Design narratives are accounts of critical events in a design experiment from a personal, phenomenographic perspective. They focus on design in the sense of problem solving, describing a problem in the chosen domain, the actions taken to resolve it and their unfolding effects. They provide an account of the history and evolution of a design over time, including the research context, the tools and activities designed, and the results of users’ interactions with these. They portray the complete path leading to an educational innovation, not just its final form – including failed attempts and the modifications they espoused.
Design narratives harness the power of a fundamental innate mechanism by which we organise our experiences to derive and share meanings. Bruner (1991) highlighted the epistemic force of narrative. Humans use narrative as a means of organizing their experiences and making sense of them. Schank and Abelson (1977) call for a shift towards a functional view of knowledge, as Schank (1995) explains: “intelligence is really about understanding what has happened well enough to be able to predict when it may happen again” (p.1). Such knowledge is constructed by indexing narratives of self and others’ experiences, and mapping them to structures already in memory. A narrative is always contextualized. It habitually begins with an exposition, which lays out the context: time, location, props and characters. A narrative includes a protagonist (or protagonists), a context, and a sequence of events. These events are selected and recounted in a manner that reflects a temporal order and suggests a causal relationship. The protagonist is typically confronted with a challenge or dilemma, her choices and their consequences define the narrative's moral – it's implicit message, testifying to the nature of the protagonist or providing guidance regarding the appropriate course of action in similar situations. Design narratives build on the second element, focusing on describing a challenge of relevance to the audience and proposing a course of action for resolving it.
Design narratives provide a “thick description” of the design experiment, allowing critics to assess the validity of the researchers’ claims, and trace them back to evidence. At the same time, design narratives provide sufficient contextual information for those who wish to conduct a similar experiment in proximal settings, be they fellow researchers or practitioners wishing to apply the research findings.
Mor, Yishay (2011). Design narratives: an intuitive scientific form for capturing design knowledge in education. In: proceedings of the Sixth Chais Conference on Instructional Technologies Research: Learning in the Technological Era, 17 Feb 2011, Raanana, Israel. http://oro.open.ac.uk/30299/
Mor, Yishay (2013). SNaP! Re-using, sharing and communicating designs and design knowledge using scenarios, narratives and patterns. In: Luckin, Rose; Goodyear, Peter; Grabowski, Barbara and Winters, Niall eds. Handbook of Design in Educational Technology. London: Routledge, (In press). http://oro.open.ac.uk/33861/
An example narrative is available at: "Healthy Eating" as a Design Narrative
Yishay Mor, Yishay.Mor@open.ac.uk
Some examples from Cloudworks:
A google doc template for writing a design narrative. (if that is not accessible, copy and paste this: http://goo.gl/HELaC)