Introducing a 10-day course in field studies

Introducing a 10-day course in field studies

Field studies are a central method in design practice. However, they are costly and difficult to arrange, particularly in the maritime domain where it is hard to get access to ships. As a result, they are often omitted in ship design processes. To address this problem, we have developed a course at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design that teaches students how to carry out cost-effective field studies that support user-centered design and innovation processes.

Design student doing a field study in the engine control room of a cruise ship.

Since field studies are costly and time-consuming, it is necessary to get as much value as possible from the studies that the company invests in. In order to improve the cost-benefit of such studies, we need to increase the efficiency and relevance of field studies for the design projects they support.

After four iterations through the ONSITE research project, the Oslo School of Architecture and Design now offers the field study course to all third-year design students where they are exposed to undertaking field studies on ships in operation. This is an important contribution to build Norwegian designers’ understanding of designing for Ocean Industries.

The 10-day course is designed to train the students in how to carry out a field study, be resource efficient and to ensure that the field study can translate efficiently to ongoing design processes ashore. The learning philosophy is practice based where the students learn about process and methods and use the skills in a real field study on a ship.

Field study course plan.

Over two intensive weeks, the students experience a complete field study process, including planning and undertaking a realistic field study, analysing, writing up the data, and sharing and reflecting on the data with other designers. During the course, we arrange a series of lectures and smaller tasks as well as offering templates and tools supporting each stage of the field study process.

The field study is structured around a design project. The students are divided into small groups and are asked to develop and carry out a field study related to a design brief unique for each group. We emphasise reflection on the experiences of being in the field throughout the course to train the students to pay attention to their own field performance.

Students engaged in a collaborative data analysis workshop.

The course has the following goals:

  • Understand the ethical implications of field studies for design.
  • Learn to plan effective field studies.
  • Learn to use the most important observation methods.
  • Learn to reflect on design processes while in the field.
  • Learn to organise data from field studies.
  • Learn to analyse field data, individually and as a team.
  • Learn to share insights from field studies.
  • Learn to write field study reports.

The course has already been fully implemented in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019, where 20–30 design students each year were trained to undertake field studies on large passenger ships in collaboration with Fjord Line, Colorline and DFDS. The ships were selected for three main reasons: they have regular routes, which simplifies the course’s logistics; they offer a diverse set of observation sites, allowing us to undertake varied field studies, and; they are large enough so that we can distribute many students throughout the ship without interfering with the crew’s operation.

Our experience of running the course is that it is an effective introduction to field research in design. It is also an important contribution to design practitioners’ knowledge of how to understand users and the user’s context in general and in the maritime domain in particular. The course will be continued at AHO after the end of ONSITE.

Further reading: Journal article “A 10-day course to plan and execute field studies for maritime design processes

The project is done in collaboration with Ulstein International, Pon Power and DNV GL and funded by the Norwegian Research Council in the MAROFF program. Project number: 269494