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PHD-DESIGN  February 2008

PHD-DESIGN February 2008

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Subject:

Re: What is the "artifact" of evidence in Design Research?

From:

Ken Friedman <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Ken Friedman <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 1 Feb 2008 01:34:45 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

text/plain (126 lines)

Friends,

There's one issue that doesn't seem to have come up in this thread on 
the "artifact" of evidence in design research, and that is whatever 
it is that describes the research process. The evidence must include 
a description of the thing or process that constitutes the object of 
inquiry, and it must include a description of what we have done and 
learned.

To report research, an author must describe the subject or object of 
inquiry, the research methods, and the research process so clearly 
that the reader understands the project and process fully. This 
process narrative is the metanarrative of research, and I'd call this 
an artifact of evidence in research of any kind.

Describing the first artifact of evidence involves articulate 
narrative description as well as any necessary models, figures, 
diagrams, illustrations, drawings, or images. The model may be the 
thing itself -- toasters, teapots, cups, cars.

Words also play a role. Only narration transmits the metanarrative of 
research to place research in context. This permits us to inquire 
into the process and research activity as well as into the subject or 
object of investigation. Since the research process takes place in 
the mind of the researcher, reporting research requires the narration 
of a mental process in addition to a report of what we learn.

Clive's comments on process and realized thing also capture this 
distinction, though here, I'm addressing the research process as 
distinct from -- though possibly linked with -- the design process.

In discussing this issue in another thread, David Sless pointed to 
the work of Robert Horn. Horn notes important new ways of 
communicating through what he calls visual language. Horn's theories 
of visual language are important for many kinds of communication. One 
of Horn's articles describes new ways of communicating that he 
believes will and should supplant the older style of normative, 
grammatical narrative. He labels this new kind of writing "visual 
language." and this includes some of the kinds of writing to which 
Peter Storkerson also refers. (Peter takes up some of these issues in 
the January 2008 issue of Design Research Quarterly. The issue also 
contains an article by David on clarity.)

Early in his presentation, Horn (2001: 1) discusses the challenges 
involved in visual language. "(A) what to put in and what to leave 
out (there are some kinds of writing where you leave out the most 
important information!); (B) how thoughts stick together (and how to 
organize this stickiness); (C) what writing should be linear and what 
should not; (D) when to tightly integrate words and images into 
visual language; and (E) what in the future may be called 
metawriting." Then he goes on to discuss the new rules and the old, 
considering when and how to apply each.

One of Horn's most interesting points is that visual language 
requires the tightly coupled, appropriate use of BOTH words and 
images. Neither words nor images alone constitute visual language. 
The frequent wish seen in design presentations to find a way of 
communicating research without words or alphanumeric symbols is 
impossible. Only the tight and appropriate integrated use of words 
and images will do for many kinds of research report. For some 
discussions, narrative alone will do, particularly for describing 
internal processes, thought processes, and the metanarrative of 
research.

The need to narrate the research on a metanarrative level is why 
neither artifacts nor symbolic presentations can serve as full 
research reports. They are part of what the research is ABOUT and 
they may constitute part of the research result, but the research 
itself takes place in the human mind, and reporting the research must 
therefore involve reporting thoughts and experiences.

MANY research reports require images and illustrations. ALL research 
reports require narrative.

We're not the only group facing this kind of challenge. Chemist and 
Nobel Laureate Roald Hoffman once wrote an article explaining how 
people report the research involved in designing chemicals. Can't 
find the exact page right now, but I wrote the key quote where he 
stated "that it is impossible to write chemistry without drawing 
molecules." Hoffman's (2002) elegant discussion shows how words, 
equations, and images come together to describe original scientific 
contributions to his field. Hoffman's clear, neatly argued lessons 
can help the growth of ours.

A good research report shows - and tells - enough for the reader to 
understand the methods and value of the work. It is clear. It is as 
simple as possible while being as full as it must be. It describes 
the subject or object of inquiry, the research methods, and the 
research process so clearly that the reader understands the project 
and process fully. It demonstrates the qualities of process that help 
each reader to judge the work properly AS RESEARCH.

This last quality is a particular distinction between research 
reports and reporting about research. A research report is 
transparent, and it permits us to know more than the fact THAT 
something is supposedly so. It allows us to ask for ourselves WHETHER 
something is so, it allows us to ask HOW and sometimes WHY, and it 
permits us to work through the issues to reach our own conclusion.

All these issues come into play when we consider the artifacts of 
design research.

Best regards,

Ken


Reference

Hoffman, Roald. 2002. "Writing and Drawing Chemistry." Writing and 
Revising the Disciplines. Jonathan Monroe, ed. Ithaca: Cornell 
University Press.

Horn, Robert E. 2001. What Kinds of Writing Have a Future? Speech 
prepared in connection with receiving Lifetime Achievement Award by 
the Association of Computing Machinery. SIGDOC, October 22, 2001.


-- 

Ken Friedman
Professor

Dean, Swinburne Design
Swinburne University of Technology
Melbourne, Australia

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