As I’ve already mentioned I’ve been focusing very intensively on typical workflows of researchers in the field of liberal arts. There are reasons why:
The vast majority of researchers at the Cluster of Excellence are scientists of liberal arts. Designing a tool for them requires a detailed knowledge and deep understanding how they are working and what they actually need. I realized that their everyday life includes mainly working on publications in text form.
To be honest as a designer who’s familiar with practice based workflows it’s really difficult to recognize what scientists of cultural science or liberal arts are actually doing. Watching from the sidelines it seems that they are just reading, reading, reading and writing. The different work states, the procedures and used materials and at least how all of that is organized, is almost invisible from outside.
So I’ve started interviewing some of my colleagues and asked them to describe their individual workflows just from the initial point when an idea or a question is appearing. Some of hem have described the working process of their master thesis, journal articles and/or dissertation. After all it became very obvious that everyone has an individual method but a few things apply to all of them:
At the end of the day there is written text. An article or other kind of publication that contains own thoughts and analyses referring to other texts, images and/or physical objects.
Basically analyzing texts means commenting, referring, comparing, illustrating, sampling and quoting. These are the basic activities that I discovered but there are a few more which are described as scholarly primitives, the basic tool respectively set of methods that researchers across disciplines have in common. *
(*John Unsworth, “Scholarly Primitives: what methods do humanities researchers have in common, and how might our tools reflect this?” http://people.brandeis.edu/~unsworth/Kings.5-00/primitives.html)
Time plays an important role and has very much impact on the working process as a whole. The more time researchers have the more they feel confident about the quality of their output. Mainly that’s because they can spend more time on studying source material. An intensive recherché at the beginning that allows reading and analyzing references from more then one or two opposite perspectives is giving them a feeling that they have a comprehensives knowledge about their current field of research. But normally, the time is short. Sometimes researchers have less then 3 months to write a journal article besides all the other activities they have to fulfill.
Furthermore not all research results find their way into the argument of someone’s own text. But it’s worth it to keep these things for later.
Handwritten notes and sketches are important to build arguments and content relations but they are only readable and useful for the moment. It’s just a procedure to make your own thoughts visible for the moment. The notes themselves are later difficult to understand.
All write continually and from the first moment. This has been one of the most surprising findings of the interviews. Intuitively, I have assumed that there is a time where the researchers are only reading and note taking and then there is a cut and the writing phase begins. Nope. Total wrong. They are building their texts like designers their models and prototypes. The process is non-linear. Arguments are like blocks that are set together, split up again, turned around and combined with others. Sources are simultaneously analyzed, insights gained, that all is converted to text and sent to specific contexts, which can be adapted gradually.
The basis of my investigations at the interdisciplinary laboratory has been my practical diploma that I’ve named “Prototyping Experiences”. A concept of a collaborative digital platform that supports processes of Gestaltung in context of physical computing.
Physical computing understood as a tool of an interaction design process stresses many problems concerning the organisation and documentation of the materials that are appearing during the whole work process.
There are many things to deal with like sketches, codes, electronic circuits, paper models, videos, images, literature and all the internet sources that are used as inspiration.
The internet itself often plays a double role. It’s source of information and communication during the design process and it plays almost everytime a significant part of the final installation or object. So it became clear that the internet could also be the place where all these artifacts should come together: On a digital platform. Well, you’re right, for now that’s not very new and revolutionary. There are a lot of forums and platforms like „Instructables“, „Arduino“ or „Thingiverse“ that are doing a great job and are well established in the community. But the way HOW the information is managed and especially HOW other people could possibly get involved into your design process, that should be the new thing about it.
Basically PARTICIPATION ist the name of the game. Firstly that means that the whole design process is transparent by documenting almost every single step in real time from the beginning until the end. Secondly all the information should be connected semantically or at least tagged with significant meta information. Finally at the end there’s a specific network out of all the physical and digital artifacts that are playing a role during the design process.
Initially I’ve started to analyze a recherche process that is typical for a student project in context of interaction design. Basically I’ve identified three main phases that a recherche process is getting through:
- Initiated by a problem/question the recherche starts undirected but specifically. A lot of thematic fields and ideas are explored by the students. This beginning phase is characterized by trial and error, playfullness and curiosity. Sometimes it’s the first time that students are getting in touch with coding and building circuits.
- After a while a particular direction where the project should end becomes visible. Now the recherche becomes more specific and almost all the information that is needed to realize the project will be collected.
- The final countdown. Now the students need concrete information and advices how to do things, how to code, how to build something etc. The searching process must be very straight forward and efficient.
Mostly all the nice and interesting little pieces of information from the beginning of someones’s project that are not important for the realization are getting lost. That’s a shame because later on these sources and the related practical experiences could be valuable for one’s self AND for others.
So, from this point I’ve started my observations at the interdisciplinary laboratory. I wanted to understand scientific workflows. What exactly are the researchers doing? How are they dealing with their work materials? What are the differences between the disciplines?
…at Cluster of Excellence “Image Knowledge Gestaltung” is the exploration of the relationship between physical and digital artifacts that are incurred during a scientific work process. Especially scientific research in context of liberal arts has drawn my attention. Therefore I was investigating the role of note taking as well as information seeking, reading and writing processes. Further I wanted to know more about how all of these important and relevant information and artifacts are managed. It became obvious that all of them have their own individual system of data management that is more or less effective.
In this context, effectiveness means that they are able to use the collected information afterwards. Two reasons are responsible: First of all a researcher need to remember where he has saved the information. And in a second step the researcher needs to remember the semantic meaning of it. Why has been this article so important to me? How does this piece belong to my questions?
For example: Almost all of the researchers that I’ve asked told me that after finishing a publication it is very difficult for them to remember why they made a special mark or comment next to a text passage. Why is that?
The meaningful significance is lost. To get to know you need to reconstruct the thoughts you’ve had in mind in the moment you’ve made the comment or mark. Sometimes it’s possible but most of the time not.
The aim of my research is to develop a tool that supports scientific research in a way that it helps organizing digital data and physical artifacts that are semantically connected to each other.