AD418 Research Methods Final Presentations 2007

On December 7th, seventeen students from my Research Methods for Art and Design gave their final presentations. From Facebook to green design, it seems that the students and myself were struck by their transformations over the semester. Perhaps, the reason this class is "transformative" is best expressed by one of my students who took the course last year, "It is the first time as designers that we were asked to think." Perhaps an over-exaggeration, but I think the sentiment the student expresses is how in the class one is treated as a thinker as much as a maker.

In the Research Methods class, I introduce them to processes, possibilities, and framing concepts, but they own the process and the content knowledge themselves. In the end, they are the only experts in their topic in the class. Thus, the confidence that students show at the end of the course is not just due to the fact that we practice their presentation skills three times during the course, but that they can speak the language of "academic" content and knowledge as well as their well-developed formal design vocabularies.

Interestingly, when I attended the Graphic Design MFA thesis presentations, two of the students had used the structure of the Visual Annotated-Bibliography to organize some of their thesis research. It is a coming back full circle, because I got the idea for the VA-Bib from a graphic design exercise on shape and texture.

Trendwise, the social responsibility of designers is now beyond the tipping point. Of course with the lectures on ethics, the students are primed to address their own social responsibility of creative people, but it proves a genuine topic of concern for students.

So I include the visual presentations of this year's class. The presentation ideas are not expressed to the same depth as the paper proposals, but it is important to showcase the visual communication of their knowledge. Please do not cite or circulate the student's work without giving them credit, a shout out, or even better, getting in touch with them. They agreed to provide their materials as a way to share their ideas in a copyleft kind of way.  We ask you not to abuse our generosity.

Professor Dori Tunstall, Intro to Presentations 
Download AD418research07_finals_intro.pdf (PDF 352 kb)
This gives the intentions, objectives, structure, and outcomes of the course. Each presentation must answer these five basic questions:

  1. What are your project’s questions and/or intentions?
  2. How does it fit within existing art and design knowledge?
  3. What evidence do you need to collect and your methods?
  4. What are your qualifications to do the project?
  5. What is its contribution to fields of art and design?

Shilan Afshani, MFA Student Industrial Design, The Kitchen Project 
Download AD418research07_finals_afshani.pdf (PDF 324 kb)
The project explores family interaction through emotional meaning of the kitchen and kitchen objects in order to enhance the quality of those interactions. 

Banan Al-Ansari, MFA Student Graphic Design, Public Art
Download AD418research07_finals_alansari.pdf (PDF 1 Mb)
The project studies the impact of public arts on people's behavior, their effectiveness on people's everyday life, and how people understand and react to them.

Joyce Epolito, MFA Student Graphic Design, US Designers in Uganda
Download AD418researchmethods_final_epolito.pdf (PDF 1.8 Mb)
The project addresses how US graphic designers are alturistically involevd in design and design education in Uganda.

Steve Hahn, BFA Student Graphic Design, Church Design/Media/Marketing
Download AD418research07_finals_hahn.pdf (PDF 5.3 Mb)
The project seeks to determine the importance and effectiveness of professional quality graphic design and media in churches.  Dori Note: This is the most original project that I've ever come upon in graphic design. I have not seen this topic addressed anywhere.

Christine Hightower, BFA Student Graphic Design, Facebook
Download AD418research07_finals_hightower.pdf (PDF 296 kb)
The project investigates how the interaction design of Facebook has made it one of the most popular Internet sites as well as one of the most popular social networks today.

Leslie Johnson, MFA Student Industrial Design, the Communication of Furniture Production Methods
Download AD418research07_finals_johnson.pdf (PDF 616 kb )
The project explores the production methods behind the transformation of raw materials into finished furniture pieces. It is also interested in the reasons why it is difficult to get information about production methods from designers and manufacturers.

Brett Jones, BFA Student Graphic Design, Expensive Sneakers in the Hip Hop Community
Download AD418research07_finals_jones.pdf (PDF 9.8 Mb)
This project studies the role of the marketing of African-American hip-hop rappers and athletes in making expensive sneakers a necessity and obsession in the African-American hip-hop community. Dori Note: I want Brett to do a Ph.D. in Design Anthropology, so that he can explore this as his doctoral thesis. That is how important this topic is.

