Learning as Outcomes: Addressing Discarded Ideas in the User Centered Design Cycle
User Centred Design processes standardly employ a circular approach that entail stages of early sketching and prototyping of a design object to understand the complexity and context of the design problem, followed by building a higher-fidelity prototype to test in realistic settings. During these stages, feedback from test users lead to reflections that iteratively reshape the design object, within a use/test-reflect-redesign cycle process. Outcomes from sketching and low-fidelity designs foster engaging more concretely with many alternative solutions to the larger design problem.
However, those ideas that did shape and develop the process but do not fit the final-decided-upon direction are often ignored or forgotten in the haste to find a solution and produce an outcome.
In the finished design there is often little or no evidence of these intermediate ideas and the understanding and learning that took place on the way are no longer self-evident and not readily accessible. This can lead to an increasingly superficial understanding amongst the designers and viewers of the work of what that particular design problem began to engage with. Subsequently, the potential inherent in the larger idea is barely realised, with important elements skimmed over or lost, As a result potentially ‘great’ ideas (or ideas with larger potential) and the work involved in developing them are too easily wasted/discarded.
In this paper, we seek to address how to highlight the learning process, as a concrete part of the whole cycle—as important as sketching, as prototyping and building— which are after all outcomes and manifestations from the learning-acting-understanding loop. If the design process promoted demonstration of learning as an outcome in and of itself (in the same way a physical prototype is seen and evaluated) in each design phase, we ask if and how this could impact the final design outcome. In this revised approach each phase in the design, use/test, reflect cycle provides learning opportunities to further the understanding of the design problem at hand as well as the limitations and strengths of the employed methods in the current context.
We developed two new courses that we ran side-by-side February-May, 2013 with several joint sessions for 33 Media Technology students in their final Bachelor semester. One course concentrated on learning techniques and methods for sketching and design, while the other focused on learning and applying evaluation tools and methods. The students were required to iteratively apply the course material to their main semester technology design projects. While the students came from a Problem Based Learning background, it became obvious they were not used to applying and implementing the lecture material in their own projects. For each design phase we required them to apply the taught methods on their project and share their intermediate outcomes and insights in presentations and peer-critiquing exercises. We encouraged them to leverage the gained understanding in the subsequent design phase, which included a new loop of applying methods to the design object. In each design phase we therefore promoted understanding through acting (applying of and reflecting on methods) and to inform this acting from the evolving understanding of the design problem.
Often learning is mistaken for reflection and all the elements of learning that are not implemented in the final product in a design cycle process are somehow discarded or minimalised. By promoting better understanding of the design object and the methods and their application in each phase of the cycle, we aim to improve the process, the end product and the design experience both for the designer and for the end-user.