An alternative approach is to focus on the design process and reflect on it. This self-reflection is core for research through design. Research through design takes place by working on several interactive system prototypes and holistically integrating different perspectives into the solution (Zimmerman et al., 2007,2010). Many experienced researchers highlight that the artefacts themselves are meaningful contributions and even normative statements (Zimmerman et al., 2010). However, a common challenge for social scientists may be that the role of `theory' is not that central in research through design efforts, at least for practices in human-computer interaction. Instead, experienced researchers highlighted how theory is an implicit outcome in the process (Zimmerman et al., 2010).
For example, Pierce et al. (2018) sought to highlight the complexity of legal terminology in online services. Therefore, they created several different forms to present to the users of online services: small booklets, poems and postcards. The papers are as much about the prototypes as they are about the process. Pierce et al. (2018) show three different stages of developing artefacts and illustrate and discuss why particular development directions were taken and how they engaged with ordinary citizens throughout the process. The overall aim was to make a problem they observed - lack of transparency in online terms of services - more visible and even open to public critique. This was done by transferring the issue through design approaches into a different material format.
For social sciences, integrating theory into these prototypes and seeking to manifest the theories through other kinds of formats than words could similarly focus on the prototypes. For example, Nelimarkka et al. (2019) briefly describe how Habermas (1989) was used to develop different mock-ups. Figure 7.2b demonstrated some degree of role taking. Seeing a person you know and might consider normal has a different opinion could allow you to engage more deeply with their thoughts. This shows an alternative way where the scholars do not take such a normative statement on issues but rather see prototypes as a way to express theoretical insights.
Alternatively, the work could focus purely on the design process and use the design process as a tool to understand how people perceive themes. Participatory and co-design workshops provide a fruitful ground for such activity. In these workshops, participants are asked to engage in design activities, facilitated and observed by researchers. The design activities can unravel value conflicts and show how those are mitigated or negotiated. Participants can open up and discuss reasons for particular design rationales, thus explicating their experiences and concerns. Creation of prototypes makes an object of shared interest and motivates participants to work on it, either individually or in small groups. While doing so, they can be facilitated or instructed to engage in reflection, similar to traditional semi-structured interviews. However, the prompts and focus may be different as the situation is not a traditional interview setting but rather allows the participants to use materiality to express themselves. This way they can express themselves in a different manner, which potentially brings in additional insights compared with semi-structured interviews. However, as in other design methods, the data analysis is more aligned with traditional qualitative research practices than computational or quantitative approaches. As building something might be seen as fun and engaging, it may be easier to grasp attention and ask people to participate in research - a practical aspect that should not be forgotten.