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The Methods Lab

Methods Lab title

The Methods Lab is a workshop for design students to engage with people in the design process and learn about inclusive design methodology. It has been developed and piloted at the Royal College of Art as part of the i~design3 research project to work in conjunction with this web resource.

The workshop takes its name from The Methods Lab study of methods for designers (Aldersey-Williams H, Bound J, and Coleman R, 1999), which set up a precedent discussion of the methodology of inclusive design.

Methods Lab in action

The workshop format is as follows:

Step 1: Inspiration

Design students are formed into teams and given the general theme / subject matter of the workshop. Each team is introduced to a ‘creative partner’ – an older or disabled person who will join the team for the duration of the workshop (lasting from two to five days).

The students learn about the needs and aspirations of their creative partner by studying their background, interests and routines, and by charting their activities of daily living. This may involve documenting a journey or task undertaken by the creative partner.

The People section of this website helps to ask the right questions and understand different capabilities.

The Activities section of this website helps to uncover user insights about how people live and the challenges they face.

The Methods section of this website offers a range of tools and techniques to engage with the creative partner and discover design opportunities to develop designs for social inclusion and innovation..

The Ethics section of this website gives advice on managing the relationship with the creative partner in an appropriate way.

This first step provides a platform for each student team to make a design proposal related to their creative partner’s world.

Step 2: Direction

The students analyse their experiences with the creative partner. Each team documents journeys or tasks, and maps and visualises those experiences, in order to establish design directions.

This website continues to provide support and guidance, especially the Methods section which helps bridge between observational research and designing concepts. In some instances, students may be encouraged to devise their own methods.

At this stage, expert speakers can be introduced to The Methods Lab workshop to provide context, establish frameworks, help firm up directions and give feedback to the student teams on initial ideas.

Step 3: Ideation

Each student team develops a range of design concepts, assessing them against policy contexts and existing solutions as part of an iterative process.

These ideas can be worked up in sketch, model or prototype form. Case studies in the People, Activities and Methods section of this website provide exemplars for what can be achieved.

Step 4: Integration

Design concepts are shared and discussed with the creative partner as part of a co-design process as the proposal is honed and refined.

In particular, the ‘fit’ with the needs and aspirations of that partner is assessed as the workshop concentrates on integrating what has been learnt and visualised and how these interactions could inspire designs for a wider population.

Each team agrees a communication strategy to present their proposal – this could be a short video, slide show or a visual display. (Films are often the best way to retain a legacy of the project after the workshop is over.)

Step 5: Presentation

The Methods Lab workshop concludes with a presentation by each team to explain their proposal.

It is important that, wherever possible, the creative partner participates in the presentation, signalling ‘ownership’ of the design concept.

Each student team should have a maximum of six minutes to present, depending on the number of teams.

New outputs and ideas captured by The Methods Lab workshop format may be uploaded to this website – see Contribute.

For examples of The Methods Lab in action at the RCA, click here

Methods Lab in action