When I was giving my first steps into my research bubble someone pretty close to me told me that by the end of that journey I would be a different person. Now, quite a few years later, I can confirm that he was certainly right. Throughout that journey I read countless books and papers, met many people from here and there and learnt varied set of skills which allowed me to get to the end. However, that process of discovering also transformed me as a person.
Related to this, as part of the SKIP collaborative programme, a few weeks week ago I attended to a lecture by Terry Irwin, entitled Research as a Process of Transformation. In her lecture, Irwin narrated her experience of moving from a purely professional to a more academic context, and explained how research could have a transformative effect, using her own experience as a case study.
Research can have ‘different flavours’. Commonly, research is mostly associated with answering a particular question or informing a specific problem, which are contributions to knowledge in a global way. But, research could also contribute to the individual by transforming ‘one self’s in a fundamental way,’ explained Irwin. During the research journey, individuals travel through different experiences and thus change in different ways. Particularly her talk had similarities with my own experience: she moved from being an information design practitioner to becoming a hybrid designer. Irwin defines the term hybrid as commuting and contributing to the three design spheres: practice, academia and education.
As an information designer, Irwin’s problem-solving approach was focused on thoroughly understanding problems following the premise: ‘The more closer you get [to a problem], the clearer the world becomes’. However, the more she got involved in her research journey, the more she realised that approaching problems (of any kind) from only a zoom-in perspective could give a reductionist viewpoint as that would not allow to see the bigger picture.
In the last decade, Design (research, practice, education) has changed significantly. Consequently, designers are going through a period of transition or transformation (to use Irwin’s word). A need of a hybrid design problem-solving approach seems necessary and pertinent. Through research, designers can develop the ‘ability to see the bigger picture, understanding, [develop] mindfulness and connect the dots’. By considering a more theoretical perspective and ways in which it could be blended with tight deadlines and pressurised working conditions, the practice of design could be greatly enriched. And by developing and strengthening education programmes based on design needs instead of that of Art & Crafts, design would be closer to its consolidation as a discipline.
The practical and academic sides of design have more commonalities than people often think. Both design practitioners and academics seem to be constantly seeking for inspiration and living in deadlines. Practitioners need to design original and creative solutions working under strict deadlines, while researchers need to produce novel and credible discoveries that contribute to knowledge. For that research follows a rigorous, methodical and systematic approach. But, like the design process, research is also a dark tunnel in which high levels of creativity, intuition and serendipity are indispensable.
When research ‘is bigger than your own agenda, it has a transformative effect’, Irwin concluded, and it is then when discoveries can also affect (and transform) other components of a discipline, such as (design) processes and practice.
– Irwin, T. (2012) Research as a Process of Transformation [Lecture] Royal College of Art, London.