Sexy Research

We have been practicing People Centred Design for nearly a decade now.  When we started out the concept was not widely known and the majority of people felt that we were either mildly eccentric or had come up with a crafty sales gimmick. Nearly a decade on and people centred design methods and approaches have suddenly gained popularity and everyone from the local QS to Glasgow City Council is pushing the people agenda.

people make glasgow

People Make Glasgow campaign

This is of course great news for us as we have now established ourselves a decent reputation in this area.  However, using people centred methods for interior design is not as simple as most people would think and the sudden popularity of the practice has resulted in some slightly worrying trends.  As far as we know PCD originated in the world of product design where it has been used to great effect for decades and many of our methods have been borrowed from this field.  However, as we are dealing with the complexities of space we have been forced to look beyond this and equally as many of our methods have been borrowed from other sources such as architectural psychology, anthropology and even urban planning.  To complicate matters further each new space comes with its own questions and culture so we rarely use the same grouping of methods twice.

Recently we have been excited to see people centred approaches featuring in the portfolios of graduates Sadly though, while many of the methods students are using are effective in a product design scenario they are fairly useless for interior situations. The worst culprit amongst these methods is the cultural probe. A cultural probe is a package containing a number of items such as diaries, cameras, maps etc which are designed to prompt users to record their everyday interactions with the world.  The contents of the probe are tailored to the needs of that participant group and/or the subject of the research.  The design of contents, questions and prompts is critical in ensuring that the information returned is of sufficient quantity, as is the recruitment of participants as a successful probe relies on the user investing a number of hours to fill them out. Most importantly it takes an experienced team to analyse the contents.   We have and do use Cultural Probes.  However they are usually only used to back up other methods on a large projects and only if we have a captive audience that is certain to participate.   Despite the lack of success of the cultural probe for use in interior design we continue to see them pop up with frightening regularity.  Recently we started to push this question with students and those that have ventured down this route happily admitted to us that their reason for selecting this method is that they look damn sexy in a portfolio.

Probe at Fraserburgh Hospital

Probe at Fraserburgh Hospital

University of Liverpool Probe

University of Liverpool Probe

 The other issue we see with regularity is an enthusiasm to embrace user centred methods but a lack of confidence in the research itself to be engaging and sexy.  This often leads to a confusing fusion between research and performance/ installation art and it is obvious that a good opportunity to gain real insights has been lost. .Research led or user centred design has become so popular it is even attracting a bit of healthy ridicule.  One of our team found this web-link the other day, which is jolly funny and not entirely without foundation (although we do suspect that someone got beaten in a tender by research led team – click on image for link)

Poopoo Strategy

Poopoo Strategy

The point is that there is plenty of folk out who clearly either are or want to be seen as offering a research led/people centred design service, particularly the sexier more visual types. The new headache for clients is working out who really can.

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