This semester, I enrolled in a design research project in the Wearable Senses theme. In Craft Stories Revisited, I aimed to research what happens to a space when users are able to craft some of their own unique hidden features into it. I started by evaluating the needs of 20 students in wearable senses, involved these users during the decision making and construction of 2 iterations of the space, and had them make their heartbeat into the installation. Users can visualize their heartbeat through a pulse sensor that projects their heartbeat on the surface of the space.
These visualizations can then act as a reference for a making session in which users can craft their heartbeat into the space using tools and materials of their choice, building upon and connecting their work to that of others. The space is built around a soft bench that beats almost like a clock; every second, a heartbeat of a different user is heard. The user is invited to reflect on their expression and that of others and the relationship between the connections through the use of sight, sound and touch.
Craft Stories Revisited:
Once upon a Space,
4 / 4
nicky liebregts / 2015
What does it mean to do research?
This semester, I have tried to gain an understanding of what design research is by going through such a process myself. I noticed how big of an influence I can be on the results as a researcher when I started interviewing and collecting data from my prototype. One of the participants stated that when I was interviewing her and moved positions, her “entire perception of the room changed”. If this perception is what I am researching, I am then influencing the research results by where I am positioned. Small changes in how the semi structured interviews panned out also changed the direction answers were heading in. It is then really hard to say someone brings up a different topic because of the prototype, or because of myself as an interviewer. The interviews generated a lot of interesting data, but at times, I feel like I could have asked for more elaboration on certain topics. While it makes sense in a gut feeling way if someone says that it is nice to see heartbeats together, the reason behind why it is nice is left unclear and unexplored. It was only after the interviews, that I realized where I could have ascertained more depth in my findings.
These realizations started a chain of thinking on what all of the different influential factors were to my observations and how hard it would then be to make solid knowledge from them as opposed to the knowledge being mere assumptions. The way around this I feel is by doing a lot of pilot interviews, revealing points where I might be an influence, and perhaps isolating more variables in the way I perform the data gathering. If I can become more aware of my influence as a researcher on the results, perhaps I can take myself out of the equation as much as I can where needed. I also have to take note that I do the interviews from a 2nd person perspective, and that my results would have been different if I gathered more 3rd person perspective observations. I will take this into consideration when I do design research in the future
Doing, Evaluation, Repeat
During past semesters, I often designed from a safe zone, an ivory tower where I first developed an idea of what I wanted to do, and then went to execute it. This semester, I tried a more pragmatic approach, where I did things first and then evaluated them. This reversal of doing and thinking allowed me to make more small iterations and ensured that wherever direction I was going, I had some knowledge to fall back on through the previous iterations. After every iteration, the direction of my project became a little bit clear; From the gathering of data I realized how excited users were to hear their own heartbeat, steering me more in that direction, and by making a wall for the space in the first iteration I realized that I needed more walls and a roof for the space to work effectively through feedback from the users.
It is with this attitude I feel, that I managed to get these students together to make the actual space. Even though it is relatively small, it took quite some effort of realizing the installation; through the material and the construction. By just approaching students for their input, fabric stores and markets for materials, and going out getting stuff done, I realized how much I can actually get done in a short period of time if I just take the deep plunge. I feel like this has lowered the threshold for creation and user involvement in future projects. I do have to make better evaluations after each iteration, where I step back on the work done, and reflect what it is actually that I am discovering through the making on an abstract level, connecting it to previous research and observations, before diving back in concrete doing. Sometimes during this process I was lost in doing that I missed some of the why’s, which strayed me of my research path and made the final result a bit too broad for what I had expected of myself. Even in the research conclusions, I could have taken a step back and make a more clear distinction between my findings and the previous knowledge to reflect on what really sets it apart and what I was trying to reach with my project.
Field Research put to use
I was excited to put my knowledge of the Constructive Design Research module to use through the realization of the spatial prototype, that I used to gather information from the users with. The installation worked in the way users were able to express themselves freely, in that it could grow and had a certain open end to its use. The title of the research project is “Once upon a space,” In a way, it is fitting that I replaced time by space, because time was one of the most valuable aspects of the research that was sometimes missing. The prototype did simply not exist for a long enough time for it to be properly used over and over again, building crafting iteration upon iteration. This time would also have allowed me to investigate the different themes brought to light a little further.
Even though multiple users were involved in the making of the space, and the creation really feels like a group effort, a lot of the creators have never met each other directly while working on or being inside the space. You can say that the space is a collaboration between users, but it would have been different if large parts of the group worked on the construction for the same time instead of the small groups that helped now. I think it would be very interesting to see how users use the space over a longer period time together, without my involvement. Interviews could also be done with groups of users, having them reflect on each other’s behavior and answers.
Validating my efforts
Because of the broadness of the research, there was not a lot of in depth new knowledge derived from it. Even though it took a long time to find the essence of what this space could provide knowledge on, I still feel like it is time well spent. Without going through the creation process and involving all of these sets of users, I feel like I might never have gotten to the point where I can start identifying in what fields and frameworks of knowledge my results can be placed. I consider this a learning experience. There are a lot of elements that come into play when doing big spatial research that I did not consider at the start of the project, but had me traveling from initial research on craft stories to environmental psychology. I feel like I can take parts of the conclusions and knowledge I gained, and more quickly identify which research topics will be involved. Perhaps smaller studies can be done, narrow ones, to gain more depth on facets of the installation and points brought up in the discussion.
One of the directions for the installation that I had in mind, but that lacked the crafting aspect, turned out to be explored in an installation several years ago. Pulse room by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer takes the same approach in visualizing heartbeats of installation users and adding them to a collective, in this case through lights. To see this idea being realized, together with enthusiastic visitors approaching me during the demo days, helps validate my motivations and vision on what I want to design.
If there is value in my space in that it offers a moment for reflection on connections and personalities and self, I feel that I can look for a context in which these values can really make a difference for a group of users, in order to bridge the inspirational with the useful.
Broadness and Depth
Because of the broad nature of the research, focusing on co-creation, crafting, heartbeats, spatial research and storytelling, I had the chance to explore a lot of interesting subjects. It was an interesting and open ended exploration, but through this approach, my explorations maybe stayed more on the surface at times. I see the result of the research as an interesting pool of knowledge, but a shallow broad one; only in some areas have I managed to gain some depth, trading depth for a broader field of research by including all of the research themes.
The research project is like a journey of discovering where the interesting niches for exploration are in such a spatial crafting project. I feel like only now, I am ready to start doing some in depth and more relevant research into the different themes, most notably the one of turning intangible qualities into tangible ones in a setting where they can be spatially discovered. If a structure like this gains its strength through growth and the continuation of crafting into it, than I have only just been able to understand what this space can mean for users. Virtually all of the researches that were used, underline this time quality and its importance. In future researches, I will try to be more aware of the role of time in my research, and I would like to do a more relevant narrowed down research to really experience what it is like to find new knowledge in depth.