Sustainability Transitions Research

Disruptive systemic change can be located in so-called regimes, the dominant order in a societal (sub)system. The notion of a socio-technical regime is aligned with the multiphase model of transitions which identifies four phases through which a transition occurs: predevelopment, take-off, acceleration, and stabilization. This transition perspective understands a dominant configuration or regime in the context of its interaction with changing external (landscape) factors, preferences, and pressures as well as in interaction with emerging novelties, innovations, and alternatives. As the broader societal context changes and new radical alternatives develop and emerge, regimes inevitably will enter a process of increased stress, internal crises, destabilization, and shock-wise systemic reconfiguration. Within sustainability transitions research, the concept of ‘roles’ enables the analysis of (changing) roles and relations between actor roles as indicative of changes in the social fabric and shared values, norms and beliefs. It also allows considering the use of roles as a transition governance intervention. This includes creating new roles, breaking down or altering existing ones and explicitly negotiating or purposefully assigning roles, as well as the flexible use of roles as resources.
The field of sustainability transitions research has emerged in the past two decades in the context of a growing scientific and public interest in large-scale societal transformation toward sustainability. There is a broad theoretical and empirical basis, with a variety of social transformation strategies and instruments, impacting disciplinary scientific fields as well as (policy) practice. One of the leading research institutes is Drift (Erasmus University, Rotterdam), well known for the publications of Jan Rotmans and Derk Loorbach. They have many publications and methods that can inform and inspire you. One of them characterises the field by identifying its main perspectives, approaches and shared concepts, and its relevance to real-world sustainability problems and solutions. The second recommended publication describes the insights of the roles of the actors (stakeholders) in complex transition projects.
Wittmayer, J.M., Avelino, F., Steenbergen, F van, Loorbach, D. (2017). Actor roles in transition: Insights form sociological perspectives. In: Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, (24), 45-56.
Chang, Loorbach, D., Frantzeskaki, N., and Avelino, F.. (2017). Sustainability Transitions Research: Transforming Science and Practice for Societal. In: Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 42(1), 599-626


Probing emerging futures

Caroline Hummels
What will our world be like in 20, 30, or 40 years’ time? The creation of meaningful innovations requires an understanding of changing values and paradigms. By departing from the emerging present and creating a deep understanding of people’s values and how socio-cultural paradigms are developing, we might project towards things to come. But what will this future entail? Will we embrace a post-biological future; will we strive for immortality; will we move towards dignified living for all or living in harmony with nature? Design probes can support you to initiate a debate about values and paradigms and explore how products and services could help people to achieve their future goals and aspirations (. By exploring and discussing probable, plausible, possible and preferable futures through fictional yet preferably experiential probes, the designer can explore which underlying imaginaries and values resonate with a larger audience. These design probes are related to material speculations (Wakkary et al., 2016).
Designers are always anticipating the future through their design. When this leap becomes too big, it is hard to get an understanding of and feeling for probable, plausible, possible and preferable futures. Probing emerging futures offers ways to explore and research these potential futures.
Brand, R. (2019). Co-emerging futures: a model for reflecting on streams of future change. Eindhoven, the Netherlands: Philips Design.
Kolkman, F., Brand, R., Christiaansen, G., Lieshout, C., Arets, D., Lévy, P., Hummels, C. (2018). Probing Emerging Futures Post-human: Upload funeral. Eindhoven, the Netherlands: Philips Design.
Kolkman, F., Brand, R., Christiaansen, G., Lieshout, C., Arets, D., Lévy, P., Hummels, C. (2018). Probing Emerging Futures Trans-human: Eye for an eye. Eindhoven, the Netherlands: Philips Design.
Kolkman, F., Brand, R., Christiaansen, G., Lieshout, C., Arets, D., Lévy, P., Hummels, C. (2018). Probing Emerging Futures Steady-state: Multiparenthood. Eindhoven, the Netherlands: Philips Design.
Kolkman, F., Brand, R., Christiaansen, G., Lieshout, C., Arets, D., Lévy, P., Hummels, C. (2018). Probing Emerging Eco-centric: Biome games. Eindhoven, the Netherlands: Philips Design.
Wakkary, R. L., Odom, W. T., Hauser, S., Hertz, G., & Lin, H. (2016). Material speculation: actual artifacts for critical inquiry. In Proceedings of the 5th decennial Aarhus conference on critical alternatives (pp. 97-108). Aarhus Series on Human Centered Computing; Vol. 1, No. 1. Aarhus: Aarhus University


