Casey R Hickerson

Design Research

Affinity Diagram Generation Early Example of a Figure/Ground Diagram: Giambattista Nolli, Nuova Pianta di Roma (excerpt), 1746

My research is motivated by a deep-seated interest in the relationship between technology and creativity: how technology can support creative activities and how it evolves to provide new creative opportunities. Exploring these issues has led me to pursue a wide-ranging path of inquiry, calling on computer science, architecture, philosophy, design history and theory, and information science.

Throughout my graduate studies, I concentrated on the interplay between three fundamental kinds of instruments that support creative activities: methods, abstract procedures that characterize a process; tools, material devices used to execute a process; and techniques, material procedures that describe how one uses a tool within a method. All three instruments are necessary; however, techniques are especially important since they govern the relationship between the abstract and the material. Like methods, techniques are abstract and procedural in form; yet, they are also innately material in that they describe the application of a tool. In spite of their importance, techniques are rarely examined as entities onto themselves. Indeed, the difficulty of characterizing techniques succinctly is an essential justification for practical, laboratory- and studio-based education.

I directed much of my attention toward diagrammatic techniques or diagrams, the class of techniques that give material form to abstract entities or phenomena. My view of diagrams differs from the more common view in two significant respects: • Whereas diagrams are often regarded as reductive representations, I prefer to think of them as alternative manifestations or proxies. That is, I see a diagram as the substance on which one operates rather than a representation of some other substance. • Whereas diagrams are typically regarded as innately visual devices, I hold that they emerge from any sensible configuration. By allowing people to describe and operate upon abstract entities in material ways, diagrammatic techniques offer means of thinking and working that might otherwise be difficult, if not impossible.

Major foci of my graduate work have included • how techniques emerge and evolve to meet changing technological and methodological needs • how this evolution feeds back into the development of new tools and methods • how individuals acquire techniques, as students and as professionals and • how particular combinations of tools and techniques can support creative activities. While studying design history and theory at the Architectural Association in London, I focused on research techniques in architecture and urban design education. As a doctoral student in computational design at Carnegie Mellon, I turned my attention toward interaction design. This led me to pursue graduate studies in information science, concentrating in human-computer interaction, at the University of Washington.