By Ian Hooper
Have you ever wondered what the difference was between Concept Mapping and Cognitive Mapping? Do you want to know more about Design Ethnography? Did you ever wonder about the history of Card Sorting? If so, then Bruce Hanington and Bella Martin’s book “Universal Methods of Design” is for you.
This was the book that the Toronto UX Book Club decided to read recently. As I described in my last post, the book club had the opportunity to use the Autodesk office to video chat with the authors. We had a really good turnout that night as many of the regular readers showed up, and many new faces were also in attendance. The large numbers may have been due to the attraction of being able to meet with the authors, or it could be that there was more interest in this particular book.
The book has a rather long, but descriptive subtitle – “100 Ways to Research Complex Problems, Develop Innovative Ideas and Design Effective Solutions”. One of the book club members told me he thought that people were attracted to this book because they generally like simple lists of things. “Just look at all those top ten lists you get at the end of the year”, he said. The evidence was all around me.
It is true that this book provides a neat selection of the “top 100” design methods. It is simply organized in alphabetical order, with each method getting exactly 2 pages: one page for the description, and the second page for pictures and case study examples. Rather than breaking the methods up into thematic groups or chapters, the authors use two small infographics to contextualize the methods. The first characterizes each method using the following facets: behavioral/attitudinal; qualitative/quantitative; innovative/adapted/traditional; exploratory/generative/evaluative; participatory/observational/self-reporting/expert review/design process. The other infographic is a simple set of numbers from 1 through 5, representing during what stage the method is typically applied, from “Planning and Scoping” to “Launch and Monitor”. The net result is that you can see at a glance where a particular technique fits in.
This brings me to one of the few shortcomings of the book. It is a gorgeous book that is easy to read and a pleasure to have on my desk, but I really found myself wishing that it were more interactive. Despite the handy infographics, I wished I could pivot and filter the methods to suit my needs. For example, I wish I could have been able to click on the “Phase 3” icon to see a listing of all the concept generation and early prototype techniques, or to click on a quantitative/qualitative facet toggle as needed. There is an eReader version of the book, but from what I heard from those who purchased that version, it did not fully take advantage of the digital medium.
100 methods is a lot. One of the book club members asked if anyone would ever use that many different techniques and if so…why? Many of these methods were variations of other methods that were designed to achieve the same goals. It was agreed that most practitioners use a small fraction of this total. In my own work, I’ve probably employed a dozen or so different methods at various times over the years. Those working in consulting seemed to use a slightly higher number, but the point is, different users, different workplace cultures and different projects can all motivate you to seek a more suitable technique. With “Universal Methods of Design” at your fingertips, you have an easy reference of what alternatives you should consider.
Cognitive Mapping is an exploratory research method that visualizes how “people make sense of a particular problem space” while Concept Mapping is a way for designers to generate new meaning by absorbing concepts into a visual framework.
According to Martin & Hanington, Design Ethnography “approximates the immersion methods of traditional ethnography, to deeply experience and understand the user’s world for design empathy and insight.” The book includes a great list of recommended texts if you want to dive deeper.
Card Sorting was developed in 1946 (!) to assess patients with frontal lobe brain injuries.