On Tuesday, the Nordes13 conference was dedicated to workshops, taking place at STPLN in Malmö. I had opted for the Experimenting with Design Experiments workshop, focused on ‘understanding of the underpinning mindsets, epistemological assumptions [of design experiments] and their implications as well as possibilities within the context of academic research.’ The workshop format revolved around the discussion of a series of dimensions, suggested by the organizers, related to the overarching concepts of involvement, control and purpose.
Although some of the dimensions (e.g. artifact vs experience, lab/studio vs. field) were a little stiff to work with, they still offered a framework for exchange, and especially the plenary discussion led to some very interesting shared insights. Notions about expertise, and how to understand and work with the expertise of participants was one such topic, another interesting conversation addressed the roles, types and involvement of stakeholders, and the respective problems in having many stakeholders vs. working solo. The suggested dimensions also gave us a chance to reflect on the dimensions that were missing, such as the relation between subjectivity (so strongly present in design research) and objectivity (held up as the ideal in other traditions), and on given vs. emergent evaluation criteria.
For me, the most inspiring part was the discussion around our apparatus; the methods, theories, motors and representations etc that we use to investigate our field. It was Dagny Stuedahl who introduced the notion of apparatus, but unfortunately I did not catch the reference. Her emphasis on the processual qualities of the apparatus however made me think of the difference between a hammer and hammering (my mental image being the tool of the silversmith, not the carpenter) – that it is not just the tool, but how you use it, and that the affordance of the tool therefore also depends on the user.
Speaking to my colleague Sara today, I also realised how this again relates to Latour’s notion of the shared agency / the network of man-and-machine, and there is of course also the common saying that when you hold a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.
The metaphor of the hammer is however quite different from the looking glass suggested by the representation in the photo, where the relation is between lens and sight, and lens and looking (and of course the subject matter is also part of the relation). The hammer much more strongly suggests that we make something or change our subject matter, whereas the looking glass helps us reflect on the bias and partiality of what we see, the perspective we get of our field.
A very interesting paper presented by Jung-Joo Lee on Wednesday also reflected on the use and understanding of methods, suggesting that more analytic attention should be directed to the making phase of methods, rather than simply reporting on the name and template of the method and the data generated. (Lee, Jung-Joo ‘Method Making as a Method of Designing’ in the online proceedings: http://www.nordes.org/nordes2013/pictures/Nordes2013Proceedings.pdf) I look forward to reading the paper in full, as I am very keen to get down to describing and reflecting on my own methodology developed in this project.
My final take away was another great paper by Dagny Stuedahl and Sarah Lowe, relating ‘Design Experiments with Social Media and Museum Content in the Context of the Distributed Museum’ (also in the proceedings).
Their small-scale experiments with mediating museum matter via Instagram, their theoretical framework of the distributed museum (referencing Bautista and Balsamo 2011 (MW paper), but also reminding me of Proctor 2011 (also MW)) and not least their understandings around the notions of translation, alignment, enrolment and circulation of references, moving from the museum domain into the public domain of Instagram were super interesting and very relevant for my own research. However, despite valuable insights derided from the experiments, Stuedahl could report that museum practice had not changed, and that the output was still an app, not at continous engament on Instagram. Too bad.