In search for a way to define clear research topics, objectives and questions I came across the work of Blessing, which describes a Design Research Methodology framework. The framework addresses issues such as the balance between research and industrial relevance and time restrictions. Though the framework itself is quite interesting, it did not add a lot to the steps I already had in mind; define an objective, gather requirements from companies, build an application prototype and evaluate the prototype in a use case (basically the descriptive study I, prescriptive study and descriptive study II of Blessing). However, in a presentation she demonstrated how impact models can help with visualising the interactions between problems and solutions in a specific domain.
So I tried to apply this method using the knowledge gathered during the company internships and the VR demo session. The figure below shows the first version of a generic impact model of a product development process, in which ‘VR Flexible Prototyping Tools‘ represents the intended result of my research.
Arrows (1) and (2) represent the two main assumptions I wish to verify.
Firstly, arrow (1) states that the number of design errors is influenced by the effectiveness of design reviews. Effectiveness is defined as the extent to which an objective is met, making it dependent on an objective. Objectives of design reviews differ, ranging from ‘find the perfect design’ to ‘involve users’ (I think). Regardless of this definition, the question is how strong is the relation between design reviews and the number of design errors; it’s assumed to exist, but further investigations within the companies should validate (and quantify) this.
The second arrow (2) states that VR design tools can facilitate design reviews. To validate this assumption, a sub selection of design reviews should be made. A design review in general is defined as a collaborative multi-disciplinary session in which the current state of a design is discussed (mainly involving presentation and evaluation tasks, which is where VR tools are expected to be useful). For each company, the most relevant types of design reviews should be identified and characterised. Within these design reviews, tasks are to be found that can be supported by VR design tools.
Going back to the impact model, I found it a useful method for visualising relations between various parts of a system, and it helps with describing the assumptions that should be validated. Assuming that VR tools improve the effectiveness of design reviews, it is assumed that the number of design errors reduces, resulting in an improved product quality, leading to increasing sales, customer acceptance and profits.