“For the living being, the joint … is not so much an exterior connection of rigid elements as an interior condition of correspondent movement, bonded on the inside by means of a linear mesh of ligaments” (Ingold, 2015, p.25)
Part 3 develops theories and methods of joining as a critical contribution of this doctoral research specifically, how practice-led design researchers might become attuned to a practice of becoming through ‘joining’ data.
The preceding parts of this thesis have outlined how, as a design-researcher, I have joined a collaborative research program (ILETC) as a co-designer in service of the program aims. This led to creating a collaborative research project (Making Space) through designing and facilitating co-design workshops as a Participant Observer (PO) of Participatory Action Research (PAR). The project, within the program, led design to ‘join’ a research process that augmented PAR through co-design practice. The project introduced, by way of PO, a method of joining that situated the design researcher in the midst of the collaboration. Thus, this process has developed a generative adaptation of ‘joining’ as a speculative and experimental mode of data analysis. Part 3 is organised into three chapters:
- Chapter 3.1 joins ‘joining’, providing further detail as to how joining a PO of a PAR develops into ‘joining’ methods of data sense-making.
- Chapter 3.2 contains the speculative ‘As If—’, a framing of the emergent nature of this experimental research. Discussion extends the ‘knot’ as a mode of becoming, attending to how we might develop and education our attention in order to know a practice of becoming.
- Chapter 3.3 concludes this thesis with discussion surrounding the significance of this study. This includes how conceptual constructs might be transferred beyond the doctorate, and potential applications of findings from within this research to areas outside of design.
3.1 Joining Joining
Chapter 3.1 focuses on how joining a PO of a PAR develops into ‘joining’ methods of data sense-making. This further attends to an expanding methodological inquiry, describing details surrounding the experimental methods emerging at the site of analysis.
This chapter describes how ‘joining’ has emerged from the research. I identify with a graphic design practice through the things produced (a ‘proof’), and I locate a shifting practice leading this research within a world of ‘Things’; socio-material assemblies (Bjögvinsson et.al 2012).
This practitioner-researcher is searching for a ‘proof’ that describes the qualities of ‘Things’ in order to know them better.
As design practice continues to reform through a ‘social turn’ research that informs practice following these shifts into new social modes of production.
What might a practice of joining look like? I want to retain a sense of my ‘craft’—how might I imbue ‘Things’ with qualities that activate and shape the world? All practice is deeply situated, and I seek to situate a practice of becoming—of learning.
The development of joining moves away from external relations and looks to find the internal moves I make that respond to the contingency of practice change—and to name the impact this has on practice-led research. This chapter situates a gap between the designerly methods used in co-creative workshops and the methods of designerly sense-making used to analyse data resulting from those workshops. This research invites a practice that inhabits this ‘in-between’ as a speculative mode of data analysis; drawing out original sense-making frameworks.
Lines of tape are holding together a reconfiguration of practice.
I joined the teacher-participants through a PAR and Co-design collaboration; how might I join the practice of designing through the analysis and sense-making of data generated by that practice? This is a practice of data analysis that looks to join the outcomes of co-designing with emergent forms of knowledge creation through design-led practice.
3.1.1 Joining Methods
This following section outlines how the experimental approach to this research led to an original sense-making framework. These include ‘Glyphs’, ‘BiTs’, and using a ‘hanging space’ in order to ‘join’ methods.
Analysis of video data began with creating a ‘proto-code’ of what I named ‘glyphs’. ‘Glyphs’ were a starting point—permitting play with this initial appraisal of images emerging from the video capture—a way into the analysis.
I designed a library of glyphs using the functionality of an Adobe Creative Cloud library (figure 16) to establish consistency across digital applications and to ensure coherent usage of these glyphs across the visual analysis. This worked to stabilise these marks in the early and messier stage of interaction with the data as I began to make sense of how to approach analysis.
Figure 16: CC Library Assets—‘Glyphs’ & Making Space Colour-ways.
A table of glyphs (figure 17) indicates each shape signifying a variety of categories that relate to the designer’s sense of areas of analysis.
Figure 17: ‘Glyph’s used for initial analysis
Transcripts of each workshop initiated an appraisal of the language being used by the participants. ‘Reading’ this language connected what was being said against the activity or action that framed it. For example, when I gave instructions the participants were understandably passive as they listened on. This could quickly shift into scaffolded discussion or spill over into unrelated ‘chit-chat’. As language was recognised and coded using the yellow glyphs, the blue collaboration glyphs could be incorporated in relation to these yellow marks, giving shape to the emergence of a relational language being observed from these sites of collaborative conversations.
Making was simplified into either making with each other or making alone. As was reflection; seeing how the participants would reflect with each other and how that might relate to how they reflected on their own was key to reading the ways the workshops impacted on their language and ideation. Also taken into consideration, as indicated in the table of BITS, was the interaction between the human and non-human actors impressing upon this research puzzle. Facilitation was only given one glyph and was identified as ‘making happen’; the role of the various actors (human and non-human in the room) that led to the facilitating of events and experiences directed toward the workshop intent.
Using the glyphs, data parsing could take place in creative conversation with stills from the video capture. The glyphs evoke a sense of what I’m looking at. This act of creative inquiry speaks to designer ‘hunches’, joining glyph to image through a designerly lens. This felt like a sort of retrospective storyboarding. Imagining the story in reverse. What was happening in these frames? Through what materials? etc. It felt like speculation as if data was emerging, rather than an analysis of the data as is.
Figure 18: ‘Glyphs’ in use …
Following an initial expectation that data analysis would follow a sort of discourse analysis—reading transcripts and coding research outcomes—I began reading and preliminary analysis of the data in a practice mode. This made it clearer to me that I was not ‘reading’ or ‘coding’, that I was actually ‘making’ with the data as a way to see the research through a material affect of designerly knowing (Grocott et al., 2019). This radically shifted my approach to how I subsequently approached the analysis.
