Generative Research I (Week 6)

Scoping Down Again

Catherine Shen
3 min readMar 14, 2016


The tail end of our exploratory phase extended a little past the official end date. Following the feedback we received from the exploratory research presentation, we realized that our next step was to narrow down our various opportunity areas.

After much discussion, we decided that we wanted to stay in the area of transport as per our initial territory scoping. We mapped out the different opportunity areas as “front-of-the-ambulance” and “back-of-the-ambulance” where the focus on the front was more regarding the transport, and the back was more focused on the provision of medical services.

By focusing on the issue of transport in an environment with unique constraints, we felt that we could discover design implications for more general applications as well.

Conceptualizing designing for human-computer symbiosis opportunities within ambulances

What is Generative Research?

Moving into the generative research phase was the most exciting part for me. While problem definition and exploratory research was more familiar for me — albeit cast in a different light — generative research seemed altogether new for me.

The exercises we did in the research methods class was useful just to get us doing stuff and not overthinking them — starting to see what types of activities constituted generative research.

However, while it was useful to just get started, I also had trouble with designing the generative workshops because I felt there was too much of this “shoot-from-the-hip” mentality. I really struggled with wanting us to know exactly what we were expecting to get out of a workshop exercise and to put very concrete structures around it.

Two other very big issues and questions that took place during a late-night, very intense discussion that I had with two team mates was around the role of designers in generative design and the issue of participatory design.

Issue #1 was whether generative design was just a more immersive extension of exploratory design or whether generative design was to generate new design ideas, interventions, and forms. I was more of the second opinion and thinking that the role of designers was to get participants to be able to show us more concretely the things that they want. However, the argument against that was that designers were to take what they hear and see and then come up with their own ideas and interventions.

While I agree with that to a point, I often feel that designers specialty is in their craft and to the extent that you design as you make, there’s something special about designers in that capacity. However, I also strongly believe that we should hear what participants that we design for tell us or show us what they want. After all, when you design for others, you leave at the end of the day — it’s not you as the person using whatever thing or system you create.

Therefore, in those situations, I really believe that designers should be expanding their ability to get participants to the point where they are able to visualize futures, understand the limits and constraints of technology, and give voice or form to the things that satisfy their needs. Perhaps this is too idealistic but this is where I’m coming from.



Catherine Shen

designer. thinker. @CMUDesign masters. @NorthwesternU econ.