One of the research approaches that are gaining momentum among interaction design researchers is research-through-design. This research approach makes use of methodologies and practices from design, regarding it as a legitimate form of inquiry. Research-through-design focuses on the creation of an artifact that embodies the researcher’s current understanding of a complex situation. Rather than creating a commercial product, research-through-design aims at advancing interaction design.
However, the current academic publication model makes it challenging to convey the design features of the artifact. Beck, Sosa-Tzec, and Carroll introduce a new form of reference referred to as a visual reference. A visual reference comprises three elements: (1) photograph(s) of the designed artifact; (2) an annotation of this photograph; (3) a diagrammatic representation of the theoretical framework that informed the design of the artifact. These researchers argue that a visual reference supports the dissemination of knowledge derived from design practices.
On behalf of his collaborators, Sosa-Tzec presented this research and the notion of visual reference to the attendees of the 2019 conference of Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Special Interest Group for Design of Communication (SIGDOC). This conference took place this past October 4 – 6, 2019, in Portland, Oregon. In the presentation of this work at SIGDOC 2019, Sosa-Tzec commented that this research will benefit design-oriented research as it fills the gap created by the current publication format, which favors text while constraining visual thinking and making. Design is a legitimate form of inquiry, and as such, it needs more effective dissemination forms to illustrate how the designed artifact contributed to advancing interaction design.