and utility. Critical design evaluates the status quo
and relies on design experts to make things that
provoke our understanding of the current values
people hold. Critical design “makes us think”[ 3].
Cultural probes is a methodology in the critical
design bubble [ 4]. Probes are ambiguous stimuli
that designers send to people who then respond
to them, providing insights for the design process.
Probes are intended to be a method for providing
design inspiration rather than a tool to be used for
understanding the experiences of others.
The generative design bubble (in the top right corner) is design-led and fueled by a participatory
mind-set. Generative design empowers everyday
people to generate and promote alternatives to the
current situation. Generative tools is a methodology in the generative design research bubble. The
name “generative tools” refers to the creation of a
shared design language that designers/researchers
and the stakeholders use to communicate visually
and directly with each other. The design language
is generative in the sense that with it, people can
express an infinite number of ideas through a
limited set of stimulus items. Thus, the generative
tools approach is a way to fill the fuzzy front end
with the ideas, dreams, and insights of the people
who will be served through design [ 5].
Both critical design and generative design aim
to generate and promote alternatives to the current situation. But they operate from opposing
mind-sets. Many of the new tools and methods
that have emerged in the last five years are
design-led and sit along the top of the map, spanning the range from the critical design bubble to
the generative design research bubble.
How Have I Used the Map?
The map has already been useful in a number of
different ways. In my academic role, the map has
been very useful for teaching about the changing state of design practice and design research.
At the graduate level in particular, I see a trend
toward a broader mix of disciplines wanting to
learn how to do design research. The map can help
students from different disciplinary backgrounds
to understand each others’ mind-sets, approaches,
and tools for doing research. The map can help
students recognize where their past training and/
or experience positions them as researchers, and it
can also show them new directions for exploration
and learning. I have used the map to support and
scaffold different modes of exploration and experimentation in the design research process.
For example, graduate students (from design
and engineering at Ohio State University) who
took a class in design research were asked to
show where they stood on the map as a result
of their previous research exp eriences [ 6]. The
students located themselves primarily on the
expert-driven side of the map, spanning research-led (the engineers were here) and design-led (the
designers were here) approaches. The students
formed teams (made up of people from both disciplines), and each team selected a topic to explore
through design research. They were then asked
to decide where on the map they would like to
explore. All of the teams decided to move away
from the expert-driven side of the map in order
to explore participatory, design-led approaches
to design research. Each team made a successful
learning journey on the map. The engineers were
surprised to learn that research can be a creative
process that can open up ideas and new opportunities. They had previously been more familiar
with research for problem solving. The designers
learned how to think and work with a participatory mind-set, inviting non-designers to become
their partners in the creative process.
On a more strategic side, I am currently using
the design research map as a framework for establishing new curricula to ensure the effectiveness
of learning experiences for students from diverse
disciplines. One question that arises is this:
Should we make separate design research maps
for the different design domains such as industrial
design, interior space design, interaction design,
architecture, etc.? That may be useful as an
interim step, particularly in academia where the
design disciplines have not yet been integrated for
the most part. A more useful end goal is to begin
to connect the separate maps to help show the
relationships between research tools and methods
across all the different design domains. After all,
people are people, whether they are finding their
way around a building, using a product, reading
a package, or using a software application. With
the increased interest in and application of participatory design thinking, we will see that the
professionals who understand people (whether
designers or not) will be the ones to lead design in
In my role as a practitioner, I have used the
[ 2] Ehn, P. “
Work-oriented design of
Almgvist and Wiksell
NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
[ 3] Dunne, A. and F.
Raby. Design Noir: The
Secret Life of Electronic
[ 4] Gaver, W., A. Dunne,
and E. Pacenti. “Cultural
Probes.” interactions 6,
no. 1 (1999): 21-29.
[ 5] Sleeswijk Visser,
F., P. J. Stappers, R.
van der Lugt, and
E. B. -N. Sanders.
Experiences from prac-
tice.” CoDesign 1, no.
[ 6] Sanders, E.B.-N.
and P.K. Chan.
“Emerging trends in
design research: A
design graduate course
case study exploring
emerging spaces in the
landscape of design
Association of Societies
of Design Research)
Hong Kong Polytechnic
University, Hong Kong,
China, November 2007.