Research

Over the past eight years Fenn and Hobbs have been exploring the intersection of information architecture and design thinking. The work spans socially embedded problems, hyper complexity, transdisciplinary research, practice-led research and the related implications for teaching, design practice and related fields and disciplines.

Below are all the papers they’ve published academically together to date.

 

12. THE USER EXPERIENCE LANDSCAPE OF SOUTH AFRICA

SAICSIT Cape Town, 2015. Co-authored with Dr. M. Pretorius. Get the paper

View the full report

Industry in South Africa is becoming increasingly aware of the need for user experience design in the development of products and services. Problems experienced with usability prevent people from accessing, and eventually adopting technology, and a deep understanding of the users’ needs is needed for building a successful service. User experience activities, such as user research, can be used to understand how people live their lives, in order to more effectively respond to user needs with informed, relevant and innovative design solutions. Together with this increased awareness and appetite, is the emergent challenge where those who constitute the field of user experience (practitioners, service providers, content providers, scholars and those requiring user experience services) often understand the field differently and in different ways. The aim of this paper is to describe the current landscape of the field of user experience in South Africa and gain insights into the field’s maturity such that further research and recommendations may assist in its positive growth…


 

11. THE FIRMA MODEL: A TOOL FOR RESOLVING COMPLEX SOCIETAL PROBLEMS

DEFSA Johannesburg, 2015. Get the paper

As the focus of design broadens to include problem solving located in complex societal systems the emphasis in design education must shift accordingly. Knowledge of and competence in conducting research within the scope of design practice, and using insights gained from research to conceptualise appropriate solutions is a necessity that design students urgently require. In support of this need, this paper will introduce and describe the Firma Model, a meta-framework that spans the human-centered design process, which aims to assist the design student and educator in grappling with complex problems.


 

10. WICKED ETHICS IN DESIGN

DEFSA Johannesburg, 2015. Get the paper

Wicked problems are wicked because, amongst other things, understanding problems as existing in society, at the intersection of many possible points of views held by a variety of potential stakeholders introduces indeterminacy. Ethical frameworks in this context may also be multiple and may exist in harmony or dis-harmony alongside each other. In this paper, we argue for an acknowledgement of this complexity. This acknowledgement includes recognizing a distinction between successful and good design; that design, when considering the best course of action in an ethical and pragmatic sense needs to look beyond the business and consumer dichotomy; that ethical pluralism can exist across multiple stakeholders in an ecosystem; and that our ethical judgements need to be considered within the context of socio-cultural change. This paper concludes by suggesting a range of interventions and tools that could be incorporated into design curriculum to assist design students with understanding and navigating ethical complexity.


 

9. THE FIRMA MODEL: A META-FRAMEWORK FOR DESIGN RESEARCH, STRATEGY AND CRITIQUE

CUMULUS Milan, 2015. Get the paper

“The complexity that arises from situating design problems in social reality is an important challenge that requires addressing in contemporary design practice. This paper focuses on human-centered design (HCD) practices and proposes a model for this purpose. A brief theoretical account of complexity in design forms the basis of our argument that a meta-framework for design research, strategy and critique is required in HCD. A set of generic areas of concern will be covered that attempt to span the breadth of factors that can be found at play in social reality as it relates to design. These areas of concern form the content of the Firma Model (the Model)…A humanistic approach to design should place improving people’s lives, individually and collectively, at the heart of its ambition. Design also requires that these solutions are accountable and sustainable. It is the hope of the authors that the Firma Model goes some way to contributing to this effort.”


 

8. APPLYING USER JOURNEY DESIGN TO RESOLVE COMPLEX DESIGN PROBLEMS

GIDEC Botswana, 2013. Get the paper

“… In our paper we position User Journey Design as both a tool and a rigorous self-reflective, data-driven process through information gathering, synthesis and into design, which assists the student designer in navigating the complexities of indeterminate problems…”


 

7. PREPARING UNDERGRADUATE DESIGN STUDENTS FOR COMPLEXITY: A CASE STUDY OF THE JOHANNESBURG ART GALLERY PROJECT

GIDEC Botswana, 2013. Get the paper

“…This paper argues that preparing undergraduate design students for working with complexity, by requiring them to undertake discipline- neutral, indeterminate problems, is altogether manageable, appropriate and additionally, highly impactful on the student’s own practice and conceptualization of design…”


 

6. NAVIGATING INDETERMINACY THROUGH THE APPLICATION OF USER JOURNEYS

DDR Ghana, 2013. Get the paper

“Of the defining characteristics of indeterminate problems, the presence of overwhelming amounts of data presents one of the largest challenges to the designer. The complexity presented in understanding, managing and using data as it is discovered, aggregated, mapped, organized, interpreted, synthesized and transformed through human-centered design processes, in the context of the environment of the problem-ecology, requires that the designer has tools that can assist with designing solutions from these large bodies of data. User journeys have become a frequently applied tool for research and design in the practical fields of Design Thinking, Service Design, User Experience Design and Information Architecture Design. In our paper we reposition User Journey Design as both a tool and a rigorous self-reflective, data-driven process through information gathering, synthesis and into design, which assists the designer in navigating the complexities of indeterminate problems.”