Intuitive inquiry for design

Sander van der Zwan
“Intuitive inquiry is a hermeneutical research method that joins intuition to intellectual precision. Intuitive researchers explore topics that claim their enthusiasm and invite the inquiry to transform both their understanding of the topic and their lives. As a method, intuitive inquiry seeks to both describe what is and envision new possibilities for the future through an in-depth, reflection process of interpretation.” (Anderson, 2017)

It is also a cyclic methodology and does therefore have no formal end, allowing for a continuous re-structuration of knowledge as the researcher goes through multiple cycles. The cycle consists of the 5 specific smaller cycles.
Cycle 1: engage daily with a source that repeatedly attracts your attention to identify a research topic
Cycle 2: identify preliminary lenses through which you view the topic before data collection
Cycle 3: data collection
Cycle 4: transform and refine the cycle 2 lenses based on the new data
Cycle 5: integrate the findings and do a literature review
This approach allows you to research topics that claim your enthusiasm and invites this inquiry to transform both your understanding of the topic and your life. At the same time, this approach serves as a solid framework for conducting research, while still being very much aligned with the way designers often like to work in practice.
Anderson, R. (2004). Intuitive inquiry: An epistemology of the heart for scientific inquiry. The Humanistic Psychologist, 32(4), 307-341.
Charmaz, K., & McMullen, L. M. (2011). Five ways of doing qualitative analysis: Phenomenological psychology, grounded theory, discourse analysis, narrative research, and intuitive inquiry. New York, NY: Guilford Press.


Data-enabled design

Caroline Hummels
The so-called data-enabled design methodology aims at getting detailed and nuanced contextual, behavioural and experiential insights from everyday life settings. It does so by using an open and malleable collection of physical and digital tools, the data-enabled design canvas, to collect sensor data (both manually and automatically via tracking devices and sensor-equipped prototypes) as well as qualitative data (through different media, wizard-of-oz interfaces, chatbots and face-to-face interviews). The combination of data supports a rich understanding of technological mediation with all its experiential, behavioural and contextual nuances (Van Kollenburg and Bogers, 2019).
One important cornerstone of the department of Industrial Design is data. We like to see data as a material, meaning that your need skills and tools to work with this digital material. Data-enabled-design offers this approach.
Bogers, S., Van Kollenburg, J., Rutjes, H., Deckers, E., Frens, J., and Hummels, C. (2018). A showcase of data-enabled design explorations. In CHI 2018 – Extended Abstracts of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems: Engage with CHI (Vol. 2018-April, Paper no. D302). New York, NY: ACM Press.
Bogers, S., Frens, J., Van Kollenburg, J., Deckers, E., & Hummels, C. (2016). Connected baby bottle: A design case study towards a framework for data-enabled design. In Proceedings of the 2016 ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems (pp. 301-311). New York, NY: ACM Press.
Van Kollenburg, J., and Bogers, S. (2019). Data-enabled design: A situated design approach that uses data as creative material when designing for intelligent ecosystems (Doctoral thesis, Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands).


