Initial reflections on returning from IASDR 2011

My research group had a big representation at IASDR this year with six of us going to present seven papers.

My paper is on using actor-network theory (or material semiotics as John Law prefers) to think about complex sociotechnical situations. It’s the “introducing ANT to design researchers” paper I’ve been meaning to write since I finished my PhD in 2006. There are quite a few design researchers who know of ANT but either dismiss it as too hard, as amoral (really) or don’t do it the way that I think is useful. This paper addresses the latter of those issues and hopefully helps a few people to try their hand at an actor-network analysis of a situation.

I’m also co-author on three other papers, one with my colleagues Marianella Chamorro, Thea Blackler and Vesna Popovic and one with my PhD student Thedy Yogasara and one with Thea, Vesna, Thea’s PhD student Ragu Gurdur and Dr Doug Baker.

Marianella’s paper, which I was to present until my flight was cancelled, addresses some of the different ways that we have used visual representations in our recent research. Drawing mostly on Marianella’s research the paper shows two different examples of how design research can make use of visual representations in both data gathering and analysis while retaining significant research rigour.

Thedy’s paper is the first to come out of his PhD and describes parts of his first study into anticipated user experience. We’re interested in how people imagine or anticipate hypothetical devices.

The paper with Thea and Ragu is about intuitive interaction and draws together several years of Thea’s work which we’ve all contributed to in various ways.

I was pretty jet-lagged for most of IASDR this year so I think I wasn’t as social as I could have been. Still, I caught up with some previous conference-friends and made one or two new ones.

I also learned, or had reaffirmed, that our research is more than competitive internationally. The thing that’s missing, from our research, and in design research in general, is the sense of building on earlier work. As a field, design research is good at addressing new problems. It’s not good at drawing together old threads to build new ones. Perhaps, as one session at the conference showed, there aren’t enough (or haven’t been enough) journals in the field to provide that deep repository of prior knowledge. Perhaps we just don’t read enough. To that end, my next few posts will be summaries of the papers that I thought were interesting at IASDR.


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