Research project

Background

As junior designer, I experienced a conflict as my practice was not inline with my values. I worked as a freelance consultant shortly after obtaining my MSc degree in Industrial Design Engineering. My mission was to become a sustainable innovation consultant. Unfortunately, back then sustainability did not earn you much money as designer. I pursued this value mainly by working on unpaid projects. To get money in, I accepted projects that had nothing to do with sustainability. It felt as a trade-off. Doing projects that had nothing to do with sustainability frustrated me more and more.

I took many actions to cope with this conflict. After a few years, my frustration reached its high point as I still was not hired to work on sustainable innovation. I realized I could be more effective if I educated junior designers about sustainable and responsible product design.

Figuur collaborative practice

Curiously, in university, we noticed a similar struggle amongst design students when they collaborated with external parties. For example, in a second year project students had to setup an individual project based on their own interests and intrinsic motivation. In this course our goal was to transform insecure adolescents into stronghearted open innovators. It is however difficult for young designers to deal with such struggles effectively. The students often felt overwhelmed and still inexperienced to cope with the conflicts. Naturally, as educators we sought ways to support them in this struggle.

Problem statement

Preferably designers learn to deal with value differences and value-based conflicts early on in their careers during their first interactions with collaborative partners. Learning from conflicts through developing competencies and building resilience are essential in becoming a seasoned design professional. Design students and junior design professionals often struggle to align their personal values with the values of the company, managers, clients, partners, other team members, etc. The struggles of junior designers are possibly because their values are not yet very explicit or because they are insecure about their personal values. Simply following the values of others is no ideal solution. There is a good chance this leads to frustration as well. In multidisciplinary project teams such struggles might become too difficult to handle. Therefore, it could help junior designers to discover what value-based conflicts might occur in collaborative practice and find out how to support them to cope with such conflicts. The central problem statement of the research is:

How can junior designers cope more effectively with value-based conflicts that occur in collaborative practice in becoming a seasoned design professional?

We need gain a better understanding of value-based conflicts that occur in collaborative practice and develop an approach to support junior designer to better cope with these value-based conflicts. First, we want to understand what complications or conflicts junior designers face if they want to stay true to their own values while working in design teams. To be able to support junior design professionals it is crucial to not only discover what conflicts are experienced, but also to identify how designers cope with these conflicts. From the theoretical insights, we aim to develop an approach to support coping with value-based conflicts.

Research approach

I interviewed 22 design professionals. I found out what conflicts and value differences designers have experienced in their early career. A grounded theory approach was used to explore these cases. This lead to an overview with 25 value differences, 12 critical situations, and 6 conflict categories.  Value differences can serve as basis for conflicts experienced as junior design professionals.  The results of this research can be used to support junior designers in their development as professional. They can be guidelines for refining values in design approaches and methods. With the Fundamentals Academy, I am developing an approach for junior designers. This approach helps them gain a better understanding of their personal values. It provides them with tools to use these values effectively. I do this in an action research project together with the Fundamentals Academy.

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