Dissertation in design: MA Kirsikka Vaajakallio: “Design games as a tool, a mindset and a structure”, Friday, August 24, 2012, 12:00, room 822

Professor Jacob Buur (University of Southern Denmark) will act as the opponent.
Professor Turkka Keinonen will act as the Custos.

Location: Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Hämeentie 135 C, Lecture room 822, 8th floor.



Design games as a tool, a mindset and a structure
Kirsikka Vaajakallio
Department of Design

Design research has increasingly taken an interest in inviting users and other stakeholders to contribute in the early phases of the design process. In the discourse of organising creative collaboration, design games have become a popular concept; the game metaphor has been widely adopted to describe several design activities, which at first glance do not necessarily share many similarities with each other. Thus, the concept of design games often leads to confusion about what is actually meant by it. Whereas previous literature gives various practical examples of applying a game metaphor (meaning calling what they do as ‘a game’ or ‘a design game’) in design, there are a lack of studies that address the following questions: Why are these same (or at least very similar) methods sometimes called design games and sometimes, for instance, drama inspired methods, scenarios or just co-design workshops? What are the underlying play-qualities embedded in the activities labelled as design games?

This dissertation argues that in order to productively apply design games, it is important to understand their core identity by looking at the roots of the play atmosphere along with the play-qualities essential to it. This is done by studying games, play and performance separately and in connection with the application context, co-design. The three main perspectives adopted in this search are design collaboration, facilitating creative interplay between current practices and future opportunities, and design materials as tools in ideation. In doing so, this dissertation builds a Play framework that presents the elements and core qualities of design games in an extensive but compact way.

The Play framework is developed by analysing several short-term empirical cases and a two-year design research project on co-design in relation to the existing literature on games, play and performance. The application domain illustrates the widening scope of design, including the recently much debated field of service design, through three cases ranging from recognizing novel partnership possibilities, understanding the evolving user needs during the long life span of bank services, and identifying novel service opportunities within social media.

The research evolves by displaying the background, empathic design and co-design via five empirical cases and related literature in the first two chapters. Following that, chapter three addresses the question of what makes a design game, which is further explored in chapters four and five in connection with a service design research project. In addition, chapter five looks at the qualities of design games from the design game designers’ point of view, emphasising designing creative collaboration as a design process in itself. The final Play framework is summarised and discussed in chapter six by looking at design games as a tool, as a mindset and as a structure.

The contribution of this dissertation is three-fold: First, the Play framework offers theoretical and practical framework that helps to discuss, design, conduct and analyse co-design gatherings arranged through design games. Second, the empirical material provides examples of utilising a set of design games that can be applied and further developed in diverse design research projects. Third, the way creative collaboration is organised through design games from the beginning formulates a specific design games driven approach for carrying out creative collaboration throughout multidisciplinary design research projects.