Working notes: building a questionnaire to characterise design

I struggled to find an image to go with this post. When I typed design into my image database, this came up. It is rather fine, isn’t it?

Today at Think Up I am writing a set of questions that can be used as a diagnostic tool to characterise different stages in the design process. The questions will go into an online questionnaire through which we will be trying to establish a link between different types of design problem, the design process they require and techniques and tools that designers use. The aim is to help students understnad what might be suitable approaches to use in response to different design problems.

I am fortunate to be working with my colleague Bengt Counsins-Jenvey who knows a huge amount about design thinking in a range of different contexts. He is working on the other part of the questionnaire that is characterising the design problems.

Here’s some reflections and notes from today’s working:

  • Reducing long-form answer questions on questionnaires. They are easier to write but I’ve learn the hard way on other projects recently that long-form answer questions take so long to analyse it is really worth taking the time to come up with good numeric-scale or mutltiple-choice questions. Having done an initial round of interviews is helping me determine the right language to use.
  • How succint can I get the questions? I am trying to weigh up writing questions that everyone can understand and keeping the questions short. Again, having done some initial interviews helps me know what language people are likely to use.
  • I’ve realised my design world view was initially shaped by ‘blank-piece-of-paper’ designers. My interviews on this project have shown me how few design contexts require blank paper. I hope this process gives me greater understanding of design contexts where the operating context is much more complex.
  • What number scale to use? I’ve gone for 1-4. I don’t want people to think about their answers for too long and I don’t want them to sit on the fence. It will be interesting to see the impact of this choice.
  • I have been daunted by putting this questionnaire together, so last night I just set myself a simple target of writing three questions for each of the main stages in the design process. This much less daunting task was easy to do – the questions almost wrote themselves – and then I was easily able to supplement them. Later Greg Downing explained to me that this process is what he calls skeltoning: you quickly put in place the outline and everything else follows.

For more info on this piece of research see this post on the Think Up website.