Original design thinking approach for researching RFID

Designing with RFID by Einar Sneve Martinussen and Timo Arnall (presented at Tangible & Embedded Interaction 2009) is an highly interesting read if you're into alternative visions to the internet of things. Based on what the authors call "a practice-driven design approach", through sketching, making and form-explorations, they explore the possibilities for richer design of RFID products in everyday contexts.

However, I was even more interested by the design methodologies proposed in the paper. The way the articulate different techniques, such as sketching, modeling, form exploration or evaluation, is original and curious. What is relevant to me is the clear definition of a purpose ("to gain a rich working knowledge of the kinds of design qualities that RFID objects may embody") and the way they proposed different investigation phases:

"product review (...) To understand the ways that RFID tags have been designed into consumer products, we conducted an extensive product review that documents many RFID products from around the world. This has been a process of reflection on existing industrial and consumer products. (...) design experiment that focuses on form and expression rather than specific applications or technical infrastructures. (...) Through a sketching process we developed an understanding of the relationships between physical forms and tags. Form-explorations were then used to visualise findings, to generate further models and to examine surface qualities. (...) The experiments were carried out and evaluated by a group of designers with diverse design skills: including model making, software programming, electronics hardware and digital 3D design. Subsequent iterations were informed by design evaluation and through teaching (...) Sketching is used as an analytic tool, to evaluate, not just for idea generation. (...) digital 3D modeling (...) act as a way of lifting the findings out of rough sketching and experimenting stage and towards a generalisation of the research. They effectively communicate the physical aspects of the design findings and help us to evaluate and refine a vocabulary of forms. (...) In industrial design the approaches to physical objects has included aesthetic taxonomies of form18 that codify various elements and properties of primitives such as geometry, orientation, symmetry, spatial matrices, forces and relationships between forms as well as intention and expression. Through introducing RFID as an element into this approach, we begin to design an inspirational or generative set of forms for RFID- enabled objects. (...) [it] helped to understand the fundamental properties that determine how RFID object could be used and designed."

Why do I blog this? It's been a long time that this pdf sits on my desktop. Knowing Timo and Einar's work I was intrigued by both the topic AND the methodological approach. The two aspects of it are important but it was even more important to see how they exemplify an interesting approach to design research. Besides, such a description is rarely seen.

Surely some good material for my courses, and an opportunity to rethink about how to articulate user research can be included in such a process.