The last two semesters have been packed with collaborations with industry partners. These collaborations offered us, as students, hands-on experiential learning experiences bringing practice and theory together. The partners were from different sectors and work at different scales (International organizations, startups, corporates, local organizations, and health institutions). In addition, there was an opportunity for personal explorations and self-initiated projects through the Unite de Specialization course. We were tackling real-life challenges with real-life partners.
Due to confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements, I won’t be able to provide concrete examples in this blog post.
Looking back at the two semesters, I had the assignment to reflect, assess, and evaluate the projects from a personal point of view. To be able to reflect on the various projects based on the same logic, I decided to look at different aspects that are horizontal across different projects.
1. PERSONAL MOTIVATION
The diversity of the projects and the partners we worked with made me better understand and assess my interests and motivations when it comes to the type of projects I would like to work on. I can see that I was highly motivated when I was working on the projects that I initiated through the Unite course or the projects that had some urban and social dimensions.
2. PARTNER ENGAGEMENT
In the second semester, I started to notice the importance of the partner’s engagement in the project and how it can affect my work. Some partners were highly engaged and interested while others were more passive.
With one of the partners, we used to hold regular meetings to present our work and discuss different issues related to the projects. We had access to data and the partner and staff were open for new ideas. However, in another project, it was challenging to get everyone on board. As the institution was bigger than the other partner, the project was not well understood among all team members.
The motivation and interest of the partner and how much they take the project seriously highly affect my work when it comes to access to users (to conduct research), access to data, and their staff cooperation.
In one of my previous blogs, I talk more about engaging partners in the design process.
3. USER ENGAGEMENT
Since people are at the center of our process, it is very important how we recruit participants in our process, if we have access to participants, and if they are engaged.
I noticed that participants are highly engaged when they are willingly participating in the research process, this happened when we were facilitating an idea lab with UNIDO Lebanon, at the launch of the Beirut Creative Hub. Participants came to attend the workshop with their full will to participate and engage.
Participants were moderately engaged when they are recruited and selected, this occurred when we organized individual interviews with people through the partners.
Participants were less engaged when approached during their work hours or without previous agreement. This happened due to our time limitations and project types.
4. RESEARCH ENVIRONMENT
The user engagement is also affected by the research environment. And what I mean here is where and how the research is taking place.
During our project at a hospital, we had to work with nurses during their shifts, conducting activities and interviews on the counter, making it uncomfortable for us to facilitate easily and decreasing their engagement and focus as this was happening during their work hours.
In other projects, the one to one interviews allowed a safe space for deeper conversations and higher engagement. The workshop setting in the idea lab, mentioned earlier, also increased the participants’ engagement.
In addition, having an understanding of the context of a project and how to access and recruit participants, online or offline, play a role in defining the research environment ahead of time.
5. TEAM COLLABORATION
One great aspect of design research is collaboration. The goal is to benefit from the collective intelligence to critically think about problems and solve them.
During the projects we worked on different levels, 1) with the undergraduates during our first studio project, 2) together as one team of graduate students on different projects, and 3) independent projects during some courses.
Our team collaboration was least effective during the first project due to our lack of experience, however, it was fostered during the second and third project. However, as students, there is a recurrent slack at some point that affects the team’s performance. I noticed that we weren’t able to sit together to effectively “download” our findings, discuss, build on each other’s ideas and observations, and search for consensus.
As students, competition can also play part in this process, especially when there are no equal efforts, many of us would want to highlight their own work and progress regardless of the team’s.
6. TEACHER GUIDANCE
The role of the teacher was essential in the progress of each project, while I appreciate the “learn by doing” learning methodology, There was a need to have a main facilitator in different studio projects and not only teachers who review our work. This was highly needed when the team was failing to dissect its work across. The teacher could also present different frameworks that would easily help us navigate through the process especially when the brief is more ambiguous.
Now I will be looking forward to keeping all these in mind when working on my projects next year, especially my thesis project.