The video footage is digital, screenshots of the footage are digital, and the glyphs are digital vector shapes. What I was looking for in developing and experimenting with this approach was an affective quality that would impress upon the data in the same way that the materials of the workshops affected the participants. It is a collaboration with the material learning that occurs through co-creation.
I found this in pausing the digital mediums and turned to ink and paper. An analysis using screen-based technology was an effective way into this process, however, this remained a process of being with data whereas I’m looking for a way to become with data.
The next move I made, in response to this irksome sense of limitation, was to go off-screen
Becoming in Tune: ‘BiT’
I developed the ‘glyphs’ into a set of traditional ink stamps. I gave these stamps the provisional name—a BiT: Becoming in Tune (figure 18). The initial glyphs established a process of tuning into the data and this attunement was crucial as I navigated the fledgling exploration. ‘Becoming in Tune’ was an experimental step toward a more speculative mode, one that works to inhabit provocative moves that I wasn’t getting from the glyphs.
A BiT stamps the printed pages of data much like a drill bit burrowing into wood. BiTs impress marks that become an expression of a practice in search of self-knowledge—the designer-researcher in active conversation with sense-making. The discipline of BiT analysis became analogous to the composite imaging of detective work. Detective composites help identify possible perpetrators. Similarly, a BiT analysis puts together a similar ‘forensic image’ that engages with an imaginary and symbolic reading of the scene through a sense of what might be going on.
Figure 19: BiT (Becoming in Tune)
The BiT was a revelation to me. Using the BiT opened up the analysis in ways that felt like the processes of making I engaged with my participants. It had the affective qualities of making and sense-making that I’m familiar with as a designer, and in turn, it felt ‘right’ to be turning to the material affect of making in order to better connect to, and imagine with, the data.
The BiT developed from the glyph, and over the initial ‘coding’ as another layer of inquiry that augmented the initial categorisation—if felt like mark-making.
Interlude: The Forensic Portrait
It’s a date—
Every Monday morning Wonderlab goes on a playdate. We get together and get curious—playing with the ideas and complexities that emerge from our design research.
Playdates have become a regular opportunity to explore the exposure of being a knowledge worker when your ideas are shown and critiqued. The early fragments of ideas and discussion are often raw and complex and call on the lab to explore this space. In this space, we make sense of the gravity that pulls into focus the common ideas that imbue the lab with Wonder.
Perhaps design research presents an unfinished portrait of the creative outcomes (the information, the data that we go on to ‘read’). This is not a formal knowledge generation that is expected in the sciences, this is the pre-reflective, conceptual forming of design as a medium through which we interrogate the world. Design is the culprit and the investigator. This is a portrait that finds a rigour in the imaginative, in the abductive delineation of the imagined worlds or scenarios that grip us. The wickedness of problems that resist linear resolution requires the playfulness of designers willing to create forensic portraits of their research. The forensic looks to the trail of material or artificial (or emotional or cognitive) to arrange in a portrait in a way that presents a mode of design expertise as a creative frame.
I wanted to explore the idea of a ‘forensic portrait’. An idea that I felt has been hanging around ever since I heard the idea of a ’serial killer wall’ — a busy wall of ‘evidence’ that builds a ‘case’ for the arrest of the suspect (you get the picture). I suppose the forensic portrait differs in how it hones the ’serial killer wall’ into a more singular portrait. A concerted effort to articulate the shape and profile of the research object-as-portrait. The ‘forensic’ leans toward a more concise outline of phenomena—or data—and locates the mechanics of inquiry.
So, I intended on presenting a proto-workshop that had participants building a ‘forensic portrait’. But that didn’t happen. What happened is a discussion about how to deal with mountains of data and how to know, in design research, how to both resolve to address situations of design alongside locating an object of research. You are giving as a designer, you are taking as a researcher? I think design is a taking process, as research is also very generous. So perhaps this a contrived dichotomy that is actually not helpful. I feel that design research, in this binary, is tasked with more of a two-way process and this can make the work very tiring indeed.
How could a ‘forensic portrait’ work?
It depends on how you situate it as a method. In my context, the forensic portrait helps locate the kind of data that is useful in connecting the ‘evidence’ (I imagine this would be pretty consistent across PhD projects). I could imagine it being a useful priming activity before data is captured—to actually just interrogate your question and speculate on the kinds of data you’ll generate (and what could be useful).
If there is one thing I have learnt the hard way, it’s to know what data you want to capture and why. Trying to capture ‘everything’ is bonkers and will lead to a colossal amount of information to sieve through. It’s so easy to capture, so exhausting to interpolate into meaning-making.
What form would a forensic portrait take?
Any form really—it seems to me appropriate that the form of the portrait is in proportion to the affective texture of the thing that you’re studying. It’s really up to the researcher to feel their way through this one.
This method is made up - it is literally made up to reveal the systems and structure of the problem setting. The real work of the designer is in seeing these systems and appreciating the contribution that design can make to shaping the change it seeks to prescribe.
Creating a ‘forensic portrait’ is not an exercise in forming an external objective picture of the data that represents a universal image of the ‘perpetrator’. Rather, the portrait of the data emerges from within—from the ways in which the researcher engages with sense-making (Yuille, 2012). The portrait-as-framework emerges as a sense-making model from the data itself. This is a portrait of the data through the lens of my own practice of sense-making.
The forensic analogue suggests a capacity to apply consistent methods to ‘situate’ a puzzling narrative. Like a detective, the designer puts together the artefacts of the designed encounter and the manner in which those artefacts come together—and the way they make meaning through that coming together—is a creative exercise closer to portraiture. It is a depiction of the data through the practice of design that enables the designer to speak to the data through a designerly knowing.
