The ongoing process of making meaning from the things we experience in the environment.

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The human experience is made up of thousands of daily encounters with the world around us. These encounters have a profound impact on our lives and what we create. 

When we observe these countless interactions, it is these events that evolve into those connections or personal meanings that shape our experiences and reinforce our identity as individuals. 

While there is no blueprint for the process of making meaning from the things we experience in the environment, there are some key points about how this process relates to design research that can help contextualize and frame researcher’s questions when looking into this topic more closely.

Do you know Design Research, this is the ongoing process of making meaning from what we experience in our environment.

Stated simply, design research is the ongoing process of making meaning from the things we experience in the environment. Design research involves both a researcher who makes sense (makes meaning) of the environment, and a person or persons who experience the environment (the user). 

This relationship is often described as a “research triangle” in which there are three elements: researcher, observer, and observed.

For researchers, design research starts with an understanding of our own personal experiences that create personal meanings. 

Here are some points discussed about Design Research-

1. What does the researcher do? 

They watch and listen to people who experience interactions in their environment. They may ask them why they interact in ways that are meaningful, how they make meaning of an experience, how they look at a particular object or person, or what is important to them as a designer.

2. What does the observer do?

They observe the person they observe working with the environment and asking themselves questions about it. This can include having an internal conversation with themselves (for example, “I wonder how that thing works?”), as well as noting observations about the other person.

3. What does the observed person do?

They casually use or interact with the physical environment around them while they ask themselves questions like “What is that?”, and “How does that work?”. They may not realize they are doing this, but they are building connections to objects and people with which they have personal experiences. 

They may talk to themselves, or say things out loud to help them think through their thoughts as they observe what they are observing (for example, “Wow! That sure sounds loud when it’s on. Do you think it could be quiet?”).

4. What does the observer observe? 

The observer may note observations about the behavior of users. For example, the observed person may say, “I wonder what kind of feelings or memories that thing will evoke for a person…” Or, “I wonder how that is designed… Isn’t it interesting?” 

They may make observations about objects in the environment and ask questions like: “Why is that there? Why is that design right there?”. They may even describe characteristics of the environment they are in, or how they would change it if they could.

5. What does the researcher see? 

They may relate their personal meanings of an object or person that they come in contact with, or developed through their own personal experiences, to what the observed person is doing. For example, they may say things out loud to themselves like “I bet she’ll like this!”.

They also ask questions about what it means for them and how it connects with their own thoughts about interactions between people and objects in their environment.

6. What does the observed person think about what the observer is thinking?

They may relate their personal meanings of an object or person that they come in contact with to the information they are hearing from the observer. For example, they may say something like “Oh I see, so now I have a better understanding of what you meant by…” 

They may also make observations about objects in their environment and ask questions like: “Why is that there?”. They describe characteristics of the environment they are in, or how they would change it if they could.

7. What does the environment mean? 

They may ask themselves questions like “What is this for?”, “How does it work?” and “What do I think about it?”. They may reflect on their personal memories, thoughts and feelings about an object or individual. 

They may then begin to develop personal meanings that relate to what the researcher said (for example, “I’m glad you said that!”), observed (for example, “That’s a good point!”), or what they think about the environment itself (for example, “I really hope they take that out.”).

Each of these relationships helps us to continue our understanding of what we experience in our environment and how we make meaning of it.

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