Inspiring better design through research in context

This is a summary of a workshop conducted at the Interaction17 conference in New York City. A colleague of mine, Steph Rymer and I designed and led a workshop of about 15 people which involved a dive into the theory and practice of contextual research, a set of practical research methods, and the opportunity to explore an iconic part of the city equipped with new lenses from the workshop. After returning from the field, teams shared their experiences, findings, and surprises about the site, methods, and process with the workshop audience.

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To kick off the workshop, we gave a few examples to explain why context is necessary for designing and improving experiences in any industry. Then, we laid out the framework for differentiating contextual research methods: See, Probe, and Experience. For each, we outlined specific method(s), pros and cons for use, an example of when it might be appropriate to include in your research, and a case study from the real world.

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Following the presentation of methodology and case studies, we jumped into a more tactical set of tools that any contextual researcher should have with them. Every participant received a set of workshop materials including, but not limited it, those shown above. By setting your intention for research, it becomes easier to set up a research plan and identify the most valuable lenses and exercises while in the field.

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The workshop self-divided into teams to explore iconic areas of the city close to the conference with some key questions in mind. The purpose of this exercise was to allow participants to actively apply the theory and tools they had been learning in context and later reflect on that experience.

Post-Workshop Takeaway

In addition to the practice and theory of design methods, I wanted to ensure participants left with a tactical set of references, including suggested reading and a reminder of some of the methods presented during the workshop, so a quick travel-sized reference booklet was also crafted for this workshop.