Immersion, Intervention & Seeding: three aims for early design research

three goals for design research

For designers working on projects with a social outcome, early design research has a purpose that goes well beyond data collection [1]. Immersion, Intervention and Seeding are three key terms (and design research goals) that have emerged out of my work on participatory design methods that name things important (but at times implicit) to our practice. There is a fourth term, Sharing, which speaks directly to the social technologies dimension of my research. This fourth dimension moves us out of the realm of ‘design research’ (which has some interesting boundaries around it) and into the realm of design and use. More on that later. First a quick (still wip) definition of these three terms as they relate to my research.

Immersion: This relates largely to the experience of the designers participating in early design research methods. The design research process should immerse designers in the world of the users/stakeholders, and provide a perspective on the world from their point of view – insights and glimpses through the words and images of the people with whom we are designing. This can be achieved through visual, rich, designerly methods that generate information, inspiration and empathy [2-4].

Intervention: This relates to the experience of stakeholders/users who participate in early design research activities. The design research process allows people to reflect on their daily lives. This in turn supports the sharing of information, aspirations and ideas in ways that informs and influences future design [5]. Reflection and participation in design activities can lead to changes in practices and the acquisition of new skills (i.e technology use) [6]. Again, generative, designerly methods can be used to support this kind of reflective experience.

Seeding: The design research process is also a process through which the transactional relationship between users and designers and design and use is initiated. It speaks to the transition of ownership of a project from one to the other such that the project is taken up and lives on after the end of the formal designer-driven “design phase” [7]. During the design research we hope to seed the project in the real world, to begin the transfer from abstract to concrete [8] and to shift ownership from designer to user community [9].

Note: These three terms have their origins in existing literature on participatory design and design research which has acted as sources of inspiration for my work. Their current interpretations and combination as a guiding concepts in design research for social change have emerged as a result of my empirical research.

To support these design outcomes I have developed a methodology based on the use of digital self-reporting with guidelines and considerations for designers. I selected digital self-reporting because it can be user-driven, enables participation that occurs overtime, in situ and in realtime and allows for the generation of rich, visual media. As such it contributes to all three outcomes.

1. Ehn, P.: Work-Orientated Design of Computer Artifacts. Arbetslivscentrum, Stockholm (1988)
2. Stappers, P.J., Sanders, E.B.-N.: Generative tools for context mapping: tuning the tools. Third International Conference on Design & Emotion. Taylor & Francis, Loughborough (2003)
3. Mattelmäki, T., Battarbee, K.: Empathy Probes PDC, Malmo (2002)
4. Gaver, B., Dunne, T., Pacenti, E.: Design: Cultural Probes. Interactions (1999) 21-29
5. Spinuzzi, C.: The Methodology of Participatory Design Technical Communication 52 (2005) 163-174
6. Bødker, S., Iversen, O.S.: Staging a professional participatory design practice: moving PD beyond the initial fascination of user involvement. NORDICHI 2002, Aarhus, Denmark (2002)
7. Bratteteig, T.: Making Change. Dealing with relations between design and use. Department of Informatics, , Vol. Dr. Philos dissertation. University of Oslo it could, Oslo (2003)
8. Lee, Y.: Design participation tactics: the challenges and new roles for designers in the co-design process. CoDesign 4 (2008) 31 – 50
9. Merkel, C.B., Xiao, L., Farooq, U., Ganoe, C.H., Lee, R., Carroll, J.M., Rosson, M.B.: Participatory Design in Community Computing Contexts: Tales from the Field. Participatory Design Conference. ACM, Toronto, Canada (2004)



  1. What are the ‘interesting boundaries’ around design research?

  2. Hey Chris, kind of a tricky question, in that I am still working out the best way to represent it. But essentially I mean that when we think of research we (often) think of a contained period of time. A discrete activity somewhat separate to design. Of course not all design ‘research’ methods have these limitations (co-design work by Liz Sanders deliberately collapses research and design) and Participatory Design methods have always been more generative than just data collection. Nevertheless, in industry practice the word “research” often focuses on “data gathering to inform design”. It also often places participants in the role of passive subject – they become anonymous subjects of research. The kinds of activities we do early in design can be much more than that, and enable a much more participatory and active role for users, but thinking about them as “research” can throw up these kinds of habitual boundaries or assumptions, limiting their potential. I’ll have a better go at clarifying soon 🙂

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