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Great Outdoor Of Design 2011

I was invited to attend the GOOD'11 conference on 23 September. The conference took place at a lovley cinema at Shoreditch East London and the hosts, Geke and Bas, are both well-recognised designer and researchers in Service Design for many years.

The conference is organised by REACH, a global network for Design Research. This is their first conference, and to my knowledge, this is the first time design researchers and research designers from all over the world get to attend a conference focus solely on them but nothing else.

Over all it is an exciting event, because of the global aspect of the conference, which gathered speakers from not only Europe, but also Asia and South America. It is refreshing to hear how Design Research has been developed outside the areas of Europe and North America. There is a number of presentations that caught my eyes:

IDSL is from Paris, they shared some experience of useing objects to help client build empathy and embrace emotion in product or service innovation process. They talked about using open-ended objects (haven't heard the term? have a look at this paper) to allow developers, designers, innovators to use their multiple senses (e.g. touch) in concept development conversations. It takes them away from being abstract pictures on a paper and people feel and even experience what can possibly become the reality of future. One of the example suggest the use of low tech prototype in concept test to gather early user feedback. With the general growing use of mobile or tablet devices in design solutions, I believe low tech prototype like this can help designers enormously if they are facilitated by researchers to observe and analyse how user interact with smaller screens within a close-to-reality environment.

Image taken from IDSL's conference presentation at GOOD'11

Denmark's Antopologerne bring a case study on sustainable energy use. The start of the project looked like a common user research stage, get user in. Focus group, diary study, interviews, standard stuff no suprise. But, what really interest me, is the research work did not stop here with a thick report. The project made fully use of the 150 user sample and builded an online community with these users, along side the face to face workshops with the client. The use of community proved to offer continous insights such as behaviour change happening with the testing product in their home. It extended the conversation between user and researcher to user to other users, and even user with client, and user to tech support staff. In other word, it simulated a ecosystem that resembled a likely future senario of the energy use solution put into test.

Image taken from Antropologerne's conference presentation at GOOD'11

This made me think what is miss in User Research (attention, not Design Research), is this continous connection between user and the development of the solution. When research are only viewed as an addtional assest to test outputs of projects, have we recognised the value of research as a project that have equal weight to design? Can we design a research project in ways that build real relationship with the user instead of treating them as just another samples? I am not suggesting every project should have a full-on design research process and short-term user research (or user test I should call it) has its position in design process. But if we are really serious about making the best use of research in design, we should have a fuller collaboration between design and research. And along with it, a resource and a marketing system that supports such collaboration.

There is also a Service Design project in the conference. It is Workstreet from a young German agency, Minds and Makers. The project is about helping street kids find jobs that can help their financially and their self-esteem. The idea is simple, find street kids and offer them the chance to do simple hour based work, and gradully bring them back to normal social life and away from theft or drug dealing. And we all know the reality is complex and involves a lot of govermental organisation, business institution and social workers.

The project's collaborative nature attracts me, and personally, I love this type of out-reaching social based project that involves multiple stakeholders. What I am really impressed about their project, is that the design team not only mapped out a user journey for the 'actual users' of their service. They studied and created a journey for everyone who is involved in funding, delivery, producing, and using the service system. Everyone in the system is a service user with their own motivations and needs. I have always emphasised that service designer has an important role in balancing these different faces of service users, and the only way to do it, is to work closely with all of them.

 Image taken from Minds & Maker's conference presentation at GOOD'11

 Image taken from Minds & Maker's conference presentation at GOOD'11

SPUR, with location in both Singapore and Tokyo, provide me with some sights into how Design Research is like in Asia. Their presentation the power of One/Many really showed a global perspective on what happens when Design Research insights from different countries come together. The story started from the unforgetable earthquake in March at Japan and how it changed the whole nation's relationship and persception of energy. Japan is a highly digitised nation. Citizens rely their day-in-day-out basic life on mobile, computer monitored public traffic system, virtual cash, which awere all cut off (or put on limited use) once the energy supply is in danger. The story continued to show us a number of insights gathered by the researchers during their study in energy consumption project conducted in all over the world. 

 Image taken from SPUR's conference presentation at GOOD'11

Good researchers take notice of potential solutions from different cases. An idea tryed and tested in one place may become a seed to innovation in another. Through collaborative research around the globe, insights like this is becoming an important resource of concept screening. This is why researcher should not be 'gone' after their interviews with the user is 'done'. Good researchers picks up trends and even ideas for solutions, I think designers should take advantage of this valuable knowledge, rather than trying to start from scratch all over again. Collaborating with researcher also means become a good listener ourselves.

 Image taken from SPUR's conference presentation at GOOD'11

If you are after a full list of all presentations at GOOD'11, please have a look at here

Note: All images were taken at the respective presentations at GOOD'11 conference, if you would like any of the pictures to be taken out, please contact me and I am happy to assist.


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