February 2, 2009

But what does this have to do with design?

As I have been working on a blog post about the philosophical orientation in my research, or why I am not really interested in facts, I realized it was full of academic jargon, completely pretentious, not very accessible to the public and, frankly, boring as hell. I will sum it up in this very short paragraph:

In my research facts are not just out in the world to be explained or discovered. Instead there are multiple realities and people construct these realities. There are really no such thing as facts or universal truths as we try to describe these complex realities. Through my work, I try to explain people's realities which means I also engage in a layer of interpretation and construction. This type of research is known as interpretivist (and is also referred to as constructivist). It is quite different from the work in which scientists, like Darwin, engage. His method of research is known as positivist. Positivists believe in facts and truth and they set out to explain what, according to them, already exists in the world. See the difference? While positivism makes the most sense in the hard sciences (i.e. biology, chemistry, physics), it doesn't always make the most sense when you want to understand people. People are really really complex.

I have included this lovely image of a brain from the Museum of Fabric Brain Art because I think of positivists as sharing one (metaphorical) mega brain which can hold all these "facts" and "truths" that exist in the world that are out there waiting to be discovered. It represents something universal, singular and true. Interpretivists on the other hand are interested in things that are contextual, multiple and dynamic, and don't believe ideas are out there to be discovered.

Along the lines of my boring, academic jargon, I have started to ask myself, what does any of this have to do with design? Especially after Maggie's last post describing why we chose money as a topic of exploration.

Truthfully, there is a ton of research out there addressing money and the human condition. It is in sociology, anthropology, economics, psychology, etc. No need to reinvent the wheel. I think the more interesting question relates to how a design collective can understand and engage in research practice about money that is different from existing research. How could we collect information or make things that would be unique? What skills, ideas or philosophical orientations do we have that make us especially well suited for this type of research? This is an epistemological question, but it needs to be asked so that we don't just do sloppy social science research. And we are dangerously close to that. So I ask, what can design bring to the table that other fields cannot?

Let's start to address this before I turn the blog into one big academic bore.

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