: A Design Research Method Arising From a Large Organisation

  • Paul Gault

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This thesis discusses a programme of research into new ways in which organisations can gather field-based consumer insight. In an increasingly complex and fast moving business world, there is a need for faster and more efficient consumer experience research that also provides a wider focus on the situation under investigation. This requires a suitable method to support such activity when being conducted in the context of large organisations. The research questions this raises include: What are the organisational barriers in an engineering-led large company that limit an interest in and uptake of consumer experience research? What method is needed to help large organisations serve their ethnographic research requirements in less costly ways? What materials are needed to help support non-specialist fieldworkers engage in lightweight ethnographic research?

    To investigate the first research question and understand the context of a large multi-national corporation, studies into the role of consumer experience design within NCR Corporation and the forms of user/design research that underpinned their practice were carried out. These involved a contextual inquiry, a series of interviews and a workshop. These studies revealed the challenges which designers faced when being brought into the development process too late, the lack of robust process documentation and difficulties faced when collaborating with other disciplines. It also highlighted the issues there are in generating and applying consumer experience research such as communicating to designers the benefits it provides and, for those who are supportive, lacking any measured incentives to make use of it.

    To investigate the last two research questions, a method called DiCER has been developed for using large groups of ordinary people (non-ethnographers) to make fieldwork observations. In this method, groups of people are given a small amount of training and provided with support materials that allow them to make and report observations. The method provides a way of harnessing the potential of a large organisation’s staff for a shared goal of generating useful fieldwork material. This also provides a way of sensitising different people from within the organisation to seek out a further understanding of their end consumer.

    The method was first tried out in two studies that investigated how collaborative activity could be facilitated in large public spaces. This helped identify issues related to the design of support materials whilst conducting fieldwork and explored different ways of analysing and presenting the results of such activity. A follow-up study observed the activity of conversations between strangers waiting in a railway station concourse. The aim of this was to test the method on a more focused problem and prototype tools that supported the recording of fieldwork observations in such a context. The outcome of this was a set of prototypes and interventions demonstrating potential techniques for gathering fieldwork material.

    A final study explored the potential of using a group of non-specialist employees distributed across a large organisation to fulfil some parts of a fieldwork project. This helped develop training sessions for engaging people with little or no prior knowledge of doing fieldwork to be able to do it effectively. The output of this was a set of design recommendations for further applications of the method in a similar context.

    A large barrier to the use of consumer experience research in large organisations is the need to do the research very rapidly and cheaply. The method proposed in this thesis provides a way in which consumer experience research can be distributed over a company’s own staff, which has the added advantage of helping improve the support such research is given and its potential impact.
    Date of Award2014
    Original languageEnglish
    SponsorsThe Northern Research Partnership
    SupervisorCatriona MacAulay (Supervisor), Judith Masthoff (Supervisor) & Graham Johnson (Supervisor)

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