Figure 20: BiT data analysis
At this point, I pause to consider Tim Ingold’s description of how we educate our attention. I’ll come back to it again later in this Part 3—
I consider how all this ‘joining’ is simply building a capacity to pay attention to that which arises from my relationship with the data. This attention starts by responding to the data, analysing what is there and tuning into what I know I can see. Then attention moves toward listening to the data and inviting contingency, or ‘pushing the boat out to sea’ as Ingold would say. It is submitting to the data in ways that open up to the unknown as an act that invites becoming. Rather than tuning into data, this allows the data to respond in ways that tune into my practice. This is the difference between perceiving the data and imagining it with the data.
So is data becoming a practice? Using a designerly mode to engage with the data acts to frame the data. This then transforms data through abductive processes of creative speculation, expanding designs’ conceptual perimeter and how I might appreciate the ways in which designing acts in the world. How might this research work act with my practice? How might I become a practice-researcher through this process? I’m shocked into the practice of becoming. Not being with the design practice I have known—it is realising a practice of becoming through this doctoral research.
Design as a mode of inquiry can be quite reductionist—you know the scene: lots of generative sticky notes generate a shallow analytical artifice—how might we make a richer mode of analysis that pierces this fluorescent facade?
Method can activate theory. Theory and method are the same because they are a way of seeing.
Theory illuminates practice?
Method can be a performance of the theory. Enacting the theory—
Stamps are knots. Using the language of Ingold. It is the ‘in-between’ that I’m looking for. Not the between. I’m looking for the life of the in-between, the ‘co’ that shifts my practice—
This is the way I’m looking for a clearer picture of my practice and how it might shift through research. Through learning how to research.
Stamping invites a speculative practice of data analysis.
This is becoming through the data—realising practice thorough data. The data is not the practice, the data is the practice becoming. And it is always becoming.
In a co-design practice that engages with interdisciplinary methodologies what does design need to learn to develop a practice that keeps it relevant and keeps the contributions designers make current and relevant and valuable.
Data as process+ Data as product = Data as practice.
‘Hanging’ the marked-up data was the final act—one that felt like a design move. The BiT experiment developed into an analysis that further builds on the idea of ‘joining’. In this case, joining (or re-joining) the actors in the screenshot frame in order to deepen an understanding of what was happening. This move continued the line of inquiry: how can I make the shifts I see in my practice more visible? More tangible? What happens if I just tape them back together in a gallery space? An analogue GIF?
Figure 21: Hanging out with the data
Utilising a ‘hanging space’ typically dedicated for ‘rehearsing’ the curation of art exhibitions, I rehearse a kind of curation that anticipates an interaction of creative work with the researcher. This experiment hung the data in a way that made it feel whole, and that situated a more embodied engagement with the practice of ‘joining’. I speculated that joining the data together in space promotes a sense-making of the whole investigation. This looks to how it ‘hangs’ together, rather than examining discrete parts of this practice-led research.
BiT by BiT: Hanging with Data
The BIT’s gave my research process a path into becoming with data through a practice that drew on creative strategies for ‘writing’ and ‘reading’ the feedback that the workshops revealed in the video capture. The hanging space became a container for the elaboration of joining as a practice that makes-sense of this process. Installing the work on a wall and being immersed in it dissolves the discrete spaces between researcher and data. You become intimately associated with a sense of meaning-making through practice.
Figure 22: Hanging; a panorama
The impetus for the ‘hang’ was relatively straight forward: to spend time with the data as a whole body of work and see how we get on. Joining the data in space amplified the connections made through BiT’s. This was put into action by taping the screenshots of video footage on the walls of the gallery space, creating a space of contemplation. To ‘hang’ with these images meant being still with the movement and fluidity of data grabs. This fluidity contrasted with an intentional stillness of the hanging space—a space that afforded an opportunity to be present with the possibility of seeing the data as whole.
Figure 23: From glyphs to hanging
3.1.2 Joining Glyphs to BiTs and Hanging
As experiments with joining progressed an emerging sense of shifting values began to crystallise. I had been taught to appreciate the value of design through a commercial lens. My undergraduate degree in design positioned my practice as one directed in service of ‘clients’ and the accompanying economic value that design generates within the commercial logic of this relationship. I have, since graduating and becoming a practising designer, looked at how the work of the designer is situated socially and the impact the design has on the social spaces that design mediates.
Data captured in the Making Space workshops developed through the described methodologies which I developed within this research as a shift from perceiving to imagining new ways of practicing and learning from co-design. Data impressions are read through designing and leave a sense of what might be, rather than what is.
As the use of the glyphs helped to organise ‘what is’ my sense was that the process was limited to processes of coding that organise and categorise data but do not effectively work toward locating the practice-shifts of sense-making which I’m looking for in this research.
The data analysis started to sing to me in ways I hadn’t imagined. This was the form I was looking for, and hoping for, in this method—a way to be with the data.
The revelation of using BiT’s shifted my sense of practice through re-engaging imaginative inquiry. The experiment of using stamps spoke back to my innate love of mark-making and using mark-making as a conversation with the world.
Having the individually marked up data was an act of re-imagining how we can interact with data through material processes. What I struggled with was how to piece it back together as a whole. I turned to my design teaching practice; I expect my students to ‘hang’ their work up and to be with the work in an act of embodied learning. It’s a move that helps them establish a relationship with their work. I postulate that this helps us develop a conversation with the work, and that the work develops a conversation with us. I made this move with my own marked-up data by hiring a gallery space and installing an ‘exhibition’ of the data.
Installing the data on gallery walls afforded an opportunity to expand the use of materials incorporated into this analysis. Paper ’washi’ tape became a means to engage with a material application of the ‘lines’ of Ingold’s (2015) thesis—literally drawing these lines in-between the marked-up sheets of data.
