How Provotypes Challenge Stakeholder Conceptions in Innovation Projects

Laurens Boer

Research output: ThesisPh.D. thesis

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Abstract

In the context of industrial innovation projects, ethnographic research is often employed to inform and inspire the development of a new product or service which fits the intended use context. However, user conceptions that are revealed through ethnographic research are often at odds with developers’ taken-for-granted conceptions about this use context. Design proposals resulting from such projects typically not only embed the ethnographic findings, but also these taken-for-granted conceptions. On the one hand, this can be problematic at the end of the development process (e.g. when a product is put on the market and mismatches use context), but on the other hand, it creates an opportunity for reflection on these conceptions when revealed at the front end of innovation projects. Design researchers can play an important role in bringing conceptual tensions between stakeholders to the foreground, by demonstrating what these tensions might mean in light of new product or service development.
In this dissertation, I rekindle the provotyping approach from the 1990’s systems design community, as this approach argued to expose discrepancies in practice in order to devise qualitatively new systems. Based on my participation in a project that involved industries in the field of indoor climate, and that employed ethnographic research to inform and inspire the development of new products or services, I develop the approach with respect to contemporary design research concerns, notably the research areas of critical design and participatory innovation. I propose provotypes as ethnographically rooted, technically working, robust artefacts that deliberately challenge stakeholder conceptions by reifying tensions that surround a use context of organizational interest.
I show how provotypes can be brought into use and developers’ context. Provotypes can be brought into the previously studied use context to conduct generative design research, which inspires and informs the design process with user knowledge about the reified tension. Provotypes can also be brought into the industrial context, to provoke project partners from industry to experience on a local and daily basis how industrial taken-for-granted conceptions can become problematic in the development of new products or services. It is beneficial to reveal conceptual tensions early in the development process as it leaves room to implement reframed conceptions in subsequent prototyping and concept development activities. The design qualities that provotypes entail provide handles for the design researcher and stakeholders to collaboratively explore new product or service directions, as these design qualities relate to use context. Provotypes therefore can synthesise analytical and generative activities in innovation projects.
Overall, this dissertation argues that design researchers can approach early stages of an innovation project as opportunities to tease out conceptual tensions between use context and industrial context. I provide design guidelines and design characteristics of provotypes to support design researchers in developing provotypes. This dissertation can as such support design researchers in the transfer of user-knowledge that is at odds with industry conceptions, and in cautiously bringing ethnographic and design endeavours together.
Original languageEnglish
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Buur, Jacob, Principal supervisor
  • Stienstra, Marcelle, Co-supervisor
Publisher
Publication statusPublished - 2012

Keywords

  • Participatory innovation
  • Provotypes
  • Critical Design
  • New Product Development
  • Generative Design Research

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