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Design research

Workshop with Designmuseum Danmark
This Tuesday, the day had finally arrived for my final workshop, with participants from Designmuseum Danmark. The workshop was designed to complete my three stage research process, but as it turned out, we got so engaged in the discussion that we ended up scheduling yet another workshop in a month’s time in order to be able to continue the debate. I am really happy with this outcome, not only because it means that will get a richer/fuller material for my continued research (and will still be able to complete my research this side of summer), but also because it reflects that the discussion was valuable for the participants too.

The purpose of the workshop was to uncover the museum professionals’ view on the possibilites for and problems in framing fashion outside the museum with mobile media, as their perspectives will inform my continued research into the museological matters of concern related to this issue. (The intentions behind and design of my three stage research design is described in further detail in an earlier vlog post and in this short paper for the upcoming Nordes13 doctoral consortiumResearching museum matters through design).

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Workshop II at Designmuseum Danmark with (clockwise from left) Marie Riegels Melchior, Laura Liv Weikop, Nikolina Olsen Rule and Kirsten Toftegaard

I had therefore invited a group of people who all have a stake in the museum’s strategies for mediation of fashion: Kirsten Toftegaard, chief curator of fashion and textiles; Nikolina Olsen Rule, head of communications; Laura Liv Weikop, PhD student researching the multisensory museum, and Marie Riegels Melchior, fashion researcher and curator. Apart from drawing on their professional insights, I asked that they would also speak from their personal experience and preferences, partly because the personal perspective relates more closely to the user experience and objectives, and partly because I believe that the two can never be separated anyway, that as professionals we will always have a personal bias. Thankfully, if unsurprising given their passionate professionalism, the participants engaged wholeheartedly in the discussions, and I am really grateful for the thoughts, ideas and insights that they shared in the workshop. However, I have yet to transcribe the recordings and start my analysis, so I will not be sharing the outcome in this post.

Personas
In the workshop, I also shared some of my insights obtained in the first stage of the research process, involving prospective users via interviews, cultural probes and a workshop. In order to operationalise the user perspectives for this second workshop, I had generated personas from the four participants in Workshop I, distilling their (obviously more complex) viewpoints  into key objectives and interests. Their views, ideas and reservations were further represented in probe materials and quotes, which triggered some interesting questions and reflections from the professionals.

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Personas for workshop II, based on particpants in workshop I

Concept ‘dominos’
As for the concept sketches, devised to evoke a meaty debate, they took on a different form from what I had initially envisioned.

Having explored and considered a vast range of options for and implications of alternative forms of mediation, I found it hard to narrow down the ideas I wanted to discuss to a few completed concepts, as had been my plan. Furthermore, I was aiming to strike a balance between the need for open-endedness – heeding both the ethos of critical design and a general rule of thumb for participatory design processes stating that the rough sketch is a better starting point for criticism and co-creation than the polished prototype – and the allure and rhetorical strength of aesthetics (see Lenskjold 2009‘s descriptions of Dunne & Raby’s use of ‘visually stunning representations’ of noir designs); that is, a balance between retaining and relinquishing control over the discussion I wanted to stage. And finally, following an inspiring meeting a few months back with Isabel Froes, interaction designer and design researcher at ITU, who had also co-supervised my master thesis, I kept thinking about how the workshop design itself was also a crucial aspect of the process.

In the end, I came up with a solution which I believe served my purpose really well. Rather than designing two or three final concepts, I broke down the multiple solutions into concept elements, each represented by an image and printed onto card, which could be combined and interchanged in order to form a variety of scenarios.

As I started to work deeper into this concept, elaborating on potential scenarios and designing the cards, it suddenly struck me that what I making was maybe some sort of design game, an approach explored by Eva Brandt, amongst others. Getting very close to the workshop, I only read a single article on design games by Brandt (2006), confirming the kinship but not having the time to really let these new perspectives inform my design, but I will definitely look further into this field, to see if that may be a relevant way to contextualise and explain my concept.

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‘Concept dominos’

An example scenario could be fashion item/icon (subject for mediation) + shop (purchase as trigger situation) + QR code (as placed on sales tag) >> content of QR code? (question).

