Methods Design as Experience Design: ways of knowing what’s important

How often do we find it difficult to grok what someone means when they’re describing a method for researching or designing?

Lets think for a minute about Herbert Simon’s extraordinarily general definition of design: simply put, a process for moving from a current situation to a preferred one.

In this process, we need ways of knowing about the current situation, the preferred situation, and some kind of ability to know how to get from one to the other. Many designers do this well, and some who do this well take the time to communicate how they achieved their success. Design education and practice are overflowing with methods, methodologies, frameworks and tools to help designers stand on the shoulders of giants, and learn from the experience of others.

Methodologies go in and out of fashion. You could be forgiven for thinking that designers and markets get bored with a static methodological approach, and crave novel ways of working, but lets leave that for another discussion. Perhaps the most productive way to discuss different ways of approaching design is to say that different methods create different understandings of a situation. Change what you do – change your understanding.

So one important factor for practice is to have an understanding of how to get an understanding.

This sounds all very solipsistic and academic, but hang in with me for a minute and we’ll see where this comes back to UX and how it might affect the way designers work in the “real world”.

Methodological blinkers can inhibit the effectiveness of any designer.. as so many practicing designers are fond of shouting to the rooftops: process only matters in terms of the end result! I tend to agree with this, but only when a design is being evaluated in a limited and singular fashion. As soon as we begin to expand the idea of what a design is, we encounter epistemic ripple effects, and the way that designs teach designers to better design. Schön, and more specifically, Forlizzi et al have expanded on this well.

Take, for instance, methods: or ways a designer can behave in order to move from a current to a preferred situation. If the skill required here is a sensitivity to the relationship between what you do, and the understanding you create then its not such a great leap to say that methodological research is methods design, and that methods design is actually experience led design, for designers.

Let me back a up a little and explain.

Designers design. That’s what they do. Their behavior affects everything in a design process, and many designers (if not all, at one time or another) build on the experience of others by using methods, frameworks or tools to help them understand what is, what could be, and most importantly, what should be.

Methods help designers do their job better or more effectively, or both. They can be thought of as designed “products”, aimed at a community of designers. So what happens if we start to think about designing them from a holistic, experience led perspective? Designing them informed by the kinds of experiences their users (other designers) will have while using them? How would they change?

Perhaps the most fundamental change I can see is that the previous 500 or so words wouldn’t be there. I’d just get to the point, attempt to get you, the reader, to inhabit the experience I am describing rather than give you a map to describe my rhetorical journey. Perhaps I’d use a scenario to communicate the complexities of the situation, or attempt to get you to participate in the design process itself, or I’d describe some provocative prototypes that communicate different implications of working this way.

Perhaps I’d just draw you a picture.

methods as UX

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    Techniques Style as Experience Design: ways of understanding what exactly is important.