We had an exciting visit from Liz Sanders, the founder of the company MakeTools.com, and a pioneer in the use of participatory research methods, for our Design Tools in Practice class a couple weeks ago. Ms. Sanders traveled all the way from Columbus, OH, where she currently teaches design research at The Ohio State University.
She spoke about her work in participatory research, which is a type of research that engages non-designers in activities to help them visualize their ideas. The participatory research movement embodies the idea that designers should "design with [their end users/target audience]" versus "design for [their end users/target audience]". Ms. Sanders' work is focused on the specific methods and physical tools used with those research participants to help them express their ideas, while also making them feel comfortable working in this potentially new and unfamiliar way. For example, she spoke about a project where she engaged doctors and nurses in the process of designing a new patient room at a hospital. She hosted a work session where she brought in simple architecture models of the current patient rooms with only the walls in place and a variety of small non-descript furniture/equipment pieces. She asked the doctors and nurses to work together to design the patient room by placing the furniture/equipment pieces in the model in a way that would best fit their needs. A photo of one of the models can be seen in Jon Kolko's description of participatory research here: Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving.
We really enjoyed Ms. Sanders visit, and learned a great deal about participatory research methods and tools!
For more information on Liz Sanders, and participatory research, check out her new book: Convivial Toolbox: Generative Research for the Front End of Design.