participatory Design projects is that the focus in not only on the initial task-at-hand that needs to be solved by the group, but also that the unstated goal becomes raising the knowledge of the people in the room.

When engaging in formative, strategic research for my product teams, and by engaging them throughout the process, my goal is to inform my stakeholders about a broader, more holistic context of use.

I hadn’t thought about this particularly, until a design director at work said to my director, “I want to work with you. But my people can’t focus on anything but research that helps them design what they are working on right now.” [Read into that “can’t” what you will] His meaning was that I can’t spend time sharing insights with the designers that don’t directly answer questions about this widget or that widget. Very disappointing. Especially when I’ve developed good relationships with the Product Managers, Marketing Managers and Engineers by sharing stories and insights about user experiences that helps to raise there OVERALL understanding of how people use communication tools.

My purpose for this kind of sharing of insights is mainly driven by my belief that I am not at MOST of the meetings where decisions are made– if they are even made in meetings. I also can’t research every little question that comes up, “Should this button go here or here?” “Do people share photos or quotes more often?” Therefore I need to arm the decision makers with an empathy and understanding of how different users make choices, so that EVERY decision they make is a bit more informed by real end-users.

Comments ( 3 )

    • Paul says:

      It might be helpful to distinguish between basic and applied research. It sounds like the product manager wants you to focus on applied research; she wants you to help her team get through the obstacle du jour. It sounds like you are focused on basic research questions: what do the users want, and how do you shape the long term goals of the organization to get everyone there? But, there must be direct applications of some of your basic research. It can be helpful to think about those things, and use them as examples to close the communication and thinking gaps you encounter when talking with managers. Hard scientists have been wrestling with this dilemma ever since the Cold War ended. How do I get funding to study something in the pointless niche of science I occupy? By being able to make a connection to a problem people are facing today.

    • creativelyengage says:

      Thank you, Paul. Yes, that distinction from Science is helpful, that does seem to be what our young research discipline is struggling with. But the terms, “Basic” and “Applied” seem a bit too stark for the fancy-pants design discipline. Maybe we could jazz it up a bit to “Foundational” and “Focused”? Or “Open-ended” and “Closed-ended.” I guess that shows that my bias is to express the value of the first, and the limitations of the latter.

    • Jacqueline says:

      Well, the natural’ home if we look to the gseenis of PD lies somewhere between labour unions and academia. Originally this approach was facilitated in the Scandinavian countries by interdisciplinary research teams that engaged with labour unions to establish more influence of workers on work aumatisation/computerisation processes in the 1970ies and ’80ies. After those first projects there was also increased academic output in PD although it was then usually not termed as PD but e.g. work-oriented design of computer artifacts’. Only later as the field got bigger and also U.S.-researchers hooked up the label Participatory Design was invented. Also the focus opened up from strictly work-oriented contexts to also e.g. product design, education, communal activities, etc. At the same time PD, or specific forms and aspects of it, where taken up by commercial software productions perhaps a bit analog to the emergence of pracitices like user interface design’ and usability engineering’. Meanwhile there are even textbooks on PD for business contexts. Nevertheless I would say the field is mainly academically driven and primarily based in computer science, despite its high degrees of inter- and multidisciplinarity. But in the end it is usually about ICT-artefacts and not other technoscientific research/products. And it has a strong drive on actually building, designing and changing specific artefacts and environments which is certainly different in most STS and social science contexts (here I found the talk of Adam Bencard regarding OOO very intriguing, btw.). But I will try to find out more about that at the upcoming which takes place from 12th-16th August in Roskilde.

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