Constructive Design Research

Caroline Hummels, Pierre Lévy
Design research in which construction — be it product, system, space, or media — takes centre place and becomes the key means in constructing knowledge. It’s a small but growing slice of design research. There are many types of constructive design research, but only a few approaches have been successful for a decade or more. These can be categorised as: Lab, Field, and Showroom. They come from different places, with some having roots in universities, some in design firms, some in engineering and the social sciences, and some in contemporary art. The crux of any laboratory study is experimentation. The researcher manipulates the thing of interest in the lab to learn how people react to it while holding other things constant. Field researchers work with context in an opposite way from researchers in a lab. Rather than bringing things of interest into the lab for experimental studies, field researchers go after these things in natural settings, that is, in a place where some part of a design is supposed to be used. Showroom relies on debate rather than statistics, like Lab, or precedents and replication, like Field. It questions the way in which people see and experience the material world and elicits change through debate.
The approach gives many handles to investigate new realities: Constructive design researchers do not try to analyse the material world, nor do they see design as an exercise in rational problem solving. Rather, they imagine new realities and build them to see whether they work. The main criterion for successful work is whether it is imaginative in design terms.
Koskinen, I., Zimmerman, J., Binder, T., Redström, J and Wensveen, S. (2011). Design research through practice: From the lab, field and showroom. Waltham, MA: Morgan Kaufmann.


Essential Details

Pierre Lévy
The essential details are necessary elements of the design which reveal beauty in interaction, in order to reach an irresistible interaction. We question how we can design for irresistible interactions in an artefact in order to engage people in a beautiful experience with this artefact. Then we reflect on the impact of this detail in the bigger picture: how it affects our behaviours, our values, our relation with the world. In this approach, designers are asked to freeze their concept quickly (usually a few weeks), and then to focus on details by means of iterations on explorative prototype making. Design projects will focus on the quality and the making of the essential details; research projects will use a Research-through-Design approach to point out the impact of the essential detail on the user’s experience and values.
This approach is centered on the body and the experience. It proposes an original approach for decision making, not based on rational but on experience. It leads to the determination and to the appreciation of beauty in interaction.


Transformative practices

Caroline Hummels, Pierre Lévy
A transformative practice is a configuration of humans and technologies aiming to address societal challenges, by changing their ways of living and working, through designing new socio-technological mediations that change their presence in and experience of the world. To support these practices, we have developed the transformative practices framework to support designing these mediations and the change of people. The framework is centred around societal challenges that are addressed by merging three basic elements: people (I & other becoming change), process (the design & research processes to create mediations stimulating change) and mediations (the socio-technological designs that enable people to change). By switching lenses when operating within this framework, the team can design mediations that change people’s experience of the world and support them to transform.
This framework aims at helping multi-stakeholder teams to research, design and innovate transformative practices to tackle societal challenges, which are inherently wicked and systemic. It forms the bases of this squad and your project to support you during your design and learning process.
Hummels, C. C. M., Trotto, A., Peeters, J. P. A., Levy, P., Alves Lino, J., & Klooster, S. (2019). Design research and innovation framework for transformative practices. In Strategy for change (pp. 52-76). Glasgow: Glasgow Caledonian University.


Program – Experiment Dialectic

Pierre Lévy, Sander van der Zwan
A program/experiment dialectic is a tactic to negotiate the tension between thing and theory, between the particular and the universal, between abstract images of the actual and concrete images of the potential. Firstly, it operates using programs. A characteristic of programs is that they seem to blend what we otherwise might consider questions and answers. Instead of presenting a question to be answered, they present propositions or proposals that need to be substantiated. These programs are interpreted through (design) experiments. In the way we set up the experiment, we present a certain perspective on the program. Using the metaphor of a design space opened up by the program, we might say that we use the experiment to explore this space, positioning us somewhere to be able to say “this is what the design space looks like over here”. Much like how the way we phrase and rephrase a question as we develop an understanding of what an answer could be like, and thus make questions and answers evolve together, this approach builds on the idea that certain insights depend on a process of change driven by an interaction between program and experiment.
The approach bridges the gap between theories and designs and vice versa. It allows you to work on / with abstract matters through concrete designs.
Redström, J. (2017). Making design theory. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Perceiving the invisible

Pierre Lévy
Perceiving the invisible aims to look at invisible processes structuring our everyday life, and questioning their impact on our behaviours, by making them visible. Think about wireless waves (wifi, Bluetooth, 4G…), about the quantity of energy it takes for a google request to be answered, about water flows in the city, about maintenance systems in place to keep the university clean, about what is being done with taxes…
This approach helps you to understand through designing the importance of transparency or opacity of information in the society: What are the positive and negative impact of showing vs. hiding some information? What are the values beneath design movements such are seamless interaction? Making information invisible is a design decision, discussing the ethical consequences is the objective of this approach.
Levy, P. D. (2018). Le temps de l’expérience: enchanter le quotidien par le design. (Mémoire d’Habilitation à Diriger des Recherches, Compiègne, France).


