2009 - 2013. Slovenia, Finland, Romania, Sudan.
Supported by the European Union research grant
I defended my Computer Science PhD thesis in mid 2013, with the official title: Integrating users in the interaction design of ubiquitous systems. The main outcome was the EPUI design research methodology.
My PhD research took me from the castles of Transylvania, deserts of Sudan, to the Arctic circle in Finland and the small cities of Slovenia. The goal was to identify patterns and form a more universal, a leaner design methodology, tailored for the design of ubiquitous systems. The EPUI methodology is the end result which was validated with research and industry partners.
The benefits of participatory and user-centered design practice are well documented, still the existing methodologies are not updated to fit the lean design cycles. Especially when designing for IoT or any kind of ubiquitous systems.
The goal was to analyse existing participatory and user-centered design methodologies in the wild. To find what works and identify patterns that could be applied in various conditions. The main focus was the design of IoT products and services, especially in a fast-paced world occupied with startups.
Methodology and methods
Ethnography. Participatory Action Design Research (PADR). Participatory Design. Action Design Research (ADR). Contextual Inquiry. Critical Design. Frustration diaries.
- The EPUI methodology consisting of four phases: Explore, Participate, Understand and Integrate
- The Double Integration process that defines the need for the designer to integrate before integrating the users
- The Play In/Play Out method to ease the participation and integration process
- EPUI has been validated with industry partners: Gorenje, Iskratel, Deutsche Bahn and several startup companies
- Research findings and the EPUI methodology used by in-house research, design and development teams as well as the default R&D approach in 7 companies
- We proved that the methodology is an ideal fit for companies that do not have internal R&D departments or have limited research budgets. But still want to ship products that better address their customers’ needs
- Publications in international journals and conferences
The Double Integration process
Part of the EPUI methodology is the Double Integration process. It describes the involvement levels of the designer/researcher and the users. In my thesis, I also wrote about how and when other stakeholders should get involved in the design process. The point of double integration is that the designer becomes an active participant and embraces the risks that come along with it. But if the designer succeeds, he/she earns the trust of the users and gains better insight. I proved that this is the best way to form a long-lasting relationship and the only way towards true open innovation.
The Double Integration process
Play in and Play out cycles
Gamification plays an important role in my user research methodology. In the 4 years of my PhD research, I worked with numerous gaming communities both online and offline to understand what works. In my thesis, I used this insight and proposed a set of Play In/Play Out cycles. There is a Global Play In, a Global Play Out and the mini Play In/Out cycles.
The Global Play In happens in the Participate phase and it helps to build the bridge between the designers/researchers and the users. It is especially crucial when designing for Internet of Things or Ubiquitous Systems when working in unknown domains and with specific users.
The Global Play Out is equaly important. Participatory design is all about getting users to collaborate, but researchers and designers often forget about the people once the design process starts. The Global Play Out serves as an epilog for the users. To explain what they were involved with and to invite them to remain part.
In between the design process, I often use short Play In/Out cycles. They are especially valuable in a longer design process spanning over months. The Play In/Out cycles keep users as well as the other stakeholders engaged and provide meaning. I found out they are a great way to keep everyone "on the same page."