CONFIGURING AND RECONFIGURING THE USER: HOW DESIGNERS PROCESS USER INFORMATION
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In recent years the design community has explored ways to design for user experiences and to better utilize user information collected via user involvement methods. While the efforts have been extensive, progress toward the true integration of user information and user involvement methods in the design process has been slow. One of the reasons for this gap is the application of user involvement methods without a holistic understanding of how designers process user information. This study focuses on designers' user knowledge processes at six design consultancies--both with and without research departments--in the fields of architecture, industrial design, and interaction design. Knorr Cetina's theory of epistemic cultures is used as the theoretical lens to study the machineries of user knowledge production in these consultancies. The theories of boundary objects and constructivist learning are integrated with epistemic cultures to reveal the black box of how designers process user information at the integration stage of design. The research design was informed mostly by an adapted version of grounded theory. Analysis of data illustrates that there are diverse epistemic cultures of the user in each consultancy. The user informs the design process through the designers' user models and prescriptive input. Designers construct either a composite or an experiential user model. Participation of designers in the user involvement processes help with the development of experiential user models. In comparison to other design professionals, architects further reconfigure the user into an ideal model that focuses on flow and feel. The user models are utilized in the integration stage of design through referring to the self as a testing device. In contrast, designers directly address the prescriptive user input. As a result of user knowledge utilization in the process, the integration stage of design is composed of solution-problem cycles. In this process, design outcomes and the user become the boundary objects that enhance client-consultancy collaboration and design team interaction. It can be concluded that in the design consultancies studied, designers did not utilize the user information directly. Designers configured and reconfigured the user information to make it meaningful in the design process.
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