Using the washi tape felt like weaving—or interweaving. Interweaving progresses the experimentation with materials and processes further, again becoming a moment of revelation as I continue to explore how I might engage my practice with this analytical process. The activity of interweaving led me to feel closer again to this data as I experienced a broader scope of inquiry. This time I embody this process in space and across time. I’m in the data.
These experiments revealed the relational as a process of living with the interconnected nature of collaborative practice. The embodied nature of this process brought me closer to the site of research exploration in ways that stepped outside of the disorientating reconfiguration of designing into a practice transformed through collaboration. This felt like a different paradigm of practise that was inseparable from the research that had encouraged and generated this shift. It felt like becoming a design-research practitioner.
3.1.3 Joining Intra-action
As experiments with data analysis developed the methods drilled deeper into an experimental mode of inquiry. I framed this process through Ingold’s (2015) ‘knots’ and ‘lines’, staying with the notion of practice as an active production of meaning and utility (Althusser, 2017).
Methods of data analysis shift from an interaction to an intra-action. I refer to this interiority, with Ingold, as a knot. ‘Knots’ are imagined curious amalgams of methods that moved through my experimental process of coding with glyphs, BiTs, and hanging. I illustrate this process (figure 24) as a shift from interacting with ‘Glyphs’ to a more complex and embodied intra-action with ‘BiTs’ hanging with the portraits of data. The resultant ‘knot’ is a method of speculative joining.
Figure 24: Emergent Methods
I developed the knot as a model of how we might approach meaning-making from within data created in co-design workshops. This seeks to meaningfully engage with data through the practice of design that I connect with—my antecedent practice of graphic design. The PAR analysis simply didn’t speak to, in my mind, accurate analysis of data generated through co-creation. Or in other words, it didn’t emulate the qualities of a practice that generated the data—a collaborative and creative practice of designerly sense-making.
Developing the exploratory ‘knot’ led to an expanded field of analytical possibilities. Imaginative engagement with the data enabled ‘knotty methods’. From the initial joining of data with glyphs, towards stamping and marking using BiTs, and finally hanging as an experiment inhabiting the possibilities of ‘joining’ research through practice. These moves describe shifts in the relationship I have with the process of sense-making at the centre of this research. The process of analysis examines the data of ‘Making Space’ whilst exploring its own generation. Looking at the data through experimental methods revealed this process of analysis.
To further examine the ‘moves’ made in these experimental speculations, ‘knotty methods’ are described through ‘compositing’ (coding) and ‘interweaving’ (hanging).
Compositing & Interweaving
Compositing describes the initial interrogation of the data. The composite creates a ‘portrait’ of the data as an image begins to form—that is the researcher comes to an understanding of the composite as it is being composited. Initially, this process was one of categorising the action within the frame. The language, the materials, the interaction participants have with this setting and the behaviour that was elicited through the arrangement of the workshop, and the facilitation of the designerly intervention. In this way, compositing is closer to a categorisation model of data analysis where a framework for categorisation precedes the data.
Composite images were initially composed of screenshots taken from video footage that captured the data. Glyphs, applied to these screenshots, formed the initial efforts to ‘code’ the data and establish a coherent practice of analysis. This moved beyond the compositing of images using glyphs toward a more analogue process of what I referred to as ‘marking’; using the BiT stamps—an extension of the glyph that gave richer texture to the material quality of the analysis.
To further this experiment, and to push toward a sense-making model of analysis where a framework might emerge from the data, I pushed the process beyond the individual ‘marked-up’ A4 page of image, glyph and BiT toward what I refer to as interweaving. Interweaving extends parsing the overall impression of the composite into a whole described as ‘hanging’, and aims to create an impression of the collective composite into a more intelligible whole. Hanging the compositions into a single space developed a forensic reconstruction that expanded from the inside out. A hanging process involves taping the individual frames back together. Hanging becomes a process of reenacting the moves of the designer. To make sense of the whole and to reconnect with the practice through making, and remaking, and making again. Re-making the video data into an intricate tapis makes an impression of language that speaks to my practice sensibilities. Hanging these discrete moments of practice, coded and marked up in the forensic portrait, required a process that moved it closer to the state of embodied ‘becoming’ that I question in this research. I moved again in an experimental mode to explore how I might install these discrete forensic portraits in a space that affords an expanded practice of sense-making.
WHAT IS (Perceiving) > WHAT IF (Imagining) > AS IF (Emerging)
The progression of this methodology gives form to a shift from asking ‘what is’ in the data, towards asking the data ‘what if’; and perhaps to arrive at the more speculative question of ’as if’. ‘As if’ is an expression of a shifting practice beyond mere iterative change—it dreams of transformational shifts to design through research processes such as the one imagined for this study.
Design seems to learn its own language through iterative making. It becomes that language.
3.1.4 Joining Whole
In summary: glyphs contain the data — BiT’s shift the data — Hanging becomes with the data. These methods formed what I conceptualise as ‘joining’; a process of experimental inquiry that surfaces analytical frameworks.
This experimental exploration of methods assembled a speculative apparatus for engaging with data. ‘Joining’ leads to building an impression of the data through the affect of designing. Using the materiality of stamping, drawing, and writing onto the printed image led me to understand my data in ways that amplified my sense of expertise. Attending the data required an openness to the path of the research process.
Methods emulate a practice of analysis emerging from the co-design practice itself—a material engagement that searches for the whole story. This conditioned, unconditioned, and re-conditioned my designerly lens, interrogating the ways in which design tends to condition an expectation of ‘innovation’. The analytical framework reveals the connections between these points and works within these tensions. Through the BiT, we drill into the data and mine for meaning. The framework imagines a practice of dismantling that helps form a reconditioned whole. Further outline is given to this idea in the concluding chapter 3.3.
3.2 As If—
The analytical framework of joining, explored in the preceding chapter, describes a shift toward a state that feels ‘as if’—an evocation of a speculative mode that progresses from ‘what if’, typical of a design process. ‘As if’ questions how the embodied methods previewed in this chapter might reveal practices of becoming with research. The following chapter follows this idea, revealing ways that joining has shifted toward an emergent mode ‘as if’.