Hannah Kim, BFA Student Graphic Design, Design and Fear
Download AD418research07_finals_hkim.pdf  (PDF 15.5 Mb)
This project aims to study the psychological impact design has and how the government induces the culture of fear to the public. Dori Note: Hannah is fierce. As part of her project, she contacted Steve Heller for an interview to talk about his writings just like that.

JungJin Kim, MFA Student Graphic Design, The Visual Language of Color
Download AD418research07_finals_jjkim.pdf (PDF 2.3 MB)
The project studies the facts and theories of the colors as it relates to people’s physical and/or
psychological reaction to the colors. It seeks to use this analysis in commercial design to get immediate attraction and give clearer messages to the audience without adding too much unnecessary elements in design.

Anna Leithauser, MFA Student Graphic Design, the Art of Bookspines
Download AD418research07_finals_leithauser.pdf (PDF 19.8 Mb)
The project investigates the use of bookspines as designed objects, as consumer items, and as decorative art. The goal is to study both how bookspines have impacted the design, sales, and evolution of books and how changes in the book industry have affected bookspine design.

Maciek Niedorezo, MFA Student Industrial Design, Aesthetic Value in Mobile Devices
Download AD418research07_finals_niedorezo.pdf (PDF 9.3 Mb)
The project seeks to understand the role product aesthetics plays which young people select a mobile communication device.

Russ Powers, BFA Student Graphic Design, Guerrilla Marketing and Social Responsibility
Download AD418research07_finals_powers.pdf (PDF 1.3 Mb)
The project explores the social ethics and business effectiveness of guerrilla marketing techniques.

Michael Ruberto, MFA Student Graphic Design,  Improving Tactile Way-Finding Systems
Download AD418research07_finals_ruberto.pdf (PDF 6.4 Mb)
The project addresses the need to improve tactile wayfinding systems for the blind and visually-impaired by understanding the effectiveness of braille, moon type, tactile graphics, visual symbol systems for wayfinding,
and ADA Signage Standards as communication methods related to graphic design. Dori note: You have to check out the moon type. Super cool.

Eden Sabala, BFA Student Industrial Design, Medical Design and People with Disabilities
Download AD418research07_finals_sabala.pdf (PDF 592 kb)
The project seeks to understand how a designers role in the medical field is just as important as an engineers, and to have a better understanding of how the human factor should be used while designing for the disabled.

Josh Webb, MFA Student Graphic Design, Photography Versus Illustration
Download AD418research07_finals_webb.pdf (PDF 3.9 Mb)
The project explores the relationship between illustration and photography as it relates to design and the audience it targets.

Jennifer Webster, BFA Student Graphic Design, Graphic Design Going Green
Download AD418research07_finals_webster.pdf (PDF 15.4 Mb)
The project addresses the question “what is green design” by showing examples of ways graphic design has turned green and been used to promote sustainability solutions in product promotions.

Aysha Zayyad
, BFA Student Graphic Design, Art and Design Branding and the Marketing of Fashion
Download AD418research07_finals_zayyad.pdf (PDF 1.8 Mb)
The project investigates the methods that are used and the ideas that are established to consumers and their decision making processes in applying branding to their individual styles.


Will the NSF be the death of anthropology?

A NSF workshop proposal by Allen Batteau, Kritzman, and myself was rejected. It was rejected for interesting reasons. The reviewers loved the proposal and thought it was timely and important, the panel had placed it in a mid-level fund category, but it was ultimately rejected because it was "applied" based as oppose to "basic science" based.

This decision made by the most prestigious funding body for anthropology raises serious questions about the future of anthropology as a field. At the AAA meetings, a non-binding resolution was passed to censure anthropologists whose research is not publicly available including those in industry, whose work often happens under NDAs. Although non-binding, it points to a denial by both the major funding and institutional bodies of anthropology about where the field is not just heading but where is is now. Anthropology is "applied" based or what I like to say anthropology exists "in practice."

