If you design or evaluate things, why not share what you know with people who design and evaluate things for a living?
I believe designers and evaluators need to talk more. I’ve argued that the conversation between design and evaluation is worth having.
As both a professional designer and evaluator, my work is a reflection of this conversation. I see much design potential lost (and some harm created by designers) because of little attention to the outputs, outcomes, and impact of what designers create. I also see enormous potential learning opportunities squandered because evaluators cannot think beyond the confines of their discipline.
I’d like this to change. We all can do better. Let me argue why and how. Grab a coffee, and let’s chat.
Why Bring Evaluation and Design Together
Both fields of practice could benefit from each other. Designers could better document their processes and connect their designs to outcomes and impact. Evaluators could benefit from the creative ways designers tackle challenges and deliver inspiration and delight through their creations.
I describe evaluation as the systematic inquiry into the creation, delivery, implications, and impact of a product, service, policy, or system. Designers are responsible for everything after the second use of “the.”
Designers produce things that people love and use. Evaluators provide the means to know what value we generate, for whom, and under what conditions. As a designer and evaluator, I see this firsthand. I talk to designers and evaluators all the time, and I think these two groups should speak a lot more. What we can learn from each other is too important to be left unspoken.
Designers are used to iterating their creations to get things right and evaluators are in the business of gathering data about things to help know what’s working and how well.
Evaluators’ focus is on value (it’s in their name!), while designers create valuable things.
This is an ideal partnership.
Minding Our Words: Evaluation
Evaluators tend to speak of approaches to evaluation, and these can get conflated with methods, tools, and theories over time. I find evaluators can get far too interested in these classifications to the point of making their work inaccessible to the outside world.
Developmental evaluation, empowerment evaluation, feminist evaluation, principles-focused evaluation and more. All of these have value, but their discernable differences are much more apparent to those inside the field of Evaluation than outside of it. While there are design-driven approaches to evaluation, not all designers need to adopt this stance. Approaches and methods that help support innovation, adaptation, and learning are all that is required.
Evaluators can be integral to innovation and are skilled data gatherers.
Minding Our Words: Design
Whereas evaluators tend to get overly concerned with the details of their practice, designers tend toward the opposite. A criticism I have of my fellow designers is that they too often fail to ‘show their work’. Processes of creation — even co-creation — can be opaque to outsiders.
Designers often don’t write up their methods for addressing a design brief, emphasizing the end product over the process of getting to it. Further, designers typically don’t publish research or articulate the details of the methods or analysis they use in deriving their designs.
While design methods are widely written up, their use is not. To non-designers, Design can seem magical or require specific intelligence (which designers have worked hard to portray, even using the term in book titles) to outsiders. This mystique might be good for keeping people interested, but it doesn’t improve practice.
Commonly used terms in design like ideation, empathy, co-design, and prototyping mean little without examples that others can follow.
Just as we might have a coffee with a colleague, maybe it’s time to invite a designer or evaluator to your next break. Evaluators tell stories through data, while designers take stories and transform them into products.
Why not get together and tell each other stories, ask questions, and learn together?
When we do this, both design and evaluation will be better for it. We build the literacy of design and evaluation together through conversation.
Together, we can tell better stories.