Meg is back - sorry for the absence from the board . . . I was travelling last week and did not have access to the internet. This will be a longer post - to make up for absences.
Responding to Liz - I was using a shorthand to describe one kind of research scenario (contextual research, brainstorming, participatory design, etc.), but as a way of asking what sorts of research and design scenarios we are imagining. As you say, there are several and the one you were describing was actually all about doing ethnographic research up front, then bringing in participants to help drive out the concepts.
My question about using the word “creative” and imagining some sort of opposition between research and creativity lies in the fact that we all (researchers and designers) work with constraints, most often driven by the business needs of our clients or the companies we work for. Those needs contain assumptions about what should be created or about the world that should be “made”. If we are engaged in “world making”, we are all creating. So creativity of some sort is always happening in these situations - with our without research.
To Bruce’s query about designers as researchers as ELab and Sapient, I am thinking about how to characterize the difference brought by designers. With caveats about essentializing “the designer” in this, I’d say that designers were generally better able to help teams visualize the research in ways that made it actionable.
An example: I was the researcher on a team with a designer, a project manager, and two client participants (designers by training but participating in research for this project). The goal was to come up with new product/service opportunities in home media for families with teens.
As a researcher, I was responsible for framing (or re-framing) the initial questions so that our clients could broaden their understanding of the contexts in which home media. I first provided a literature review on families and media, and on changes in the home related to media (e.g., the histories that discuss the replacement of the hearth as a site of storytelling and conversation with the TV as the focal point of central living spaces). This research helps us all to think about the role of home media in everyday interactions and served as the basis for thinking through the questions we’d want to ask and the activities we’d want to observe in our in-home interviews. In other words, it helps us to review our assumptions about our “object of study” (families and home media).
The research itself also raised several questions about our own involvement - or our complicity - in making products that would have very significant consequences for everyday living. For me, it raised questions about whether or not these electronic products or electronically enabled services were necessary. For the designers on the team, however, this questions of necessity was not particularly interesting - what was interesting was how to take the research (or misgivings we have about our complicity) and turn them into actionable solutions to existing problems. The designer/researchers were (and I realize I’m essentializing here) much more capable of working with data to imagine or envision new forms for interaction. But none of us were truly capable of changing the starting assumption that new products and services must be made in order to create new revenue - that came from the home office. “Creativity” was also, here, productivity.
But what is important to me here is that in a project like this, the “creativity” is seen both in the models and in the concepts developed from them. The primary creativity is defined and rewarded in relation to the production of new things which can be exchanged on the market. So - creativity seems to be constructed and defined differently in different contexts - the creativity in a design setting that is tied to company revenue is a particular kind of beast. What do you think of this? Is there profit in thinking more about what creativity is in this context? How does this context shape/change the question of how research might ‘cramp the style’ of a designer/innovator in this context.