Action Research and design

I've been to a couple of talks on action research lately, and Bob Dick's 2001 (find source) description of what action research is could be a description of the design process in general:
A commonly known description of the action research cycle is that of Kemmis and McTaggart (1998) – plan, act, observe, reflect; then, in the light of this, plan for the next cycle ... [action research] tends to be ... cyclic and participative and qualitative. I view all of these features as choices to be made by the researcher, usually in discussion with the participants. Good action research is research where, among other features, appropriate choices are made... If its advantages are to be obtained, it is mostly or always flexible and responsive to the research situation.
If you replace 'researcher' as designer, and 'participants' as the client/audience, I think this is a nice working definition of what design (specifically visual communications) does. It describes an iterative creative process that involves cycles of designing, reflecting and redesigning in collaboration with the other people involved in any given project (in my practice, this would be 'planning' (brainstorming) based on a brief from an editor, 'acting' (designing a set of roughs), 'observing and reflecting' in collaboration with editorial and marketing departments (showing them the roughs and discussing), then repeating the cycle until a final solution is agreed on).

The other particularly relevant idea is that of appropriateness. Good design is evaluated on appropriateness. There is no single ‘right’ design solution to any given design problem. Unlike science, which strives for THE solution, design will only offer A solution. So whether A design solution is evaluated as being good or bad, it is in terms of how appropriate the solution is at that time – how clear is the communication and how engaging is it to the intended audience.

I can't see action research being entirely appropriate for my research, but I think it's a valuable methodology for designers who are researching through practice.


Lisa Roberts said…
Zoe, do you distinguish between Methodology and Methods? Many researchers do, including Canadian Indigenous researcher Shawn Wilson (Research Is Ceremony, 2008). I understand methodology as a world view and methods as tools of inquiry.

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