According to the 1995 Survey of Anthropology PhD (which by now is completely dated), the statistics show that 50% of PhD graduates in anthropology find positions outside of academia. Once you include MA students that number increases. Somehow it seems the NSF is missing the boat when it says that "applied" proposals are a lower priority when applied represents the half of the current and more of the future of the entire field. There will be less and less PhDs in academia and mechanisms need to be put in place to  bring back  their applied knowledge into the academy to prepare the next generation of PhDs and MAs.

But if those projects do not get funded, then that work will cease to happen or will only happen with corporate sponsorship. As students want to do more and more anthropology in practice, than traditional notions of scientific anthropology are no longer sustainable. With exotica in the age of Discovery Channel is no longer  the driver that it used to be, the numbers of anthropologists will drop as young people find the field less compelling because it is out of alignment with their values of progressive worldly engagement.

So I am really disappointed in the NSF because it has deprioritized anthropology's present and future for a scientific  idea that is no longer sustainable from both post-modern critiques of scientific objectivity and social responsibility  for engaged research perspectives. Yes, it is the National Science Foundation, but there are no other funding bodies to support this kind of interdisciplinary knowledge creation. So you'd hope that the NSF would support the emerging sub-fields of the discipline.

My Design Observer article

I have an article posted on Design Observer about how the design community would respond to designers being called to do service design (i.e. social and infrastructural systems design) instead of designing products and artifacts by the US Army. What are the ethical implications of that for the design community as a whole, beyond the ethical choice of individual designers. 

The comments have been interesting, but frightening in many ways for me. Interesting because (1) they are varied in both the readings and misreadings of my question and (2) more people have written to me off-line than on the post. It is frightening to me because no one has articulated a position for what ethical practice in the design community means. Not even a statement of "Thou should do no harm." In fact, the consensus (in feeling) seems to be that the question is a good one, glad someone is thinking about it, articulating it, but perhaps the question is premature.

Ric Grefe and I had a recent discussion of why I do not consider myself a designer. I'm a design anthropologist, and my students may be anthrodesigners, but whenever Ric speaks about "designers" I don't hail to that identity.  While part of it is that I don't have training in design (I've had training in fine arts and the principles of design shares with art.), the other part is that I think very differently from designers. In this case, I have a sense of group identity while designers tend to see themselves individualistically.  As an anthropologist (which is much more diverse a field than design), I do not act (as an anthropologist) without considering my actions impact on the entire field of anthropology across time and space. Obviously, designers don't have that sense of group identity and sometimes don't address the impact of designing on the field itself or of its social implications across time and space.

Yesterday, one of my students wanted to talk about changing her thesis topic because it felt too narrow. Now, through the research methods class, she wants her designing "to have a greater impact." I feel good about that because I have drilled into students the ethics of designing both within the community of designers and for whom you design (i.e. end user and client.) It saddens me that I have released them into a design community that is not prepared for them. So perhaps, they will revolutionize the design field when they come into positions of influence and power. It's sad that their passions and intentions will be premature (i.e. they will suffer frustration), because there is not ethical perspective to welcome them into the professional design community.

Reflections on Ulm: when does cultural method become style

One of the cool things about being in Ulm, Germany last week was to see why many of the decisions around the Modern, International methods of design make sense. For example, German words are very long, so condensed typefaces make sense. The Post-WWII relations between Germany and the rest of Europe were dismal, so it made sense to develop typefaces without national markers as German, Italian, French, especially in Switzerland where all "national" groups reside. So the erasure of ethnic markers was important to the development of Europe. You can see in the order of the farms, the towns, and the desire to distance oneself from an medieval past and the economy of space in the hyperdensity of Europe make more necessary the rationality of the grid. So to be in Ulm where the reason for this is clear and transparent makes me wonder the appropriateness of this method in an American context. In an American context, does it just become "style" because the cultural-historical meaning is not apparent nor relevant?

For example, American words are not especially long. The "erasure" of ethnic markers now has a negative connotation tied to cultural assimilationist policies. The vast expanse of space enables a certain flexibility that the grid does not allow for. So what is the cultural method of the US as it relates to design that is as aligned to the "values and needs" of American society as the Modern International methods were to Post-WWII Europe? Are these the experimentations of Cranbrook and the West Coast Schools?

