Non-formal Techniques for Early Assessment of Design Ideas for Services
Designing systems for multiple stakeholders requires frequent collaboration with multiple stakeholders from the start. In many cases at least some stakeholders lack a professional habit of formal modeling. We report observations from student design teams as well as two case studies, respectively of a prototype for supporting creative communication to design objects, and of stakeholder-involvement in early design. In all observations and case studies we found that non-formal techniques supported strong collaboration resulting in deep understanding of early design ideas, of their value and of the feasibility of solutions.
KeywordsDesign Team Design Idea Requirement Elicitation Design Studio Design Artifact
In Early Stages of User Centered Design Flexibility Is Required
In user centered product design a strong tradition exists of starting from a task model, subsequently developing a detailed design model (often structured along functionality, dialogue, and representation), model based prototyping and evaluation, ending in formal specifications .
However, since increasingly design efforts focus on services (i.e., opportunities which often will be new including the context of use), the stakeholders of the new service are unable to precisely formulate and formalize their needs, ideas, and the context of the envisioned service . Sommerville  points to the need of flexible requirements elicitation techniques, both for single user type situations in the phase of feasibility study, and for the current service context: stakeholders often do not know what they need, do not agree, and requirements change during the analysis.
Sommerville’s elicitation techniques are viewpoint oriented, but the problem is how to identify future viewpoints. Stakeholders most of the time are not able to be explicit on what they need in relation to a new system that will change the context of use. Moreover, stakeholders often have different roles that result in different points of view on the requirements for a new system. And as soon as the concepts of a new system develop requirements change.
Ethnography alone does not work since any design aims at a new system that will be different from the existing system and which will change the structure of the related community of practice. In addition, we need to consider that not only the requirements but also the context will change through putting the novel services in practice. An obvious solution is the use of scenarios to envision, in collaboration with the stakeholders, how a new system may be used in practice.
Designers use their professional expertise to apply it on the domain they are designing for. Designers need tools and a design environment, in order to implement their design decisions. If these are not available, designers have to invest in additional types of expertise, or they have to cope with a suboptimal context. And all the time they need to communicate, with their colleagues in a design team and with stakeholders. Visualizing design ideas often is a main challenge. Keeping track of ideas, both for the individual designer and for the team, is another. Finally, when communicating with stakeholders, these need to be supported to understand, as well as to contribute their own ideas too.
That is what the last section of this paper is about. IT supported services are new, and in many cases are meant to be new, stakeholders will only have vague ideas if at all, and mostly have no clue about other stakeholders, about differences in context and culture, nor about relevant functionality and opportunities. The traditional and well grounded tools and techniques are not sufficient for this emerging domain of design.
We will illustrate our observations and emerging approach by providing illustrations from ethnographic studies of design practice in academic design contexts, after which we will discuss two case studies in design education where we were able to introduce some new elements in the situation and to observe and analyze (again, in an ethnographic way) the outcomes, featuring: (1) co-design merging ethnography with rough prototyping; and (2) bootstrapping service design techniques in collaboration with stakeholders.
Ethnographic Impressions of Student Design Practices
We will first illustrate some observations from a series of ethnographic studies reported in  that triggered our interventions in the case studies that will be discussed below. We had the opportunity to observe work in progress in several industrial design studios in polytechnics and to follow projects of design students. Observations 1–5 are from two different Industrial Design Departments in Dutch Polytechnics (in total 6 teams of 3–5 students).
These students worked in teams, as was required by their supervisors, and as seems standard in current industrial design practice. Their teachers did not stress specific design methods or the use of specific tools and techniques. In almost all cases it was the final design and the story told with it that was subject to assessment, quite similar to what clients of design tend to look for.
Our focus was on the process, on the techniques and tools applied and on the artifacts and representations created and used during the process. We detected several phenomena that seem “natural” for (student) design studios, which we like to share:
Observation 1. Exploration Utilizes Multiple Media and Multiple Types of Behavior
Observation 2. The Environment Will Be Dressed to Support
Observation 3. Communication May Develop into Impromptu Performances
Observation 4. The Use of Physical Space
Observation 5. Physicality of Collaboration
Two Case Studies
In the case studies reported next, we tried to support the design process, by on purpose providing a simple prototype concept that might physically as well as conceptually enrich the design ecology (case study 1) or by pointing to tools and techniques that in fact are supposed to trigger enrichment of the design ecology (case study 2). Case study 1 was performed in a Design faculty in a German University, including 3 design teams of 4 students each. Case study 2 was performed in an Italian University in the Faculty of Architecture and Design, with 5 teams of 3–4 students. In both cases, we never mentioned or hinted at the actual phenomena that we just discussed, we just provided a simple tool, or we just suggested our design students to consider the various tools for their design projects.
Case Study 1: from Ethnography to Prototype Use
In general, the tryout of CAM learned us that non-formal contributions to design were appreciated and we consider this a potential support for collaboration and shared creativity. Discovering new opportunities and functionality just “happened”, though the tool seemed to systematically trigger certain new types of functionality in the design ecology, including abstract reference objects, and a stage for esthetical and emotional creations and performances.
Case Study 2: Bootstrapping Service Design Techniques
When developing a brand new course on service design, there were no course books available, and only a single repository for techniques . Our students, worked in design teams for real clients to develop services with many different types of stakeholders outside the clients’ business with clearly different corporate and geographical cultures (e.g., in tourism industry).
We pointed the students to Tassi’s repository as well as to Hofstede and Hofstede’s website  and to the Cultural Survival Kit , as well as to design documents from the UK Government and to our visual design pattern wizard . We additionally introduced them to the design approach by Tassi .
Based on previous ethnographic studies we identified several phenomena of non-formal techniques applied in the early design phases of requirements elicitation, modeling and early assessment: the use of multiple types of communication, the relevance of design ecology, the possibility for impromptu creativity and performance, the use of physical space and the physicality of collaboration.
In two case studies with design students we provided two different potential supports for these phenomena, resp. a prototype system CAM to allow communication through design artifacts, and a set of techniques and tools that might be considered at will and taught by the design students to their peers.
The resulting design processes showed how these interventions spontaneously led to the students’ choice of applying these facilities to support or create some of the afore mentioned phenomena.
We did not prove these interventions are the sole cause of the effects observed, but they certainly seem to help in providing a design ecology where the phenomena develop in a natural way, where students as well as stakeholders dare to embark on creative and multimodal behavior, communicate and collaborate on design meaning and create and maintain awareness of the process.
Our observations and case studies concerned University design student teams in several European countries (The Netherlands, Germany, Italy). Because we have experienced teaching Design in several other European countries (Spain, Romania, Belgium) we dare expect the phenomena we observed during ethnography and case studies) are typical for European student design teams. We are currently teaching design in a University in China, which will be an opportunity to validate our understanding for a rather different cultural context. Still, we should also validate our analysis for design outside of the University situation. Ethnographic observations, as well as case studies in industrial design practice will have to be a next step.
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