Reflection: How presenting design projects in a research publication (and especially a PhD thesis)?

Image courtesy:
Image courtesy:

I struggle to chose a way to present my design projects in the manuscript of my thesis, I relay here my random thoughts.
Why presenting a detailed account of a design project, to proof one is a good designer? That would not be part of the desired knowledge shared in a research. It makes sense to detail a design project and its progress steps when design choices and the whole work-in-progress experience generated knowledge that informed the experiment (ie. adjusting the design of the artefact or the one of the experiment protocol). Therefore, if one needs to support a project presentation with something else than text, what would be relevant?
After a quick brainstorm, I came up with three modes for presenting design project along a PhD thesis – this need to be discussed, corrected, mixed and/or combined.

brainstorming - how to publish design practice based research
brainstorming – how to publish design practice based research
Two challenges in publishing design-based research:

What is an appropriated format for design research publication? And especially research through design, within a PhD thesis.
After a quick brainstorm, I came up with two main challenges due to the nature of design artefacts – indeed, they are aesthetically “experienciable”.

  • Challenge 1: text does not provide material/aesthetic perception of artifacts (from photos/videos, to exhibitions, to demos, to experiment – one-shot or period of time)
  • Challenge 2: there are 2 different agendas in a situated design projects (client/project agenda + peers/experiment agenda


Challenge 1: visually and aesthetically supported publications
As I see it, behind all the publication question resides in particular two motivations: easing access of design trained researchers to the “production” and “reception” of knowledge. As an answer to this, various formats in the design and HCI communities tend to leave more space for visuals (Pictorials, extended abstracts, work in progress…). However, if a publication is essentially visually supported: how could it be relevant for the research community as well as for non-researchers (designers)?

Let us build on the Pictorials example and ask: what could be pictorials evaluation criteria? according this is a young and evolving format, dedicated to the DIS community.
1 contribute – to scientific knowledge
2 benefit – from being visual
3 crafted – relevantly and professionally
4 text – role, should accompany
5 format – is original


A step further would be to wonder, from a more general point of view, how to optimise the text-visual ratio in a visually-supported publication? Inspired by the DIS pictorial format guidelines, I would suggest that:

• visuals have to create a narrative on their own;
• work in progress documentation is only shown if it generated knowledge that strongly informed the design of the artifact or the experiment itself;
• text must not describe (repeat) visuals, it might reveal minutia or extract meaning from linking disparate content;
• Merging findings and discussion might make the presentation more concise;
• Give hints on how to exploit the knowledge produced;
• If pictorials are injected in a thesis: say a word on how it relates to the experiment/whole thesis.

But still, formats as pictorials have present many limitations : how can the layout design enhance the overall aesthetic and functional experience of getting the paper’s content? Is this format similar to the take-away section of a prior (referenced) paper. Then, is the pictorial format confined to be an illustrated case study, or the illustration of a previous paper? Does its restricted amount of text makes it dependent to older research work? Does it contribute to creating a trans-media research publication strategy for authors?

How to go beyond visuals when aesthetically presenting a design project, within a PhD thesis? I would suggest enhancing the reader (or PhD thesis jury) experience of the project, aside of the reading, thanks to:
• Photos, videos, website
• Postal shipped prototype
• Exhibition
• Defense as a performance
• Trans-media (combining the previous propositions)


Challenge 2: presenting a situated design project
There are 2 different agendas in a situated design projects (client/project agenda + peers/experiment agenda. I therefore propose two modes for presenting design project along a PhD thesis, using pictorials. Here follows the text description of the brainstorming picture above.


Pictorial Mode:
Here, project agenda and experiment agenda are separated to make the research contribution clearer. Imagine this section organization along the thesis manuscript:
• Expé abstract
—• Proj abstract
—• Proj context, demand, client
—• Proj work in progress, answer
—• Proj user test & results (for client)
• Expé related work, questions, hypo
• Expé méthode, protocol
• Expé factual findings
• Expé discussion

Annexed Reflection Mode:
Here the last section allows to reveal the dirty reality of the work in progress phase, and how it informed the making of the experiment. As shown in the picture, this is Inspired by Wendy Mackay triangulation across disciplines diagram ( example) (check also Samuel huron’s PhD thesis defense rework version). Imagine this section organization along the thesis manuscript:
• Expé abstract
• Expé related work, questions, hypo
• Expé méthode, protocol
—• Proj abstract
—• Proj answer
—• Proj user-test
• Expé factual findings
• Expé discussion here or later?
• Expé/Proj interwoven annexed reflection on how the design process influenced experiment adjustments

This last mode is describe in the next picture/brainstorming.
2016-03-02 18.10.35


Please, feel free to comment this blogpost, this is a work in progress. I will update this Discussion section later on.

• Wendy E. Mackay and Anne-Laure Fayard. 1997. HCI, natural science and design: a framework for triangulation across disciplines. In Proceedings of the 2nd conference on Designing interactive systems: processes, practices, methods, and techniques (DIS ’97), Susan Coles (Ed.). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 223-234. DOI=

DIRT – DIgital Research Tool (a directory)

You’re looking for a tool?

scientific search

via evernote public notebook: “evernote for research”

Selection of tools:

Parts-of-Speech (POS) tagging software – the classification of words into one or more categories based upon its definition, relationship with other words, or other context. – See more at:

Cluuz is a search engine that shows not only links to related pages, but also entities (people, companies, organizations) and images that are extracted from within the search results. In addition to the results, Cluuz displays a tag cloud of the most relevant entities extracted from returned results, as well as a semantic graph view of a cluster of terms. – See more at:

Each week Altmetric captures hundreds of thousands of tweets, blog posts, news stories and other content that mention scholarly articles.
The Altmetric Explorer lets you monitor, search and measure conversations about your publications and those of your competitors. Use the Explorer to deliver insights, track mentions and measure levels of attention over time.

