Our brief from the RSA Student Design Awards was “Design a way for people and communities to better connect to and celebrate heritage”. As it was so broad we had a lot of options but were not sure what heritage meant to people.
We got talking about heritage vs. vintage and retro and decided to survey people to discover their viewpoints. Whilst designing the survey we thought about having a question where we presented the participant with a few photos of objects such as a war medal and ask them to categorise it as either heritage, vintage or retro. As we were deciding on objects I thought, why don’t we expand this? The idea for changing our research to Card Sorting was then born.
We began by selecting objects we associated with the different categories (Roman coin, war medal, space hopper), and those we thought were more subject to opinion due to authenticity issues (baking bowls, town bike, fashion) and created cards with an image of the object and a label.
We then divided a whiteboard into quadrants – one for each of the categories, heritage, vintage, retro and other – and asked a few test subjects to place the cards into what they deemed to be the most appropriate category.
However, after completing a couple of tests we reviewed our process and decided to remove the words from the cards so that people could make their own interpretation. We also adjusted some of the images to make them clearer for example fashion went from a general blogger’s picture of their outfit to one of Twiggy in the 60’s accompanied by an image of current designer Orla Kiely’s 60’s inspired outfits.
We also added objects for literature, film and historic architecture. The last change was to switch the ‘other’ category on the quadrants to ‘classic’ and allow participants to place objects that didn’t fit one of the four categories outside.
Here are a few of photos of participants responses. I scribed everything participants said when placing objects and circled (in red) the object they most identified with and why.
This exercise was great as it gave us both quantitative and qualitative data. We were able to observe participants dilemmas and thought process which lead to insights such as masculine and femininity and the importance of authenticity. In addition, we could also analyse the frequency that each object appeared in a category.
For example, the town bike ended up in all four quadrants as many couldn’t decide if it was heritage, as it was first designed a long time ago, classic, as it has withstood the test of time, vintage, as it is now fashionable to own one, or simply retro.
Items like the floral fabric very much depended on people’s personal connections and experiences. Many placed this item in retro although questions of its authenticity were raised – some identified it as a modern Cath Kidston print, whereas others thought it may be original 70’s wallpaper.
Through doing this Card Sorting exercise we learnt that many of the interpretations people have of these words are subjective, and there is not a definitive definition for any of them. People interpreted the categories based on the connection they had with the items and their feelings based on this. Many of those interviewed had their own specific ideas as to what constituted each category, but still had difficulty in placing all of the items.
I’m really glad we chose Card Sorting as it was incredibly insightful and inspired our final design to focus on personal connections with heritage. I think this is a really great research method when you’re presented with a broad term that needs defining, and was my favourite piece of research we carried out for the project. I urge you to give it a go, let me know how it turns out 🙂
til next time