Media technologies can effectively be evaluated byt the use of Design Research. Prototyping is a very common way to test new designs in the field of media technology.
Prototypes for use in research can open up new possibilities for gathering data and reaching further. With prototypes we can make deeper investigations on how people react and respond to technology, which opens up for new insights. For example, the prototype used in last weeks paper Drumming in Immersive Virtual Reality made it possible to gather data on performativity that would not otherwise be obtainable, and through that reach a conclusion on whether Body Ownership Illusions can affect performance in activities. The same goes for Turn Your Mobile into the Ball: Rendering a live fotball game using vibration where putting the prototype into the hands of participants made it possible to investigate attitudes towards a new way of representing a live stream of a fotball game.
Furthermore, a prototype makes it possible to move on past investigating theoretical systems towards testing real systems. This often opens up to both new problems and possibilities.
It could be necessary to develop a proof of concept prototype for several reasons. One might be to find out if there is a possiblity to even make something that holds up for the basic requirements. A proof of concept prototype has the basic attributes of what the fully realised thing should have, and makes it possible to use it do investigate how participants respond to those most basic attributes. That way it is possible to investigate if the approach the prototype uses to tackle a problem or situation is feasible, desireable etcetera.
A prototype is characterized in that it is not a fully realised system in the eyes of the developers, but rather something that has the basic attributes of the theoretical system. A prototype can range from something only showing the most basic functionality of a system to having both a functional system as well as being accomplished in other parts, such as in design for example.
The results of design research can be presented in many different ways. Data may be gathered from questionnaires, non-direct interviews and many other sources, and these can be compiled to create for example personas (stereotypical users of the system with their own needs and wants), storyboards (shows the interactions of the system with the user) and mock-ups (a seemingly functional prototype showing functionality and/or design).
The main empirical data gathered from Finding design qualities in a tangible programming space is in the form of observations of the participants using the designed system.
In the second paper, Differentiated driving range, the empirical data consists of a pre-study with analyses of conversations on the subject of range anxiety in internet forums as well as interviews. Also, after building and trying a prototype, they also gathered empirical data in the form of new realizations of the practical use of the design.
So can practical design work in itself be considered a ‘knowledge contribution’? Yes, I believe so! When taking a system out of the theoretical domain, new insights can be reached into whether the approach in the theoretical domain is even relevant in the real world. Such as in the paper Differentiated driving range where they find out that the speed range they originally had thought was viable actually wasn’t so relevant. Through design and testing you reach new knowledge of the system’s performance in the real world.
I believe that design for use in research and design in general have different intentions. Design for research aims to bring new knowledge of a system, while design in general more aims at creating a system for users to be able to use with regard to their wants and needs. They both bring a system from theory to reality, but the intentions are different.
To answer if research in tech domains are replicable is a hard question. On one hand, is any research ever replicable? I don’t think they are in their core, since they all depend on samples, setting, time and much much more. However technology is moving so fast that in a practical sense it is hard to replicate research in tech domains.
The most important differences between design research and other research practices I think are the focus on the real space instead of the theoretical space. Other types of research mainly focus on observation of what is, wheras design research has a more conceptualstic focus, a drive to bring something new into our world!