Inside out - first-person perspective

Pierre Lévy
This approach invites to work considering as a starting point the first‐person point‐of‐view (inside). The design first questions and challenges her/his own life, exploring through a cycle of actions and reflections the challenged values. This may concern personal everyday rituals (such as making tea home) or more societal issues (such as health at work, or time management). This inside step deals with details, intimacy, lived reality. The outcome of this exploration, that is a key value for transformation to be addressed through design, will then be challenged at the third‐person point‐of‐view (out) to operate a transformative design. The main challenge of this approach is the shift from the 1st person perspective to the 3rd one, which is to be done through a discursive approach.
This approach shows the implication of the designer as a person (with her/his experience and values) in the design process, and the values of involving the first-person perspective in the process.
Levy, P. D. (2018). The beauty of making hot chocolate: An inquiry on designing for everyday rituals. In Proceedings of the DRS 2018: Catalyst (Vol. 5., pp. 339-348). London, UK: Design Research Society.


Design informed postphenomenology

Sander van der Zwan, Maarten Smith, Pierre Lévy
This approach in an integration of existing postphenomenological methodologies, methodologies from constructive design research (CDR) as well as reinterpretation of relevant philosophical framings in the light of theoretical objectives. The integration of these methodologies into one coherent whole and its application to specific case studies results in design-informed postphenomenology. A CDR approach enables the methodical construction of new design mediations in context which can put the current postphenomenological theory to the test and actively target theoretical shortcomings as well as uncover so far unidentified theoretical shortcomings in the process. This can be considered a dialectic between the theory and specific constructed realities / experiments via designing (Redström, 2017). This interplay is further informed/inspired by the reinterpretations of relevant philosophical framings for addressing the specific theoretical gap, as is often done in classical philosophy. These reinterpretations will be constituted through (re)readings of relevant philosophers and interviews with contemporary experts.


Crowdsourcing for design

Javed Khan
Internet’s proliferation has raised a new type of work-related websites, known as crowdsourcing platforms. One might have already heard of Airbnb, which is sourcing rooms from the crowd and Uber sourcing rides from the crowd. Nevertheless, these two platforms are only the tip of the iceberg. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (mturk.com) sources all sorts of human intelligence tasks (such as image annotations) from the crowd, Crowdsite.com sources graphic designs, BugCrowd.com sources software vulnerabilities and Prolific.ac sources participants for academic research, just to name a few.
The term crowdsourcing is also known in the literature as human computation and collective intelligence (CI). Although these and other related terms (e.g. citizen science) have their slight variations, they essentially mean the same thing: fostering the seamless completion of complex tasks from an anonymous crowd of people, to develop systems that have been inconceivable up to this day.
Speed up innovation, create an on-demand innovation powerhouse for every SME
Khan, V.J., Dhillon, G., Piso, M., Schelle, K. (2016). Crowdsourcing user and design research. In Collaboration in Creative Design (pp. 121-148). Springer International Publishing, Switzerland.


Community-based design or else scaling down

Javed Khan
Scaling up and abstraction have been the two major contributions of design to the growth of mass markets for the past 70 years. Scaling down is a counter cultural movement that seeks to create a more tailored experience for communities and individuals.
Scaling down can be seen in a variety of projects from office space planning to public health inventions in a city.
Myerson, J. (2016). Scaling Down: Why Designers Need to Reverse Their Thinking. She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, 2(4), 288-299.