3.2.1 As If — Becoming Practice
It is ‘as if’ my design practice is becoming through collaborative research. This process does not describe these shifts ‘as is’, or seeks to locate universal knowledge that defines the changes design practice is experiencing. The methodological inquiry described in this research seeks to situate the designer in the midst of disorietnating change. This ‘knot’ of becoming surfaces through the apparatus of contingent practice.
Figure 25: Imagining the Knot Shifting Practice
Figure 25 illustrates this as a ‘cross-section’ of the knot. From the centre, being with data looks at ‘what is’ occurring. A visual analysis using glyphs retells the practice pushing outwardly through ‘what if’ (what if I printed the data and made marks on the page?) and leading me toward ‘as if’. ‘As if’ propels a speculative mode of experimentation that seeks to inhabit the research process. It is ‘as if’ that allows me to imagine methods that reveal a synthesis with the data that feels meaningfully situated within practice. ‘As if’ compels the move to ‘hang’ the data, a method of re-composing the analysis again in order to continue threading the knots toward becoming—a shift of transformative potential.
Ingold describes the experience of becoming in phenomenological terms: “the sentient being rides the crest of the world’s becoming, ever-present and witness to the moment when the world is about to disclose itself for what it is (Ingold, 2011, p.69). These revelations position the creative movements of emergence (Ingold, 2015)—a suitable vector for this doctoral study that carries design from transacting with the world, toward transforming it.
Figure 26: Being into Becoming
This corresponds to shifts from ‘being’ to ‘becoming’ through speculative methods of joining (figure 26). These moves transpose practice from transacting with static methods, to transforming within the speculative ‘knot’.
Designers make ‘things’ that don’t just exist in the world—they also occur. For Ingold, this imbues objects with qualities described through the ‘life of lines’ where things carry a line of existence through the world that brings them to life. A world of ‘things’ isn’t a world of objects, rather, it’s a world of knots: an expression of the enduring internal and external conditions of becoming (Ingold, 2015). This returns us to Participatory Design: “… a fundamental challenge for designers and the design community is to move from designing “things’’ (objects) to designing Things (socio-material assemblies)” (Bjögvinsson et.al 2012, p.102).
The ‘Things’ found in this research are social-material assemblies; they are the ‘knots’—an expression of becoming. Ingold further posits that a world where things come into being by processes of growth and movement is a world of life (Ingold, 2015, p.14) and that the process of ‘knotting’ is a principle in this process helps us know this world of becoming. However this doesn’t deem the ‘knot’ to be a ‘tool’, ‘building block’, a ‘chain’. These have (respectively): explicit structures; articulated and rigid elements. All are bound to their own being, whereas the knot is constituted by becoming. The ‘Life of Lines’ proposes this state of becoming as a way to consider ourselves, and the things we make and do, as a shift in how we engage with our world. This project proposes how this might occur through collaborative design research, as if—
Becoming is an act of imagination. Of imagining unknown relationships—
This research follows a story of my shifting relationship to design, and how it is revealed in this research as a practice of learning and becoming. Practice-led research is approached in review of, and renewal with, design within a methodological inquiry.
My higher education in graphic design trained me to ‘fit’ into social contexts through the shape of commercial design practice. My goal was to get a job and for the practice to be led by how that position was formed through the demands of design in service to a ‘client’.
I was not taught, however, that design had the potential to become a mode of inquiry, but I did have a sense that design was more than a job to fill and fulfil in the context of commercial practice. I was not opposed to the commercial operation of design agencies, my sense was that design fulfilled a way of seeing the world that the education in design I received didn’t fulfil. After graduating as a graphic designer, I was seeking more from this discipline.
This came, slowly. The discipline of design has changed enormously, and I have been watching on from the sidelines. Design has been building a body of research through practice that bases knowledge from a ‘designerly’ perspective—expertise that I know I have but barely have the language to put around how it might form the lever to change my practice into the one I was seeking as a design graduate.
After graduation came practice and teaching. It was through teaching that I became more able to explore the potential of the discipline with students and share their experience of becoming designers and all the uncertainty that is attached to that becoming. Becoming a professional and finding that identity that aligns with the values we seek through our work. What we hope to imbibe from design, and the impression we hope to leave through our practice of designing.
Becoming practice: an imperfect discipline
Within this inquiry, speculative research uses narratives that challenge the way we think or process realities. The underlying presence of disorientation urges me to create meaningful and lasting changes to my practice. This agitation of practice-led inquiry leads back to itself—
I explored the joints and knots of practice that surfaced through research. This research enabled a shift in how I understand my practice as a process of becoming. A refocusing on the social qualities of designing has led me to believe that design must change from inside practice through learning from outside practice.
This leads to moves that shift the discourse about practice through a deeper reading of what it means to become through social engagement. How might design interact with the social through deeper engagements? How might design be more committed to the social engagement that designing generates? Furthermore, how can this conviction be part of the making designers engage with, and how might this manifest in intuitive and reflective material engagements?
Research, corralled through practice, positions design against deeply challenging future(s) that compels us to imagine profound changes . It leads to the supposition that our societal model must change—and that we need new ways of designing that responds to these urgent needs, including new ways of participating and practicing design that contribute to society in ways that counter the harmful forces of unsustainable activity. Without these changes, design will be very limited in how it develops as a discipline.
This study presents research within the profound possibilities of expanding the capacities of design. However, this study has also found humility in appreciating the limits of designing. Design that focuses on the ‘social’ tends to make claims as to the agency of designing. Often designing capacity to ‘innovate’ our way out of problems only creates new ones. This research asks: what does it mean to be a designer with ‘social’ intentions? How could I learn through designing in ways that engage sites of interdisciplinary social research?