The interesting thing is that with the EU, the context for design in Europe has changed.  Yes, you still have the long words, but will future generations need the "old" markers of national identity to engage in the superstructure of the EU? Will nationalist typefaces need to come back as a way to challenge the homogenizing force of the EU? Will the grid need to loosen as more flexibility in needed to accommodate Romanians going to school in England and the influx of immigrants from around the world?

What will be the EU cultural method of design? What is that of the US's?

AD418 Research Methods Podcase Week 03

A day late, but not a dollar short is the AD418 Podcast for week o3. This week was about the ethics of research with human subjects and sampling techniques. This week's lecture is a little longer (about one hour and a half,) but its because we got into very good discussions in the class. We discussed the Nazi medical experiments., the Tuskegee syphilis tests, and I showed them a video of the Milgram Experiments in obedience.

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Again, it was a good discussion.

I leave for Germany tomorrow to present at IFG Ulm, so I am podcasting my Friday's lecture and will upload it tonight for a double feature. I will address interviewing techniques. If I had more time, I would it in the style of the PSA from the 1950s. Interviewing! How to make friends in 1 hour! Maybe next time.

Arbitrary meanings: Ethnographic vs. marketing research

Yesterday, Mohammed, Humanur (a visiting design scholar from Turkey) and I were having a conversation about doing research for product design. Mohammed had made the comment about how research is using to manipulate people into buying things.

I argued that ethnographic research (which seeks to understand and represent life from the view of the people studied) does not do that. This is because when you seek to understand and represent people’s lives from their own perspective, the arbitrariness of meaning becomes apparent. People assign so many different meanings to things you cannot actually form a "market".

Humanur provided an example of a Turkish woman who loved her Plasma TV. Because her husband is very strict and she was socially isolated, the “human size” screen of the people on a large plasma make her feel immersed in a life with “friends.”

You’d might want to put the label of “Plasma TV as escapism” on the meaning of the TV, but it’s more and less than that. More because it is the size of the humans on the screen that resonate with her loneliness, not just the escaping into someone’s life story.

This kind of ethnographic approach to research is distinct from marketing research which will (1) count how many times a person saw an advertisement on TV, or  (2) ask if they were a car what brand of car would they be. Marketing research imposes a pattern of awareness, acquisition, conversion, retention on those experiences. Although it tries to get to mindset, motivations, behaviors, etc; it imposes much greater constraints on meaning of objects and relationships to meet this business framework, than ethnography does. 

The core assumption of ethnography is that by understanding the patterns of others we are less likely to, as Deng Ming-Dao in 365 Tao Daily Meditations says, “ruin the universe with our own patterns.” This is where perhaps they should teach ethnography and anthropology in K-12, beyond the social science courses that are taught.

AD418 Week 02 Podcast now available

This week, Week 02 Secondary Research, provides an overview of the (1) the five questions asked in proposal, (2) the four stages of research, (3) secondary vs. primary research and sources, (4) typology of research elements, (5) documentation sources, and (6) “text” beyond text.

There is an interesting discussion with students on how to use Russell Bernard's five elements of research:

  1. Internal states
  2. External states
  3. Behaviors
  4. Artifacts
  5. Environments

The point I was making is that it allows you to talk about your research within 2-3 words. My research is about people's internal states (beliefs) and artifacts for the elevator speech.

As I am preparing for a proposal at IFG Ulm next next week, I am going to use the 5 questions asked in a proposal as a basis:

  1. What are the questions or intentions of your research?
  2. How does it fit within a wider body of knowledge in the field?
  3. What will be your evidence and how will you gather it?
  4. What are your qualifications to conduct the research?
  5. What is its contribution to the field?

Cool stuff. We visited the library where librarian Steve Brantley walked the students through the UIC search systems. UIC has RefWorks which is a non-proprietary reference management software.  So now the students can manage their references for free.