 

5. THE INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE OF MEANING MAKING

IA Summit USA, 2013. View ignite presentation

Published in ‘Reframing Information Architecture’ (Springer)

“…We live in a world of increasingly complex, interconnected, social problems…Through an exploration of Design Thinking theory across the stages of researching, ideation and prototyping we examine the ways in which the practice of information architecture (IA) operates in some very similar ways and how this view reframes an understanding of the practice of IA. The paper will then present three ‘illusions’ embedded in the current view of IA that we believe account for its misconception…The reframing of IA presented here has implications for the field of IA (its theory, practice and the teaching of IA) but perhaps more importantly design and other fields that stand to gain enormous value from the application of the thinking, tools and techniques of IA to grapple with the complex problems of our time.”


 

4. THE INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE OF TRANSDISCIPLINARY DESIGN PRACTICE: RETHINKING NATHAN SHEDROFF’S CONTINUUM OF UNDERSTANDING

DDR South Africa, 2012. Get the paper

“Transdisciplinary design practice requires different approaches and different subject to those conventions applied to the teaching of traditional discipline orientated design practice. This paper describes the cognitive requirements of design relative to a range of theoretical frameworks that position design as a transdiscplinary practice. These cognitions are discussed in reference to an account of transdisciplinary research practice. What emerges from the study is the need for explicit cognitive skills that can assist design students in dealing with the complexity that arises from transdisciplinary practice. It is the authors’ contention that the field of information architecture design contains many of the cognitive decision making tools required for transdisciplinary design practice.”


 

3. A ROLE FOR INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE IN DESIGN EDUCATION: CONCEPTUALISING INDETERMINATE PROBLEMS IN DESIGN THINKING

DEFSA South Africa, 2011. Get the paper

When faced with complex problems that are situated in social reality many design students struggle to formulate meaningful and articulate responses to these problems. The cognitive skills required to solve complex problems are often learned only experientially. This paper argues for these latent, yet critical abilities, to be taught explicitly as part of a tertiary design education. This paper initially reviews the theoretical underpinnings of design thinking with a specific focus on the reciprocal relationship of the design problem and the subsequent solution. A range of the formative cognitive requirements needed to solve complex problems situated in broader society and within disciplinary practice are described in reference to the theoretical framework. In the subsequent sections of the essay, approaches to solving design problems are discussed particularly in reference to the theory of cyberdesign. In the concluding section of the paper the authors argue that the theory of cyberdesign may in a practical visual form be used as a tool for the development and representation of cognitive decisions while constructing meaningful design responses to complex problems.”


 

2. A ROLE FOR INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE IN DESIGN EDUCATION: DEVELOPING INNOVATION THROUGH STRUCTURED THINKING

DEFSA South Africa, 2011. Get the paper

In this paper, we position information architecture design and the thinking skills required for its practice as a practical application of the theory of cyberdesign. We further suggest that these thinking skills, while commonly applied to digital domains, transcend the digital because, at the cognitive level, the information architect is dealing, first and foremost with indeterminate problems. We describe how information architecture design involves the process of deconstructing dysfunctional formations (problems) and the characteristics of the design applied in the reformulation of parts into a functional reformulation. The innovation produced through the reformulation of the problem (solutioning) is positioned as an act of composition, where new meanings are created, and the implications of innovation for users (and the design) are then discussed. In conclusion, we hope to have demonstrated that these thinking skills are a meaningful area of further study for their application as teaching techniques to develop in students the necessary abilities required for solving indeterminate problems that they will be required to engage with in their careers as designers.”


 

1. MATURING A PRACTICE

Journal of IA, 2010 – with Andrea Resmini. Get the paper

“The authors of this paper position pratice-led research (PLR) as an effective agent in the transformation of the seemingly inherent and natural acts found in casual practice into the formal arrangement of accepted truths and regulated practices of a discipline for user experience design (UXD) and information architecture (IA) communities of practice. The paper does not intend to exhaustively define discourse analysis, discipline practice or pratice-led research per se, but rather to introduce practitioners and the fields of UX and IA at large to the basic concepts of PLR so as to begin establishing discussion and awareness.”

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