Making Problems in Design Research
︎ Online Teenage Shoplifting Communities
This project began with a thematic analysis of around 1500 Tumblr posts of a community of teenage shoplifters (#LiftBlr). Shoplifting was the act that bind together all sort of cultural concerns in teenage life. Values regarding sex, race or social class or political attitude were intensely present and openly manifested in a forum.
The moment LiftBlr was defined as a problem, as it happened in a number of media outlets, it gravitated around the preservation of property and not about, for example, the structural inconsistencies that incited individuals to shoplift.
As a design researcher I found this issue resonating with recent attempts in the design research community (mainly in Human Computer Interaction) to impose normative standards on how research should be evaluated. Particularly, research should be framed as problem solving and its quality evaluated according to the problem it solves. I found this notion deeply disturbing for research practice, especially in matters related to design. Not only because defining a problem is a research effort in itself but also because a problem obscures as much as reveals.
The result was a paper that gave visibility to the LiftBlr community and their struggle and made an argument against problem-solving as normative standard. In order to illustrate the implications of my argument I employed imaginary abstracts of imaginary papers investigating #LiftBlr.
︎Encinas, Enrique, Mark Blythe, Shaun Lawson, John Vines, Jayne Wallace, and Pam Briggs. "Making Problems in Design Research: The Case of Teen Shoplifters on Tumblr." In Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, p. 72. ACM, 2018.