Research and design are two sides of the same coin. As a researcher, I do interviews, run focus groups and workshops, collect and examine text (like social media comments) and conduct surveys. I design with people, collaborate with designers and developers, prototype (paper sketch and Adobe XD), and watch people use stuff so that I can figure out how to make it better. In my current role, design is primarily a way of learning about people. I design stuff to generate, synthesize, and communicate insights and ideas.
Generating insights involves designing something and then talking to someone about it. They’ll tell you what makes sense and what doesn’t and will share lots of details about their values, ideas, and practices that may not have come up otherwise.
Synthesizing insights involves creating new design elements (buttons, pages, filters, etc.) as an interpretation of qualitative data. I created a discovery app for dumpster divers, as a way of synthesizing insights from a thematic analysis of dumpstermap.org. Dive is a mobile application allowing divers to search for, and add information about, dumpsters to an interactive map. It allows divers to filter their search for dumpsters by (1) safety/accessibility, (2) food content, and (3) social interactions.
Communicating insights involves leveraging designs in conversations or presentations to support the stories I tell about people. For the past year or so, we’ve been engaged in an ongoing participatory design project with local water quality stakeholders here in State College. We have hosted a handful of hackathons and workshops throughout 2018 during which we’ve used a prototype data platform, Stream, to communicate research insights and generate new ones.