Retro-Planning software 2, workflowy

I have been used to try and drop off many software and technics to organise my workflow. It is a kind of obsession that I document, I might end by writing something about it someday.

The new software I use: workflowy chrome app

And so far… I love its simplicity & user interface!

The last one I used was I choosed after testing The list of the Retro-Planning Softwares I tested: (Yes I tested wedding planning tools)

[EDIT, 2014.08.12] If I don’t stick to workflowy, here is an alternative

Course on design fiction @ Pôle supérieur du design de Villefontaine 2014

Design for debate, an introduction to design fiction and my research topic

I had the pleasure to give a presentation of my research and to introduce design fiction again at Pôle supérieur du Design – Villefontaine. My presentation was organised in three categories that respect the 3 necessary steps to make design fiction (according to the 3 parts of my research design space):

  1. Proposing alternatives by design,
  2. Provoking meaningful reactions,
  3. Articulating a discussion/debate

After an introduction to the first branch of my design space (proposing alternatives), I gave some exercises (listed bellow). A week after it was great to already see improvements and appropriations of my advices. (Sorry, this feedback is composed of raw notes in french.)

[slideshare id=34068945&style=border:1px solid #CCC; border-width:1px 1px 0; margin-bottom:5px; max-width: 100%;&sc=no]


Intro – Le design fiction est voué à soulever des questions chez l’audience/utilisateur quand au monde dans lequel on vit – et ce, par la confrontation avec des produits de design venus d’un autre monde et dont la conception repose sur d’autres valeurs que celles que l’on connait.

›› Check all the blogpost about this course here ‹‹ 

Next course here

Design legitimacy for critique, a discussion with Alexandre Saunier

The other day I had a good conversation with my friend Alex, he’s an electronic & digital artist, as I was presenting my work he stopped me right in the beginning to ask about critical design legitimacy.
“— Alex: Why is design relevant on the topic of critique? Is it just a fashionable trend?
— Max: No it’s not! OK maybe it has been fashionable during a period of time when popularized by Paola Antonelli and Bruce Sterling (under the name of Design fiction). But it no longer is and I find it more interesting now that we can observe what is left of it, what is it really good for.
— A: So why design and why critique? Art and philosophy have done that for ages.
— M: Critical design is different from critical theory and art, as it does not have the same tools and it does not touch the same people. In the popular culture design produces a familiar typology of objects – commissioned by a client, aiming at a user – that integrates well into our lives (and changes it). Design object have a different place than art or literature objects: they are aimed to be “used”. Therefore they are touching different people (and differently). They can reach the consumer (i.e. pretty much everybody).
— …
— …
— …
— M: Talking about consuming. In our current (consumerist) society, design and designer stand at a different place than philosophers and artists. They are at the interface of industries (plus other stake holders) and consumers. They translate technology and stake holders goals into user needs, at least they participate to making the final artefact appealing. I do not want to enter in a debate on consumerist society, I do not either think that designers have a legitimacy to propose critiques and solutions. But talking about designers role and impact, their place in the society is different and relevant (comparing to art and philosophy), they can (and they must) take action if they want to explore alternative paradigms and to stimulate the audience’s reflective concern for the current state of things.

Alexandre Saunier

Random quotes

About distance between critical theory and critical design
“we launched the term critical design ten years ago in order to describe our work. Sometimes people think it simply means criticism; that we are negative about everything, anti-consumerist and against design. Some people relate it to critical theory; to Frankfurt school and anti-capitalist thinking. We are definitely aware of it, but then again, not in that category either. Critical design is about critical thinking – about not taking things at face value. It’s about questioning things, and
trying to understand what’s behind them. In essence, our objective is to use design as a means for applying skepticism to society at large” p.22
Puolakka, A., & Sutela, J. (2010). Foundations: Dreaming Objects. In OK Do (Ed.), Science Poems

About people literacy for criticism :
“Critical design’s ability to inculcate critical thought and the imagination of alternative futures is dependent on how insightfully people can read designs: aesthetic perception, imagination, insight, and experience are not effects simply caused by visual stimuli (no matter what HCI research says on the subject); they are the result of a skilled and expert cultural subject’s efforts. We know of no practice that theorizes about or, in a very everyday sense creates such subjects, more than criti- cism. Medium-specific analytic skills are the stock and trade of criticism, and it seems obvious to us that critical design can avail itself of and contribute to them.” p.3303
Bardzell, J., & Bardzell, S. (2013). What is critical about critical design?

about defamiliarization
“Understanding what’s critical about critical design might be easier if Dunne and Raby’s work clearly explicated a healthy range of critical outcomes that have emerged from critical designs. […] we read a lot about transgression, provocation, defamiliarization, and estrangement […] A thoughtful reader might wonder whether defamiliariza- tion and ideology really are all that “critical” boils down to.” p.3300