Moved by Design

Transferring from Sociology to Design Research is akin to the change of wading through a claggy marsh and suddenly finding yourself paddling in a swirling river. Yes, it’s still a challenge, but at least progress is easier and quicker.

I originally began in sociology as it seemed the better fit, however my supervisors and I realised that I was trying to fit a design research thesis into a sociology hole – and it wasn’t gonna work.

My main challenge is, and has always been, finding my research questions. I know what I want to achieve, however, I have always felt that until I begin asking questions and discovering what people want or need then I cannot formulate a final question. And yes, I know that the questions are not set in stone, that they will probably change over time, but still I have felt since the start of this process that setting the research questions is something to be done later in the process. Perhaps this is me, my way of thinking, but I feel I need to do a discovery phase before I can truly decide the direction of my research. At this point I feel I am making assumptions.

All this ambiguity and uncertainty means that I am not as focussed on my reading as I would prefer to be. Therefore, at this stage I am doing most of my reading around methods, methodology, terminology, understanding everything (well, as much as I can) about design research which is not my academic background. Whereas with sociology doing this felt difficult and disheartening, I am finding the process easier, perhaps because I have soaked up some basics from over four years of working with design researchers.

In addition to the above reading I am also revisiting my creative writing past, discovering more recent knowledge around storytelling, writing creatively myself in preparation for using this as a method within my research. Due to depression I have neglected my creativity so I am appreciating this ‘push’ to set my words free again.

At this point it may be useful to reflect on why I am interested in using storytelling as a method. I began reading at a very early age, I escaped into fairy tales and stories of child detectives and boarding school antics throughout my childhood. I was never without a book in my hand, I’d spend my pocket money on a book Saturday morning and would have read it by Saturday evening. As I matured I expanded into fantasy and science fiction and found not only escapism but also the art of couching real world lessons into stories that help you see and understand them in different ways.

My undergraduate history dissertation “The Depiction of Women and Marriage in the Broadside Ballads of Later 18th Century England” led me to research the importance of the oral tradition and helped me realise that stories do not have to be written in pure prose, there are many ways to share a tale. This understanding was continued when I did my second undergraduate degree, IT with Creative Writing. There I discovered different ways to bring a story to life.

After my years of being in academia I ran my own business as a web designer, and it was during this period of my life I learned about the use of storytelling in a business context. Telling the ‘origin’ story of you and your business, sharing tales of successes (and failures) as a marketing tool, understanding how consumers responded to stories. How sharing in this way can help a business seem more ‘human’.

There is much in my background which is going to be useful going forward with this research, I am relishing thinking about how I can adapt this knowledge, mix it up, create something different and useful.

Going forward I need (want) to form better habits for studying, I am still in the process of finding out what works best for me and when. I suspect it will fall into a pattern of reading in the mornings and note-taking in the evenings. I am keeping all the notes I take during the week in a physical notebook and then transfer these into Evernote notes over the weekend. This helps me not only remember better, but also encourages me to think about what I have noted, look for connections and synergies.