The scenario as a whole can then be used as a starting point for debate (e.g. discussing the possibility and relevance of leveraging a fashion purchase situation for museum mediation). But also the individual elements can be scrutinised or substitued, sparking new questions related to the same issue (e.g. does it matter which item or brand would the subject; what other trigger situations could be envisaged; what are the pros and cons of and alternatives for the QR code etc).

For the workshop, I had collated a series af scenarios, each exploring different situations or paradigms, but was also able to change and elaborate on them to follow the flow of the conversation. As mentioned above, this format worked well for this workshop, and I look forward to taking the discussion further in the next workshop.

Today, I lost my way in a dark and gloomy forest and suddenly found myself in a gingerbread house… This was the experience staged in a theatrical production of ‘Hansel & Gretchen’; a performance in which you make your way – alone – through an installation of scenarios, equipped with a torch and an audioguide, guided along by a narrative voice and an evocative soundscape. Rather than simply telling you a story, it required you to move through the story, allowed you to feel unsettled, not knowing what came next, what might be waiting for you in the dark, how to get out.

A play without actors, where you perform every action. Is it theatre, performance, installation? Does it matter? Does cultural mediation need to follow conventions? Does museal mediation need things, or a museum space?

Take for instance the current exhibition of Tutankhamon’s grave in Malmö, a complete remake of the burial chambers as they were discovered in 1922 – not an authentic object in sight but perhaps offering a more authentic experience of their splendor than a traditional display would? According to this review, at least, despite the heavy use of dramatic effects, the overall experience is one of enlightenment, not just light entertainment.

I’m pondering these things now as I am trying to get back into my project and enter design mode, in order to sketch concepts for mobile mediation of fashion. One concept (which I came across researching for a short paper for a doctoral consortium on design research which I also need to write) that intrigues me is ‘The Dark Room Fashion Show’ (no, not what you think, and to be honest I’m not sure if the sexual connotations are not somewhat misleading in this case); a fashion show focusing on the sounds of garments conceptualised by researchers in fashion and interaction design at Textilhögskolan in Borås:

Visual expressions are dominant in fashion aesthetics. The fashion show is visual, we show fashion in magazines, we show our new garment, we see the beautiful clothes of others etc. The basic design aesthetics we learn within the regular fashion design curriculum is all about spatial form and visual expression. It seems somehow natural to train our perception of forgotten aesthetical issues by bracketing these dominant perspectives. Garment sounds in use, this is not a focal issue but nevertheless basic to the way in which garment present themselves in use. The Dark Room Fashion Shows is a program for fashion shows presenting fashion with a total focus on the sounds of garment in use; expose the sound of fashion in use, show nothing, let a cat-speaker, in some way or another, substitute the catwalk. (from the research website)

I reminds me of an idea I had back when I was a fashion student, of devising a collection of words, of poetry – all the rich and vivid words we associate with fashion and textiles, textures, cuts and colours. Now, it would take a greater poet than me to get it right, but I might explore the idea of developing a concept for a fashion soundscape, perhaps something along the line of a Thirdear-style montage or Scenatet’s Kære Fisk (for sounds of fashion, also check out the drama of clicking heels in Fish & Fowl).

Tuesday was the day for the workshop with my four informants and new-found favourite ladies: Cecilie (budding designer and fashion blogger), Stine (digital strategist for Burson-Marsteller), Judi (stylist and former art educator at SMK) and Nanna (media researcher at DR with a past in the fashion industry), not to forget Line, a fellow PhD-student (Dream/Rockens Danmarkskort) who generously offered to observe and document the session. It was perfect. I’ll elaborate in a minute, but first of all I really want to express my excitement about and gratitude for their engagement and contribution, for the insights, ideas and opinions they shared and for the discussions we had. I left feeling high as a kite, truly inspired and completely spent.

My objective for the workshop was not so much data collection as generation of inspiration for my upcoming design process, and I expected to come away with a stack of post it-notes full of random ideas and a bundle of notes, viewing the video- and voice recordings merely as a backup. However, as the session progressed, and evolved more strongly as a discussive focus group than as an ideation workshop (I had prepared a guideline schedule, of course, but played it by ear, to allow for the session to flow and for the most fruitful discussions to flourish), it became clear to me that the discussions we had were so rich, that it would be a shame not to include them as data.

