Research in Interaction Design

01 Jun 2017

A review of three approaches to research in Interaction Design. Adapted from my Interaction Design master thesis.

In the model of interaction design research proposed by Zimmerman et al. (2007), researchers tackle under-constrained problems by integrating existing behavioural models and theories, technical opportunities, and anthropological knowledge. This integration leads to an active process of ideating, iterating and critiquing potential solutions, during which researchers reframe the problem as they attempt to “make the right thing”. The final output is a better understanding of the problem and the desired solution, along with the artifacts and documentation that ground those claims. Zimmerman’s model focuses on artifacts as concrete embodiments of theory and technology, with the goal of producing knowledge and demonstrate significant inventions. These artifacts can then be used to communicate knowledge and inspiration to the design community of practice.

Löwgren (2007) explains how interaction design can lead to new, relevant, well-grounded and critizable scientific knowledge. This requires that researchers are able to move beyond the strict institutional norms inherited from computer science and HCI. Being a designer and researcher in an academic context demands appropriate design ability, in order to create artifacts of acceptable quality. Interaction design research would consist of a combination of: creating prototypes for empirical evaluation of new design ideas, examining the potentials of new materials and concepts, exploring possible futures, designing artifacts that instantiate more general theories, performing participatory design, establishing and validating semi-abstract knowledge, representing and communicating design artifacts, as well as assessing and critiquing their qualities in an interplay with creative practice.

Along similar lines, Obrenović (2011) described design-based research as a method that capitalises on the opportunities provided by the design of interactive systems to reach a better understanding of the problem, its possible solution, and the design process. This generates generalizable knowledge, providing a better insight into the problem domain, and the design guidelines and methodology. Design can reveal things that other methods can not, as it exploits the tacit and implicit knowledge of designers and users. The results of the research should be presented in a way that makes explicit the motivations and reasoning behind generalized claims, allowing for critical reflection and discussion.