Kate Glushkova, Media Management MA student, department of Culture and Media, Arcada UAS
Supervisor: Tomas Träskman Examiner: Dr. Owen Kelly
Arcada’s Media Management programme responds to the creative and managerial challenges posed by modern technology and changing user behaviour. It does so by fostering a multidisciplinary understanding of business, technology and culture. My study looks into managing the collaborative design process, where all these components find their place.
Research focus: boundary objects in co-design
The job of a digital product designer is to interpret and transform needs into tangible solutions in close collaboration with business, tech, marketing, and end-users. As various stakeholders get a seat at the creative table, designers turn to the co-creation practices accessible to non-designers. This research looks at how generative methods can bring visual communication to the forefront of web development. I explore the gains and restraints brought upon cross-functional teams by digital artefacts.
Creating and maintaining common ground throughout a project is challenging. Poggenpohl (2009) characterizes design practice as “a dance that moves between the tacit and explicit”. Tacit knowledge embedded in personal experiences is best explicated in codified tangible form.
The term “boundary object” was first introduced by Star & Griesemer (1989): “Boundary objects are those objects that are plastic enough to be adaptable across multiple viewpoints, yet maintain continuity of identity”. They provide a common reference point that actors manipulate as they combine their knowledge. Doing so makes implicit differences concrete and allows for the development of nuanced understandings that are difficult to elicit through words.
The objects of my interest share the following characteristics:
- they are used in the early stages of the design process;
- they enable communication between actors from different knowledge domains;
- they help to envision the final solution;
- they concretize the differences in understanding, and move the process forward.
Research process: transformation through explorative action
The concept of boundary objects was studied separately and in the environment in which they are applied — collaborative design activities executed with colleagues and external clients. The selected case studies share a similar approach dedicated to increasing the stakeholder engagement in co-design (Figure 1). The goal was to not to compare the outcomes of the projects but to examine the patterns that occurred in the process.
Figure 1. My model of the design project ecosystem and stakeholder engagement
My synthesized qualitative research underwent the iterations of experimenting, analysis and writing. The framework developed gradually, influencing later cases. The main characteristics of the adopted methods include:
- participatory nature,
- interdisciplinary collaboration,
- attention to the artefacts and interactions,
- and transformation through explorative action.
Learning outcome: boundary design process model
By examining the empirical cases and the existing literature on the design process and artefacts, I developed a practical framework for introducing a visual aspect to the communication of designers with colleagues and stakeholders early in the process. The suggested framework is not an action guide, but an attempt to consolidate my own practice and to model a dynamic shaping of products through interaction.
Figure 2. My boundary design process model inspired by this research
The visual “blocks” that are used to build new products constantly evolve as the business matures. Therefore, existing design assets contain encrypted knowledge that can be extracted through interventions. After the shared understanding is reached, assets become a boundary object that is used for constructing new artefacts.
The design process is commonly seen as lapses of divergent and convergent thinking. Figure 2 illustrates the phasing of the iterative exploration in reference to the reducing project ambiguity. My study concludes that introducing a visual aspect in the early stages of product development leads to efficient cross-functional collaboration.
A new role for the designer is to set the stage and make it possible to develop a common design language game. Co-creative activities help to mitigate the power struggle in the team, and boundary objects create a common perspective by bringing multiple points of view together.
Maximizing the efficiency of interdisciplinary collaboration is the ultimate aim of this study and the Media Management programme. This research opens up the concept of boundary objects to the digital media context (the prior literature typically covers more mature industries). The developed framework can be considered for managing various media projects.
As the study progressed, I grew from trusting my creative vision towards making use of the stakeholders’ situated knowledge. I plan to continue developing and scaling this process model for improving inclusion in practices of my organization.
Björklund, T., Laakso, M., Kirjavainen, S., Ekman, K. 2017 Passion-based co-creation, Helsinki: Aalto University, 251 pages.
Koskinen, I. K. 2011, Design research through practice: From the lab, field, and showroom, Waltham, Mass.: Morgan Kaufmann, 204 pages.
Lawson, B., 2004, What designers know, Boston, MA: Elsevier Ltd., 127 pages.
Lee, J. 2012, Against method: The portability of method in human-centered design, Helsinki: Aalto University, 224 pages.
Pikas, E., 2019, Causality and Interpretation: Integrating the Technical and Social Aspects of Design. Helsinki: Aalto University, 281 pages.
Poggenpohl, S. & Sato, K., 2009, Design Integrations: Research and Collaboration, Chicago: Intellect, the University of Chicago Press cop., 314 pages.
Star, S. & Griesemer, J., 1989, Institutional ecology, ‘translations’ and boundary objects: amateurs and professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39: Social Studies of Science, Vol. 19, No. 3, pp. 387–420.
Zuzul, T. W., 2019, “Matter Battles”: Cognitive Representations, Boundary Objects, and the Failure of Collaboration in Two Smart Cities. Academy of Management Journal 2019, Vol. 62, No. 3, pp. 739–764.
The full thesis may be downloaded from Theseus.fi (External link)from January 2020.
Are you looking for tools to manage the rapidly changing media industry? Or do you find yourself in the media industry struggling to see the bigger picture? Learn more about our MA in Media Management here: https://www.arcada.fi/en/master/media-management (External link)