Of course, I am well aware that I will not be able to generalize anything from the views expressed by such a small selection of people, who furthermore cannot be seen to be representative of a wider user group. Indeed, as I discussed with Line afterwards, they were more like experts, having either professional insights into and experience with social media, fashion and museum work or educational backgrounds that informed their perspectives. On top of that, they were also all passionate about the topic as well as demonstrating high levels of reflection. So no, they weren’t your average user, but then their expertise allowed for the conversations to reach a different level, leading to exchanges that may not serve as proof, but which perfectly illustrates some of the challenges in this field. And then again, they were also ‘just’ prospective users with personal – and sometimes self-contradictory – views, preferences, habits and experiences.

So now I have a task of transcribing the entire 3 hours! Still, with the help of Line’s excellent and elaborate notes, I can sum up the session for now:

Evaluation of probes and digital participation
First up, the informants were asked to evaluate their experience with the probes. They all agreed that the presentation of the probe package was appealing and that the tasks were fun. And that what they really enjoyed was the analogue-ness and tactile quality of the tasks (the use of the term ‘analogue’ is an example of how this group had not only personal experience with, but also a detached perspective on and vocabulary for discussing new media). As so many other things in their professional and personal activities involved the use of a computer, the probe represented a nice change from that. Also the analogue tasks were easier to dip into, whereas the digital tasks – that most participants had avoided – felt cumbersome, timeconsuming and somewhat forced. Asked if they saw this as a general /potential barrier for participation in museum set tasks on social media platforms (e.g. collective Pinterest boards) they concurred. As Nanna pointed out, rather than trying to design for interaction on their own platforms or even their own domains within existing social media platforms, museums should try to engage in the conversations and streams already in flow.

As for the museum visit, only Stine had gone (Cecile had already been before the interview took place), whilst Nanna and Judi explained that they had not been able to fit it into their schedules, as a museum visit is a considerable activity. As Stine had downloaded and brought along the Designmuseum mobile app, this lead to a discussion about the need for any mediation tool to truly add value to the visit, and the often misguided predeliction for developing apps, when a mobile optimated website would have been a better option.

Following on from this evaluation, the informants were asked to spend five minutes noting down their immediate thoughts on and ideas for the the topic individually. After this, I did a brief presentation of my project (field, questions and research design), and an introduction to some of the perspectives that could inform one’s thinking about the field accompanied by visuals.

The participants asked good questions into my research interests and hypothesis, however, as the concepts introduced in the presentation were not taken up later in the discussion (one of the reasons for presenting my project was to establish a shared understanding and some communal references, as well as clarifying what project they were part of and how) perhaps this presentation was too long.

Museum types
Next came a discussion of the potential users and their context dependent motivations for visiting museums or pursuing their interest through other means, exemplified by the five museum types suggested by John Falk (in Drotner et al 2011: Det Interaktive Museum): The enthusiast, driven by a specialist and perhaps professional knowledge and interest; the experience hunter, seeking out the ‘big game’ cultural hotspots; the explorer, searching for delightful discoveries; the facilitator, focusing on making the visit a succesful social event; and the escapist, using the museum to recharge or find spiritual meaning. My intention with this excercise was to inform my future development of personas to design for, but the discussion led to little tangible information about the specific types. I even tried provoking the issue a little by asking what these types would be like as superheroes, but that didn’t turn out super useful. Instead, the participants’ sentiment echoed the point made by Falk; that these are more like roles than types, ones you dip into and out of or find yourself in, depending on your life situation and the context, company and topic exhibited. Overall, however, they would rather design for the enthusiast and the explorer than for the other types of motivation (as would probably most museum educators).

What do we want to be social about?
When I interviewed Stine before the summer, she told me that one of her key points when advising about the development of social business models was to ask yourself the question ‘What do we want to be social about’? (unfortunately I can only come up with this poor translation, that is a lot clunkier than the Danish ‘Hvad vil vi være sociale omkring?’. ‘What is our social object?‘ sounds better, but I’m not sure if that is quite right either. Thoughts, Stine?). This question has lingered with me since, and inspired the next exercise on the potential for and value of social interaction between Designmuseum Denmark and its users.

