4.12.11 | Transblog
Choosing an appropriate methodology for a design research assignment can require consideration of some pretty odd details to the casual observer. It’s not often that one heavily weighs out the attributes of a pencil vs. a felt marker, but that’s exactly what I did when I recently planned out a needs assessment exercise for users of a multi-purpose area in a community center in the South Bronx. One might argue that the focus should be about the message or information the tool facilitates, but I would argue that selecting the right tool can provide constraints which help influence the outcome in a unbiased manner.
Selecting the appropriate medium to be used by the participants in the exercise was influenced by the level of detail I was hoping to extract. My theory was based upon observation that the more detail the tool permits, the more detail the participant will provide. In an exercise where the goal is to get as many ideations as possible down on a piece of paper in a short period of time, using an item such as a pen or pencil will inadvertently cause the flow of ideas to be stifled down to a trickle. The thin lines these tools create often stimulate a desire for more expressive mediums, especially when drawing is something the participant is rarely asked to do. In comparison, a broader brush might encourage more emotive qualities to appear and simultaneously limit the ability to communicate detail to a point where it becomes difficult to distinguish specific elements to the concept. The felt marker provided a satisfactory middle ground for the task at hand. Most participants felt comfortable communicating their ideas in a manner which would not draw scrutiny for a lack of ‘aesthetic finesse’, which also demonstrated the effect my presence had, as a ‘designer’, on the images they created. The marker facilitated quick ideation in a selection of vibrant colors. General concepts could be quickly mapped out, while other colors could be used to enhance specific features. Interestingly, the participant who put the most detail in his concept, chose to draw with a ballpoint pen, helping to prove my hypothesis.
The difference in detail could definitely be attributed to differences in skill level, but there is undoubtably a relationship between detail and tool in most instances of mark making. The lessons I learned from the exercise and the assignment were many, but probably the most important was to understand the constraints I can impose, as the designer, in these situations, but to also recognize the limitations that go with them. It might be important to be efficient and in control in some aspects, but one can limit the chances for the unexpected, where many important insights lay hidden.