My practice as a graphic designer revealed ways that design is often instrumentalised for the purposes of appearances. Similarly, when a co-design project takes on problems, it readily presents an image of disruptive capacity—of innovative interventions—however, this is seldom accompanied by a meaningful sense of how design commits to this space.
Problems can simply be beyond the capacity of design to bring about meaningful change, yet design will be the last to recognise this.
3.2.2 As If — In-Tension
The tension between (or in-between) what I felt was expected of me as a ‘co-designer’ and what was in my gut as effective practice. What worked vs. What looked like it was working. What looked like ‘design thinking’.
This tension resides in the familiar relationships that exist in design encounters. Between the client and the designer, between the user and the designer, the designer and the materials, the materials and the collaborators, the participants and the participation. That’s it—
The tension between the participants and participation. The human and non-human participants and how the action of participation took us into activated practice. This tension is crucial to how we freight the practice of collaborative creativity.
The tension at the beginning of a workshop when the room is cold and stiff. A meeting room with instant coffee, cheap tea bags and a tin of assorted cream biscuits. A room reserved for painfully professional conversations about how to develop and better our work and how we can manage each other’s expectations and other weasely conversations that plunge the passive aggression of the workplace into whole new levels of dejection.
The room is in itself a tension. You can feel the tension the teachers have with space. The residue of conversations small and big that crystallise under the tables like hardened sugar.
These tensions are inherited. I didn’t find or locate or create these tensions. They were ready-made and ready to seep into the work that lay before me.
Disrupt the tension? To interrupt this tension seemed to me to be the work that was expected of me. How can I interrupt this room to allow for conversations that shifted the perceptions of possibilities that lay somewhere in those teachers?
What was this interruption? Language. Using their language. Connecting their language to the activity of the workshop.
The excitement that that interruption had was audible. It was in the voices of the teachers, in their expressions and the way they played with language. I’m not sure if this felt radical, but perhaps it did for them. It was also visible in expressions and facial communications that we associate with openness and relaxation.
But there were other interruptions that I didn’t see. Perhaps microscopic, but more likely just not visible at all. Beneath the surface. Or planted for future interruption and the blossoming of new language and new ways of knowing their own place in their practice space.
The teachers sit in conversation (tensions) with new language (interruption). The language is also in conversation with the teachers. A language that remembers its own interruption.
Being walked to the school gate afterwards; the residual warmth of the teacher’s chatter spoke to the hearth of a common language.
3.2.3 As If — Attention
From being in-tension, a practice of becoming attentive arrives. Ingold reminds us that there can be no knots without knotting (Ingold, 2015, p.18), the emergent outcomes of knotting—a process filled with forces of tension that generate form. As a designer shifting toward practices of greater social acuity, I wonder how the act of knotting might become a way to consider the line of my own practice in-between what it was and what it is becoming.
We might consider this as an education of our attention (Ingold 2015). This relates to how I have approached this study in the activity of attention giving as central to the flow of experimentation. Education, for Ingold, is framed by it’s etymological terms; ‘educere’, which is from ex (out) and ducere (to lead) (Ingold, 2015, p. 178). This is an alternate definition of education that speaks to how we might be led out into the world, rather than have knowledge instilled into us (as is the case in the common use of ‘education’). It implies that we might encounter the world, not in the installation of knowledge through ‘education’, rather, through the drawing out of the learner into the world in order to make the world more ‘present’ and to discard the ‘shields or mirrors that seem to have locked us up increasingly into self-reflections and interpretations” (ibid, 178).
The answer, according to Ingold’s reading of education philosopher Jan Masschelein (2010) is ‘through exposure’. In this sense ‘education’ is not about developing a critical distance or perspective; it is leaving a point of view behind and being out-of-position (Masschelein 2010); exposed to a becoming of perspective. This is a deliberate displacement of perspective in order to draw out the imaginative world. In this mode things disclose themselves for what they are, not what we name them to be. We are more alive to their affordances. The more we practice being out-of-position perhaps the better we get at noticing and responding to our environment as it is. This is, for Ingold, an education of attention—attention is to a world that is immanent—a world that is becoming and in a state of continual emergence.
I’m searching for a practice that is attentive to how it learns as it develops …
Attuning to what situations tell us can be understood as ‘attuning’. Attuning to smell, sounds, shapes … it’s like listening with your body. (Duff et al. 2017)
Attuning relates to design as it is turning into how the decisions made by the designers has led to entanglements. Design leads to our experience of the world. Design shapes that experience. But how can we better understand it? We can attune to the space that we’re investigating as researchers …
… to join the recollection of action as an active participant in the formation of practice-led knowing. A knowing that forms as it unfolds …
This study is framed by the question: How might design practice join ways of becoming with collaborative research?
In response, practice-led research has revealed a deeper understanding of how design might shift—or become—with collaborative research engaging through creative analytical frameworks; a study of how we might form better knowledge around coming-together with research through practice. Specifically, the methodological inquiry of ‘joining’ is named as a significant contribution to how we might approach a sensemaking framework that emerges from sites of collaborative practice-led research.
Joining has been developed as a practice of data analysis that allows designers to become productively disorientated within the data, reframing the potential of how we might understand a practice of co-design research as a mode of transformative learning. A meshwork of speculative experiments responded to the methodological dilemmas that provoked an integration of old (graphic design) expertise with new emergent (collaborative design) sense-making skills. This led to an ongoing transformation from practitioner to researcher.
The concluding chapter of this thesis will outline the significance of the methodological inquiry at the heart of this research, and how this has revealed knowledge that is transferable beyond this doctoral study.
3.3.1 Significance & Contribution to Knowledge
Methodological Inquiry: Joining
The contribution of this study is identified in the significance of a methodological inquiry emerging at the site of data analysis. The ILETC program-led ‘Regional Workshops’ formed a significant primer for the central project of this study: Making Space. This practice-led research project engaged with teacher practitioners as participants through a series of co-design workshops—fabricating ideas from deep within the interpretive meshwork of designerly sense-making. It was within that meshwork I began conceptualising, joining, a term adapted from the methods of Participant Observation.