Again, the consensus was that the museum should try to socialize where the social interaction is already happening. Aggregation of content, via algorithms trawling for #tags for instance, was deemed a viable approach, if only you could get people to agree on which tags to use [this idea is reminiscent of the Twitter concept being developed by SMK, see presentation by Merete Sanderhoff at MuseumNext ] Another suggestion was some sort of personalization, turning yourself into an exhibtion (like the FB timeline precursor ‘Exhibition of me’), and playing to the narcissist in us all by displaying the feed of ‘#todays outfit’ etc in the museum. The concept of ‘second screen’ (and how the  second screen sometimes became the first, as the online conversations around a given program were what pulled you in, rather than the program content itself) was discussed (again a professional terminology). Other inspiration sources included GetGlue, iPhotoCap and #fredagsbog.

Asked what the museum could contribute to the conversations, both Judith and Cecilie agreed that they could show another side to the fashion story than what is usually presented in fashion media. Judith brought up a great example in the subversive photographs by artist Jens Haaning, with captions describing the outfits mirroring those of fashion shots.

Another wish was to be able to access and play with a digitized version of the museum collection, mixing new looks etc. This idea somewhat contradicted the agreement earlier on that the museum should join the conversation rather than try to set new tasks. A suggested solution for merging the two, i.e. to attract users to a new ‘service’ was to learn from the way Spotify entered the Danish market by way of Facebook.

Social platforms
I took this as a cue to introduce an excercise I had been a little uncertain about, knowing that focusing on the platforms can detract from the question of content and motivation. However, as it turned out, the conversations prompted by the social media symbol cards were very interesting.

The key, of course, is deciding what you want to achieve, understanding – asking? – your users and then choose the appropriate platform. The participants did however gravitate towards Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, again arguing that this is where the users already are. Whilst some enjoyed using Path, it was still a small community of private parties, and Flickr is loosing ground with the growing popularity of Instagram. As for YouTube, the group seemed to agree that perhaps a private channel would be preferable.

As I was keen not to forget the non-sociable aspects of mobile media, and tried asking if perhaps a podwalk or similar would be an interesting way to go. The idea was quickly rejected however, as Judi pointed out that musical soundtracks for exhibitions were rarely adapted. Perhaps all the talk about social interactionn also made it hard to forget that focus during this workshop. Gamification, as examplified by Foursquare, was also debated, yet, as fashion has no geolocation, it was hard to see how this concept would apply to this field.

Ideation
After a short break, in which the conversations continued, we moved on to the ideas-generation part of the workshop. The initial thoughts, written down in the beginning of the workshop included questions on how to bring the ephemeral into the museum, how the museum can share its treasures without needing you to come to the museum, and how everyday fashion and not least the personal relationship with fashion can be brought into or exposed through the museum.

Cecilie came up with an idea for displaying honour plaques around town to commemorate significant fashion events (think ‘Here, in 1964, a Mary Quant costumer first wore the mini-skirt’), which was well received and elaborated on by the group, and also suggested a public photo booth where people could have their outfit photographed for the museum collection (if people were willing to have their photos taken in ‘Kussomaten‘, it is likely that you could get them to contribute street style shots for a historical collection as Stine commented). However, as Judi pointed out, such contributions would also require a lot of editing on the part of the museum, to ensure quality, which again would raise the question of who has the authority to select, and what happens to the multiplicity of voices when they are censored. Still, the museum should have an expertise that is different from that of the magazines or the bloggers.

Another important contribution from the museum, as defined by the group, is the great narrative – tying information together to form a story, an argument, a unison – something that you won’t necessarily be able to piece together yourself out there on the internet. And overall, they were more interested in the material culture in the museum, the chance to experience e.g. a variety of fabrics or building materrials, than in a digital overlay.

DAC and the Danish Designcenter where brought forward as examples of this type of exhibtion, whereas Designmuseum Danmark (which holds a substantial textile collection, that was originally collected with that kind of use in mind) was perceived as being a bit old fashioned. Even the prospect of the development of a museum for fashion within DMD was regarded with some scepticism. Louisiana, on the other hand, seemed to be everyone’s favourite museum, and was mentioned on numerous occasions.

And so, after three hours of passionate banter, the workshop came to a close, and with the help of these great characters, I had collected a rich material to inform my continued investigations. 

Feedback
As Stine pointed out, it would have been interesting to have been able to see what the other participants had contributed via the probes (and so we ended the evening with a visit to my office to marvel at the wall). I had not fascilitated this knowledgesharing, and not even invited by participants to respond to the blogpost I made about the returns. Good point, and I do apologize! And please, Stine, Judi, Cecilie, Nanna and Line – if you can spare a moment and have a comment on how you experienced the workshop or have had other thoughts on the topic since then, do drop me a comment here. It would be great to hear from you! And be warned that I will probably contact you again when I’ve come up with concepts that need scrutinizing by you expert minds (but don’t worry, I won’t hold you to your declaration of interest, feel free to turn me down if it’s no longer relevant for you).

