‘..research should focus on how resources are configured, combined, and contextualized.’ (Woolrych, A. et al. 2011: 946)
Woolrych et al., have called for design research to focus attention at the level of resources, rather than at the level of methods. They advocate a change in focus from ‘monolithic methods to component resources’ (953), and for a need to support particular resource types; ‘Research needs to focus more on knowledge, perspectives, scopes and expressive resources’ (957). What the work lacks is a clear definition of what a resource is. In fact, a modest search of design literature reveals that the term “resource” is used freely without definition. If we attempt to rise to the challenge set by Woolrych et al., i.e. that of creating resources for design, we must first have a clear definition of what design resources are. A comparison with tools and methods will be attempted, beginning with observations concerning basic properties. What do resources look like? In their physical appearance, could they be taken for tools or methods? How do resources act? Do they act in the same way as tools and methods?
Analysis of the methods listed in ’100 Universal Methods of Design’ (Martin, B. & Hanington, B. (2012) lead me to question whether all are in fact methods. According to Merriem-Webster’s dictionary definition, a method is ‘a procedure or process for attaining an object’.
Picture Cards are described as a method used in interviews to evoke past experiences (Martin, B. & Hanington, B. 2012: 137). The activity, i.e. “procedure or process” involves the use of pictures. Cards may serve as a convenient vehicle for conveying imagery, for sorting and so on, but images can just as easily be printed on sheets of paper or browsed in an onscreen application and we might assume that this would have no significant effect in conducting the activities. So, the impression that one gets from the name, that this activity is centered around the use of picture cards, may be an unnecessarily narrow description. What is more troublesome is that the name does not describe the activity, i.e. the method, but merely attempts to represent it with a collection of objects that are central in it. Cards are not procedures or processes, but objects. Some procedures governing their use must be involved, but these are not highlighted in the name. The procedure for using picture cards is not unlike the one used in ”projective storytelling”, an assessment instrument used in clinical psychology to evoke deep seated memories around difficult subjects. Something of this order, that focuses attention on what the method achieves rather than what objects are used in it might convince us that this is, in fact, a method. Lest we confuse the objects with the activities, we should take greater care when naming and referring to methods. We might conclude that either this design activity has been inappropriately named, or, picture cards are worthy of belonging to a class of objects used in design and should be classed as either a tool or a resource.
In the book there are many other examples of this kind; stakeholder Maps, storyboards, design Workshops, focus groups, etc. All these are nouns i.e. objects, not activities, procedures or processes. Focus groups are what we test. The method used to test is focus testing. While concept mapping, experience prototyping, and ergonomic analysis correctly reference procedures, stakeholder maps, storyboards, and usability report reference objects that we might argue are either tools or resources used in the method, not the methods themselves.
At this point we may be able to venture the notion that resources are not processes or procedures. They may be a class of design object.
I would like to compare resources to tools. But, in order to do so, we need an appropriate metaphor.
Raw steel can be used to make the blade of a spade or the pick of an axe; tools used to do jobs of work. The metals and minerals used in the forge, the fuel and oxygen used to make the metal maleable, plus the knowledge of how to work with and shape the materials, in sum, constitute the resources necessary to make a spade or an axe. I argue that design resources hold a similar position with regard to design tools and methods. Design resources emerge from primary research and are refined only to a degree that makes them suitable for use in either supporting existing design tools and methods or as a base for creating new design tools and methods. As is the case with raw natural resources, designed resources are of little use when isolated from other resources and from the processes and knowledge needed to apply them. They are smaller, more numerous, and more adaptable elements of design work than tools and methods.