Data analysis from Making Space developed joining as a speculative method of intentional curiosity that attends to how the affective texture of creative collaboration evokes a sense of becoming with data through a practice approach to methodological inquiry. I argue that this joining—an emergent and speculative mode—amplifies our capacity to imagine relationality at the centre of design research.
Analysis of project data reveals that the relationship a designer creates within collaborative research can be imagined through modes of designerly methods. Furthermore, an exploration of speculative joining as an analytical framework was framed through theories of practice, contributing to the methodological inquiry. Examination through practice theory locates a sense of an active relationship with the real world we inhabit (Althusser 2018, p.44). The formation of practice in turn implies an active forming of the practitioner as an agent of learning and becoming.
This is significant for co-design practice seeking to examine outcomes from collaborative research in order to broaden knowledge around emergent practices. When data resulting from co-design workshops are examined, analytical frameworks are often supplanted from outside of practice research. I argue that to make sense of the sense-making that design engages with, analytical frameworks must emerge from within the affective fabric of design practice. This study identifies the significance of this for design researchers seeking to develop connective methodologies that locate designs’ contribution to sense-making within collaborative research.
Engaging with a Whole Practice
The contribution of a methodological framework for designers shifting to a co-design practice seeks to build a critical capacity to better join social practices as a site of creative learning. This contribution recognises an opportunity to study how design can develop a whole picture of practice in interdisciplinary research settings. In this study, joining entails relational shifts from design in service to a program; to the emergence of the designer-as-researcher within a project—joining practice from within. These shifts open up relational tensions that afford opportunities for creative exploration and experimentation—a slow practice of generative becoming within in order to become whole.
Beyond being a problem-solving agent, the designer builds a practice that is formed between a dialectical process of designing projects, and the project of becoming a designer (Willis 2019, p.54). Building a sense of self as a designer can be a bewildering process that reveals how design knowing is a process of ‘conscious not-knowing’ (Nelson and Stolterman 2012). Opportunities for learning occur through the inherent disorientation of this practice of not-knowing; this argues that engaging with data from within this state can be one of productive disorientation that creates speculative analytical frameworks. The research describes this state as a ‘knot’ that shifts practice toward a speculative ‘knot-knowing’—toward a whole practice—through a mode of transformative learning.
Experimentation is also key to appreciating this shift. This study argues that joining practice-led research data leads to a richer interaction with design practice through creative experimentation. This reveals how design practice might be situated in collaborative research, promoting the possibilities of transformation for designers seeking to expand their practice. A deeper engagement with practice indicates the contribution of this speculative mode of inquiry makes through the research—this is evidenced in the shifts this research project has created for the researcher. These shifts move the speculative analysis situated within the collaborative research program. ‘Moves’ that have exerted a disorientating force over my practice. I argue that: designing with others requires becoming with practice—that design must learn to join itself as an act of transformative learning.
3.3.2 Transferability and Further Opportunities
Joining as Transformative Learning
Transformative Learning (TL) is described as “a deep, structural shift in basic premises of thought, feelings, and actions. It is a shift of consciousness that dramatically and permanently alters our way of being in the world” (Transformative Learning Centre 2016, in Yee et al. 2019, p111). The notion of a ‘paradigm shift’ by Thomas Kuhn (Watson 1966) has been significant for the development of TL. A paradigm shift occurs when we experience our assumptions and expectations—indeed all our tacit beliefs and actions—challenged through reflection and action (Kuhn, 1966). TL challenges our thinking, feeling, and acting, which in turn shifts and restructures our ‘meaning perspective’ (Illeris 2009). TL engages with both instrumental and communicative learning (Habermas 1984). The potential transferability of this research is in how communicative learning (which involves a dialogic analogous to a design process) is present in the joining explored in this study. It is communicative learning that focuses on conversations that occur as part of a transformational process. This is a complex process that enrols an analogical-abductive process. The method of joining might be transferable to research that engages with analogical-abductive reasoning, where the use of creative modelling requires methods that enable creative reasoning as a way to process complex ideas. Both analogous and abductive processes inherent to TL are equally significant to this thesis through the theoretical inquiry of joining.
Joining as Shifting
Joining aligns with the processes of TL that seek to shift problematic perspectives—and the inherent assumptions or expectations that accompany them—opening the learner to the possibilities of reflection and change. This doctoral research project was seeking ways to develop a practice from being in service to the programming of design to learning how to better understand practice shifts through design research. I describe this as becoming practice—a mode of transformative learning that involves validating and reformulating meaning structures, revealing beliefs through a process of participating in them in a free and open way that is in dialogue with a critical interrogation of data.
Such a transformation may be sudden, often brought on by the necessary resolution of a crisis. Or it might be more cumulative through a slower progression of insights that shift us toward transformation. This research seeks to scaffold a formative and cumulative progression. Joining, as an approach to data analysis, allows space and time for the emergence of meaning to form as the analogic-abductive process of inquiry unfolds. Harnessing this developmental logic is recognised in this study as a transferable approach to transformative learning. Joining, it is argued, holds the potential to engage with processes of abductive-analogy through creative practice. The data, in this case, might be considered as practice, as the engagement with data is one that activates a creative practice of knowledge building.
Joining for Social Impact
This study names a process of becoming—of transformational learning—in order to articulate processes that contribute to how design emerges as a social practice with a unique impact. This identifies the possibilities of joining being transferred to the study of design’s social impact. I argue that a better understanding of the transformative potential of joining as a mode of learning might lead to a more articulate and complete appreciation of how we evaluate the social impact of co-design. The role of social impact in design is increasingly recognised as having significant value. However much work is to be done to develop how we evaluate this ‘impact’. Currently, evaluation uses ‘positivistic economic model of cause and effect, making it challenging to capture the range of multi-dimensional impacts that emerge in social innovation projects” (Yee et al. 2019, p. 112).