Just presented my project to my institute. In preparation, I decided to do a video of the presentation rather than try to write about it, as it is centered around this diagram of my research field and research design, and therefore works better in visual form. Capturing how I see and present my project at this stage will also be useful later on, as I can compare the future development and findings to my preconceptions and outset.

Rock on \\m// (> . <) \\m// ! Listening to Metallica’s Enter Sandman – one of the tracks on the fashion exhibition mixtapes I asked my informants to make as part of the cultural probes, which I’ve now turned into one long playlist on YouTube. Sure woke me up. And this music business really is a great way to get transported into the mood or mindset set by my informants. Yay! There’s quite a lot of dark and moody stuff on the playlist (and a few off-beat ones, like Metallica, Verdi and Doris Day. Plus the quirky, dancy, electronica numbers, but still often with a sombre twist). Interesting that this is the sort of connotation fashion has, or the mood that my informants would like to set for a fashion exhibition – very similar to the kind of soundtrack you would find in a lot of fashion shows. It would seem that in a fashion context, dark and moody translates as cool and sexy.

I’m using the playlist as background music as I’m sorting through the images I’ve been sent and trawling instagram for additional imagery (pictures uploaded by my informants).With all the weird and wonderful photos, links, cards, maps and comments that have been trickling in over summer, I now have a whole wall full of material. I mean, get a load of this:

The amount and quality of the returns is pretty much as I hoped and expected – including a nice selection of surprises. As described in an earlier post, I will not attempt to analyze this material, but use it for inspiration. Still, there are a couple of things that call for a comment.

Like the woman who sent a picture of her son in response to the #Copenhagen Style-theme. Bang on the money; kids surely are the must-have accessory around these parts, and the whole toddler-hipster (tipster? toddster?) things is huge too. Fashion is many things. Or the one budding designer, who sent a picture of a drawing she made in response to #My media. (Her list of bookmarks for where she finds her inspiration online, which she also sent, is a mile long, and she runs a blog and uses her phone to share images on Instagram; still it’s the pen and paper that is closest to her heart). The media-category also included pictures of newspapers, magazines and a website, but no mobiles, tablets or laptops (is this because the mobile was used for taking the photo, or because the informants didn’t consider it a medium?). And then there’s the nail varnish collection inpspired by baroque with names like Johan Sebastian Bach, Peter Paul Rubens and Ludvig XIV (an all male cast, as was the order of the day) – again, i didn’t see that one coming, but it’s a great reminder that inspiration has no limits, and fashion goes all over the shop when it comes to finding it.

Interestingly, I have had only one response to my call for Polyvore sets (+ one in paper form, i.e. a response to the restyling of New Look, but shying away from using the social media platform). Similarly, I have had only one Pinterest board, even though most repondents have a profile (but seem to use it irregularly). So even though these social media platforms may hold an interesting potential seen from a museum mediation point of view, getting people to use them to participate – or at all – could prove a challenge. Which is pretty much the experience in the museum community anyway. And only one person opted to visit the Rokoko-mania exhibition, even though all had been issued with two free tickets. She also tried the (in beta) accompanying app, but found that it didn’t really add much to the experience, although she thought it useful that she could use the app to read the texts in preparation for the visit.

The workshop is scheduled in a couple of weeks. Only four of the original eight informants will participate (one withdrew from the whole project; another has sent in a good lot of photos but couldn’t make the date; one contributed a map and other paper-tasks, but has now moved elsewhere, and one I just never heard back from (all the more puzzling as she was the one who posted on her own blog how interesting and relevant the project was for her). But then they are all really creative and engaged in each their particular way, so I’m sure some interesting things will come out of the workshop. Now it’s up to me to plan it well!

Complete probe package

For the sake of knowledge sharing (e.g. on Flickr) , and for my own future reference, this post presents the individual acitivities in my cultural probe package, and how they aim to elicit thoughts on and understandings of fashion, media, the city etc. which will inform my design of concepts for mobile mediations of fashion.