Podcasts of Research Methods for Art + Design

Available for personal and educational use only are podcasts of my Research Methods for Art + Design lectures, based on the AD418 course I teach at UIC. I hope to post my lectures every week, so follow along if you like.

The first one is about 28 minutes and 41 MB and covers the conceptual values of the course: Alan Barnard's idea of theory as Questions, Assumptions, Methods, and Evidence; complexity and creative process; ethics and creative conceptualization; anthropology and ethnography as toolkits for ethical praxis; scope of impact of creative concepts in the digital age; and grounded making.

It is available on my new "page" on the blog, AD418 Research Methods Podcasts.

Response to DO post "Why Design Won't Save the World"

Guest writer, David Stairs, posted his review of the Cooper Hewitt, Design for the Other 90%, exhibit in the August 20 Design Observer. David is the founding editor of Design-Altruism-Project and the executive director of Designers Without Borders, so he knows what he is talking about. The gist of his review is:

As it stands, this design showcase on Fifth Avenue in New York City seems removed from the exigencies of the world’s poorest five-sixths. Until designers and design curators spend more time in self-evaluation they’ll remain far from encouraging the dialogues or the learning that would bring about effective change for the billions who really are in need.

My response to the posting seems to be a call for a Human Subjects Review for design.

Context is King

There are so many interesting threads to untangle resulting from this post. As a design anthropologist, I really appreciate David's sensitivity to the limitations of design itself and the potential hubris that is always lurking in "armchair" altruism and philanthropy. Context is king, and it becomes "your chosen Deity" when you design for a context you don't truly understand.

Daniel Green's framing of the potential sources of failure for a design being sometimes functional and sometimes contextual is useful here.

Design always needs to be a true partnership between those embedded deeply within the context (yet knowledgeable of other relevant contexts where the problem exists) and those embedded in the design solutions. This is true whether it's a Fortune 500 client who understands her business context (functionally and culturally) or an Indian peasant who understands his fields (functionally and culturally as well). This has to be an equal partnership, which is sometimes the challenge as pointed out by J., Akh, Ryan Nee, and others.

Yet, satisfice is a dangerous proposition when you are dealing with people's basic survival (whether economic or cultural). When I conduct research, I have to complete a detailed Human Subjects Review to show that I am approaching my project with an idea towards (1) respect for persons through informed consent, (2) beneficence by listing the benefits and the risks associated with the project, and (3) justice in the selection of research participants. Design, given its potential functional and cultural impact on societies, should be held to the same ethical standards. (See the Belmont Report of 1979)

Of course, something akin to this is listed in AIGA's Standard for Professional Practice, but there is no review board to stop potentially unethical designing.

Design Anthropology's distinct character

Just completed today a NSF grant proposal for a workshop on Design Anthropology, with Allen Batteau of Wayne State University. I had Roberta Feldman read a draft and in the discussion about her comments, she proposed to me what makes Design Anthropology distinct from traditional design and traditional anthropology:

What you are doing, based on your work with Design for Democracy, is trying to take social meaning and process and tie it to the act of designing, tie it closely to the actual decisions that designers have to make. You provide useful information and methods to inform specific design activities.

Design Anthropology is able to accomplish this because it was developed in the crucible of design practice, as opposed to academia. It had to be practical (or it would not survive), and used the tools of design itself to make sure its knowledge was "actionable."

But sometimes people forget how hard fought the synthesis was. I remember the early projects at Sapient in the late 1990s, where people ended up yelling and crying all the time because the synthesis of anthropological thinking and design thinking was so painful.  Thus, Design Anthropology really represents the "bi-racial" child of academic anthropology and the practice of design.

What is interesting for me is what happens when you bring it back to the academy, which is my mandate. For me, it's not about democratizing methods like ID at IIT, which is a noble pursuit. The Dean, whom I ran into today, said that something about how I, representing the academic field of design anthropology, elevate the intellectual discourse of design so that design can be at the same level as engineering and business. I would say that it gives designers the confidence that comes from a sense of deep topical domain knowledge to engage in those conversations.  At least, it is my intention to train designers to feel they can.

So I think I can articulate, with Roberta's help, the distinct character of Design Anthropology in ways to justify its academic existence.