Joining a Whole Practice
Through TL, practice-led research has expressed emotional learning, seeking to create a holistic expression and conscious practice of becoming (Dirkx 1998). Understood through a transformative learning lens, this doctoral research is a process of critical reflection that has challenged my beliefs and assumptions leading to shifts in perspective and understanding. This framework resonates with the methodological inquiry revealed in this research analysis: practice has led to shifts in how design has moved from being in service to the program (ILETC) to learning with the project (Making Space). Joining created a sense of a whole practice. Methods of joining helped me shift from being with the data to becoming with the data. A shift toward becoming a researcher of and through practice.
Opportunities for Further Research
The outcomes of this research present opportunities for further study into how we might learn as designers with communities of practice that join a co-design process of collaborative inquiry. This might be studied as learning with communities undergoing transformational change.
Other opportunities identify how we might transfer methods that emerged from this research back to participants to co-create with data in order to co-produce knowledge. This might engage a Participatory Action Research (PAR) methodology alongside the practice of co-design to fold participation back into the sense-making of data described as joining. Using these methods with participants holds the potential to develop the notion of joining into critical PAR approaches. This was limited in the research project due to how little time teacher-participants had available for Making Space. The potential process of co-analysis presents an opportunity that extends the outcomes of this study into collaborative practices of data analysis. A practice that will continue into the researcher’s post-doctoral practice-led research.
The invention of BiTs as a method for analysis might also be expanded across multiple sites and beyond video capture. The form of the BiT might also take on digital qualities making it possible to interact over distance using screen-based media. This has been a significant reflection at the time of submission, COVID-19 having a significant impact on how we work and interact across practices. Opportunities might exist in developing BiTs as an online instrument enabling participatory and collaborative research to continue.
In concluding this study, speculation has led toward possible frameworks emerging from the knots engaged in research. To reiterate; ‘Joining’ began within this research, with teachers engaging with co-design practice. I joined them as a co-facilitator of designerly encounters that drew them together to ‘make’ conversations they wanted to have about their practice.
Joining led me to my practice
Joining led to questions about how I learn from a practice of design that is shifting, and how I do this through collaborative research. It led through PO, via PAR, and revealed to me how ‘joining’ was a method of PO that could be extended into a practice of design that was seeking to locate the shifts that felt destabilising and disorientating. I had naturally resisted this disorientation for some time, trying to make sense of the changes occurring to design practice. Changes occurring to all our practices are significant, and respond to the enormous challenges we face as a community facing disruption and disorder to our lives as systems and structures respond to urgent needs to restructure how we live, how we work, and how we learn from practice.
I create a mode of ‘joining’ that emerges from within the disorientation that shapes practice. ‘Joining’ is located within disorientated practice. This joining is within, and without, practice. There is joining that occurs with-in the ‘project’ of the ‘designer-self’, and there is joining that occurs with-out the ‘project’ of collaborative design—through collaboration.
A speculative framework arrives at the conclusion of this research project. This invites further research that engages with the findings of the project. The outcomes of ‘joining’ might now lead back to the participants and how we ‘join’, again, as a sense-making process of discovery. For teachers this might be taking the data that emerged from the workshops and stamp, hang and draw on the data. They could go with-in, through making, and come back out again to join up what reflections emerged through ‘joining’ the research process. This guides a practice of joining that is about seeing a whole practice. Joining instructs the practitioner to look at a whole practice—doing together, reflecting alone, the visible practices, the invisible moves—how we activate our sense of becoming. These ideas will be taken into collaborative research in a post-doctorate context. ‘Making Space’ is alive in continuing contributions to how teachers make—together—the potential of their innate capacity to learn as agents of practice transformation.
3.3.3 Proof of a Knot …
This practice-led research began in a knot—
Actually, it was inspired by a knot. I found my historical practice of graphic design shifting toward a practice that appreciates the socially embedded nature of design—a shift toward a social design practice. This led me to ask: how can I better know the evolving state of my own design practice? I sensed my practice becoming something else, and this collaborative research has enabled an inquiry into that ‘something else’. My practice has evolved through research that has situated a process of becoming—a mode of transformational learning.
The disorientation of an evolving practice directed a line of inquiry that asked: How might I join practice-led research in order to shift my design practice? In response, answers to this question emerge through speculative joining—a significant conceptual and practical moment within the study—that framed methods activating the ‘disorienting dilemma’ of an evolving practice paradigm. This, I argue, is a state of transformation—a new paradigm of designing that is situated by the data through the practice of joining. Joining became a mode of transformative learning as it responded to the disorienting dilemma of becoming a researcher through complex collaborative inquiry.
Collaborative research afforded an opportunity to install a co-design project within the program to ground the practice-led research (Findeli 2010). Joining the PAR study was significant as I developed the method of joining by way of Participant Observation (PO) and began to frame data analysis using a PO augmented by practice—a speculative joining. The project within the program allowed me to gather data from participants collaborating on a PAR study designed to elicit data through collaborative workshops. Speculative joining developed an experimental mode of data analysis in order to better inhabit processes of sense-making. I speculate using experimental sense-making methods that reflect the affective qualities of designerly-led analysis. Joining, in the context of this study, becomes a move toward designerly analysis. An analytical move—within a practice framework of sense-making—that seeks to inhabit deliberate disorientation in order to engage a richer emergence of meaning.
For me, this is a shift from being a graphic designer to becoming a collaborative design researcher. Joining has helped me to make sense of this shift. ‘Joining’ is my research practice seeking to gather knowledge through a sense of exquisite disorientation that continues to kindle the enduring conditions of becoming a designer.