The probes are given and explained to the participants during a one hour informal interview. The participants are asked to complete the activities over the summer, i.e. over a period of six weeks. The presentation stresses that the activities are meant to be fun, and encourages the participants to make the activities together with likeminded friends if they fancy.

Fashion is…
The front of the postcard shows diverse statements about fashion from the likes of Chanel, Lady Gaga and Oscar Wilde, whilst the back asks the informant to voice their own understanding by finishing the opening line Fashion is…

Postcard asking for a statement on fashion


Snap!
This activity asks participants to user their mobile camera to capture images related to the following topics, and send them as MMS:

  • Inspiration
  • My media
  • Copenhagen style
  • Fashionista
  • Non-fashion
  • Today I’m wearing
  • Everyday life
  • Wish it was mine
  • A favourite thing
  • Bad purchase

Mobile photography


Show me your city
Participants are given a city map of Copenhagen (all live locally) as well as stickers, post it notes, glue and pen, and are asked to indicate their favourite spots with a heart and other noticable spots with a dot, and to use the ‘speech bubble’ notes to describe or explain the significance of these places.

Furthermore, the participants are encouraged to customize the maps at will – cut away or cross out the sections of the city that they dislike or never use; suggest changes or additions in the form of a collage, e.g. by placing the out of town art museum Louisiana in the city center, ‘building’ a cultural center or ‘planting’ a forrest or moving their favourite parts of Kreuzberg or Shoreditch to Copenhagen.

Mapping Copenhagen

Pinterest
Participants are asked to ‘curate’ an exhibition on a theme or aspect of fashion of their choice, in the form of a board on Pinterest. The participants decide the title, the number of images, and the content – whether the exhibition will show only clothes, or also include other items or images related to (their take on) fashion.

Fashion exhibition as a Pinterest board

Rokokomania
This activity asks participants to visit the current exhibition entitled ‘Rokoko-mania’ at Designmuseum Denmark. The exhibition shows costumes and artifacts from the museum collection as well as recent or commisioned works by Yinka Shonibare MBE, Nikoline Liv Andersern, Anne Damgaard and Laura Baruël.

At the exhibition, participants are asked to take and send photos of three things they like, three things they don’t like, and to record and send a short voice memo on their experience.

Invitation + tickets for the exhibition ‘Rokoko-mania’

Nailing it
Participants are asked to imagine the colour-samples as nailvarnish, and to name the colours accordingly. The activity aims to elicit some of the vocabulary associated with fashion and the related cultural references and connotations.

Naming nailvarnish

Polyvore
Participants are asked to create a set on Polyvore based on a photograph of Dior’s 1947 ‘New Look’. The activity aims to engage participants in spotting fashion-historical references in current fashions, and experiment with potentially new social media tools.

A Polyvore-set inspired by New Look

Mixtape
This activity asks participants to collate a mixtape for fashion – what is the sound of fashion, what tracks, artists, lyrics, sounds or moods do the participants associate with fashion.

Mixtape

Finally, the probe contains a selection of samples and treats. They are just meant to be enjoyed.

The goodies

Sketch ideas for cultural probes

Getting increasingly excited about the prospects of and potentials in using cultural probes over the last few weeks as I’ve started reading into the subject, and I’m now ready to start assembling my own. First step has been sketching my ideas (along with some probe standards like postcards and maps, as described by Gaver et al. and also inspired by this Flickr group and Elizabeth Goodman’s presentation on Slideshare), in order to start screening and considering their appeal, benefit, appropriacy etc. Next up I’ll turn them into rough prototypes that I can test before assembling my final probes. It’s a rapid process (and agile too, ah yes, ticking all the buzz boxes), necessarily, as I will need to have my probes ready in a week and a half, but then it has been rolling around in the back of my head for a while, so I feel fairly confident that the ideas are ripe and right. ( And absolutely sure that in hindsight I would have done something differently, whatever I do).

When I suggested the use of cultural probes in my original proposal, I guess I envisaged using them to get a glimpse into user’s everyday pursuit of fashion through media, i.e. I understood them as a potential ethnographic tool. In the meantime, however, my research interest has shifted away from user practices and media ecology and over to museological discourse and practice (as described in this post). As it turns out, this makes the cultural probe-approach all the more appropriate.

Dagny Stuedahl’s presentation at The Transformative Museum conference refered to this map of design-research types by Liz Sanders, which I found very inspiring.

