6.21 Simonsen, J., C. Svabo, S. M. Strandvad, K. Samson, M. Hertzum, and E. Hansen, “Situated Methods in Design,” in J. Simonsen, C. Svabo, S. M. Strandvad, K. Samson, M. Hertzum, and O. E. Hansen (Eds.): Situated Design Methods, MIT Press, Boston, 2014, pp. 1-21.


Life in contemporary society is saturated by design. We live in designed environments, we are surrounded by design objects, and in many situations we have our attention, capacity, and movement affected by design. Today, design penetrates areas far beyond the traditional craftsmanship-based design professions. It takes place in domains as different as health, culture, education, business, transportation and planning and involves “shaping and changing society” through processes that are, at the same time, “intentional, situated and emerging” (Simonsen et al., 2010, pp. 203f). In addition, design is spreading to universities, which engage in design research and initiate new design-oriented study programs worldwide.

The act of designing involves many participants. As such a participatory endeavor, design can be defined as “a process of investigating, understanding, reflecting upon, establishing, developing, and supporting mutual learning between multiple participants (Simonsen and Robertson, 2012, p. 2). In this book, we employ the notion of situated design because design processes take place in particular situations and are carried out from embedded positions (Haraway, 1988; Suchman, 1987, 2007). To say that design is situated is to highlight the interactions and interdependencies between designers, designs, design methods, and the use situation with its actors, activities, structures, particulars, and broader context. Situated design acknowledges the tinkering and negotiation involved in designing things – tangible as well as intangible – and making them happen as intended. Phrased in a slightly different manner, a situated design deals with all the ‘thinging’ that goes into the making of things. Bjögvinsson et al. (2012, p. 102) emphasize that ‘things’ being designed are not merely objects: “a fundamental challenge for designers and the design community is to move from designing ‘things’ (objects) to designing Things (socio-material assemblies)”.

Design methods are often described as though they are universal and can be applied in the same way across contexts. In this book we take the reverse point of view and present 18 situated design methods, all of which acknowledge the situated nature of design. With the expansive development of the design field, design methods have also become multiple and diverse; various domains (re)produce their own ways of designing and ways of approaching design through domain-specific design methods. We acknowledge design methods as a spreading and heterogeneous phenomenon and take an interdisciplinary point of departure by recognizing design as a creative act that combines and merges multiple disciplines. The designed environment may be understood as a field of ongoing engagements and entanglements, in which design processes comprise series of negotiations and rearrangements that introduce new designs and change established designs by combining them in new ways (Highmore 2008, pp. 3f). This makes it a central challenge for design methods to be able to conceptualize and orchestrate the experience of combinations of designs. It stresses the relational and process-oriented aspects of design and design work and it highlights that users of various sorts play central and ongoing roles in the enactment of designs. The user roles include adoption, use, participation, appropriation, tailoring, maintenance, workarounds, appreciation, and so forth.

In a design saturated society, design also becomes the subject of university-based research and leads to new educational programs. European design and architecture schools rooted in practice and craftsmanship, increasingly implement academic criteria in their programs. This reconfiguration of design education revolves around an integration of a traditional academic analysis of a human or societal issue and a creative design solution of this issue. Whereas the traditional academic analysis can draw on established academic conventions (regarding research methods, philosophy of science, and theoretical approach), the design solution is not as easy to account for: How did you come up with your ideas for the design? How did the techniques employed support you in working with these ideas? Why did you choose a specific design over other options? How can you justify the design academically? In short: What is the relation between the analysis of the situation and the resulting design solution? Questions such as these are difficult to answer and they call for methodological considerations. With this book we offer a selection of resources for such considerations.

The design methods presented in this book emerge from a constructive and creative academic community where it is the specific empirical settingthat defines the focus of research and the relation between the disciplines. The book grows out of an academic tradition focused on the theoretical and methodological aspects of the relation between scientific analysis and design processes in collaboration between researchers from different fields and external partners based on an explicit ambition of rethinking the relation between traditional academic curricula, research and education. Related design study programs include problem orientation, interdisciplinarity, participant-direction and project work, where it is the participants’ definition of the problems that decides the type of sciences and disciplines that are relevant in relation to the analyses of the different aspects of the problem (Andersen and Heilesen, 2014). Growing out of this tradition, the chapters in this book take interdisciplinary points of departure presenting methods and exemplary cases from a variety of design areas, analyzed with vocabularies from a variety of academic disciplines.

This way of studying design is in line with the concept of mode 2 knowledge that was developed by Gibbons et al. (1994) in order to define practice-oriented scientific knowledge. It is stressed that analysis and design should be carried out in continuous dialogue with the field and in collaboration with participants. This twists the notion that the validity of knowledge is determined solely in the scientific community: For knowledge and design produced in its context of application the practical applicability is an important criterion for assessing the success and robustness of scientific insight. Thus the scientific quality of analysis and designs are assessed through the involvement of stakeholders and based on contextual criteria.

Another important aspect is the relationship between this kind of design studies and the scientific disciplines. It is the dialogue between the researchers and the field that establishes what scientific knowledge that has to be developed and applied. This can lead to multidisciplinary research strategies combining different disciplines, to research strategies that are interdisciplinary in the sense that the development of new scientific knowledge is based on elements from various disciplines, or to an integrated form of interdisciplinarity – also known as transdisciplinarity (Gibbons and Nowotny, 2001) – where the engagement with the design field establishes a new kind of scientific knowledge where there are no fixed boundaries between the disciplines.
This book is intended as basic reading for interdisciplinary design programs at undergraduate and graduate university levels. Each chapter presents a situated design method. The methods are the result of experienced design researchers’ synthesis of extensive empirical experience and aim to make students and interested practitioners reflect upon how to conduct design projects and, especially, how to apply methods in these projects. Learning to master situated design processes requires that descriptions of theoretical, methodological, and empirical knowledge are combined with accounts of actual experiences. Therefore, each chapter includes a case, which supports reflection on how to adapt and use the method. To help the reader orient and navigate through the book, the chapters open with a short sum up of four questions: What kind of method is presented? Why is the method relevant and important? Where can you use the method? How does the method address situatedness?

In the remainder of this chapter, we elaborate on the interconnected themes represented in the title of the book: situated, design, methods. First, we discuss situatedness by outlining four ways of addressing this concept: situated knowledges, situated action, situated learning, and situating contexts. Second, we unfold the notion of design thematically by distinguishing between aspects related to design projects as a whole, collaborative processes, aesthetic experiences, and sustainability. Third, we introduce the 18 methods and present a navigation table listing central characteristics of each method. An appendix at the end of the book provides questions for each chapter to inspire discussion and reflection.