Design-research types, map by Liz Sanders

It made me realize that the way I intend to include users in my study is not really participatory or even user-centered. Instead, my plan to let input from users inform an exploratory design process aimed at posing questions to and discovering problems in the use of new media platforms for museum mediation has more in common with critical design.

I was already headed this way after reading (during a truly inspiring and thought provoking PhD course on Varieties of Design Research) about Dunne & Raby’s Placebo Project as well as Mazé & Redström’s article on the Switch! programme, as the way they were using design objects or concepts to elicit thoughts and discussions really resonated with what I am hoping to achieve. I agree that design is not only about finding solutions but also about finding problems, as described by Dunne & Raby in Design Noir (here cited in Koskinen et al. (2011) : Design Research Through Practice p. 46)

Critical design, or design that asks carefully crafted questions and makes us think, is just as difficult and just as important as design that solves problems or finds answers

and that sometimes the imperfect is a richer source of knowledge than perfection, as suggested by Mazé & Redström:

Thus, our ambition is not to converge upon a single problem or solution, nor to provide a roadmap to a particular preferred future, but to materialize a territory of possible viewpoints as a basis for curating—and catalyzing—a conversation in the here and now.

[…]

we have wanted to encourage more nuanced or thoughtful responses to a potential object, situation or future, so as to counteract tendencies towards the commonplace and polarized responses of “I want this, where can I buy it?” or, correspondingly, “I do not like this, I’m not going to buy it!” Therefore, many of the design examples have a rather unsettling or ambivalent character, which was achieved through exploring and testing out different aesthetic strategies.

Now, I don’t know if I will or should embrace all of the thinking behind Critical Design (although I know that I need to address this thinking and my own use if it in my thesis) – so far, I have just been learning about the influences from the situationists, dada and surrealism etc. in Design Research… (above), and am curious to see how much of Dunne thinking in Hertzian Tales, which I’ve ordered form the library, I can relate to.

Either way, I’m not looking for a recipe for research or a set methodology, but rather see this as a tool in my own method. Still, I have been happy to see that my current plan for using cultural probes is more in keeping with Gaver’s original intentions, as he’s felt it necessary to explicate in the article Cultural Probes and the Value of Uncertainty.

Appropriating the Probes into a scientific process is often justified as “taking full advantage of the Probes’ potential,” as if, by not analyzing the results of our original Probes, we had let valuable information slip away. But this misses the point of the Probes. Sure, they suggested that research questions could be packaged as multiple, rich, and engaging tasks that people could engage with by choice and over time. Beyond this, however, the Probes embodied an approach to design that recognizes and embraces the notion that knowledge has limits. It’s an approach that values uncertainty, play, exploration, and subjective interpretation as ways of dealing with those limits.

This, at least, will make it easier to explain what I’m doing and why. For a while, presenting my project to people, I’ve experienced that the has been a stronger demand for explanation, justification and critical consideration of my method than I expect to have met if, say, I’d chosen a more traditional ethnographical route. That’s been (is) hard, as I’m still feeling my way, yet, as  critical reflection on your method and your own influence on the research should be demanded of any research(er), I actually find that choosing a method that makes this demand so obvious and prominent is an advantage, as I won’t be lulled into a false sense of ‘getting it right by doing it by the book’.

Similarly, I really like that the cultural probes approach (or ‘probology’ as Gaver suggests) is so openly subjective and that the returns will defy analysis: it’s a tool for design, rather than for sociology. So rather than trying to design for and read some objective truth into my probes and the responses I will receive, I can allow my self to be creative and curious, i.e. truly explorative, which is a great freedom at this early stage of the process. And good fun too!

Of course, deciding to use design as a way of addressing a scientific question is also a bit of a gamble. Not only is the approach not tried and tested, I’m also having to consider whether I’m actually capable of pulling it off. Am I a good enough designer to make good use of this approach? Am I a designer at all? Then again, am I a good enough researcher? A proper humanist scholar, qualified to take on Latour, Adorno or whoever else I will be pulling in for my analysis and theoretical discussion? Maybe not. But I’m trying to become one, and this is the approach that I have decided is right for addressing my field of research, my project, my problems. And if I fail – or where I fail – I can only hope that maybe in this aspect to, the imperfect can be a rich source of knowledge.