Narrative Conversations is a research methodology for Human- Centered Design projects. It is an individual and collective thinking methodology that allows teams to consolidate meaningful shared understandings about human experiences. The method relies on the construction of communicative relationships to encourage the continuous exchange of knowledge through a visual and verbal exploration of interpretations.
Narrative Conversations was developed as part of an academic project at Universidad de los Andes where I work as a research assistant. The project aimed to explore and improve communication processes in the research phase of Human- Centered Design projects. Some of my main tasks were to analyze research, help to create the methodology as well as the way it is being implemented in a course of the design bachelor program, and write articles discussing the results of the project.
Juan Manuel González
Aug. 2017 - Aug. 2019
Students of the Bachelor of Design at Universidad de los Andes using the methodology
The methodology takes a narrative approach to human experiences. Humans are storytelling organisms who create stories to interpret and make sense of their lives. Throughout the methodology, team members collect and transform these stories to co-create narratives of experience, which allow them to develop new shared understandings. Narrative Conversations has three main components:
Stages of Comprehension
A framework of narrative factors to conduct a systematic study of human experiences.
A series of narrative encounters where participants gradually transform stories into narratives.
A thinking and communication tool that facilitates the exploration of interpretations and understandings.
The methodology is composed of three Research Cycles that explore extrinsic and intrinsic factors that make up narratives of human experiences.
Designers explore one cycle at the time individually with a person who lived the experience under study (Conversation Partner), and collectively within their design team. They collect and reinterpret stories about the factors of a given cycle, then share, compare and analyze their interpretations of these stories with their team to gradually create a narrative composed by the insights they find.
Stages of Comprehension
The methodology has three Stages of Comprehension that define and characterize the different types of conversations designers have throughout a research process.
During each of the three Research Cycles mentioned in the previous page, designers go through the conversational stages of Territories, Horizons and Frontiers of comprehension.
In these stages, participants explore an experience under study from the particularities of life stories to the abstract insights of their shared narrative.
The conversations have specific goals and interaction instructions and suggestions that foster an environment of creative psychological safety to facilitate the socialization, exploration, and conjugation of interpretations.
Conversations that take place during the Comprehension Stages in each Research Cycle
Throughout the methodology, participants create Narrative Units as a tool that allows them to exteriorize their thoughts, and trigger reflective conversations to explore their interpretations and understandings.
To create the Units, designers use visual and verbal media such as collage and proverbs, which have an ambiguous nature that stimulates their thoughts and motivates their curiosity to explore each others’ perspectives.
Each Narrative Unit is a representation of a critical factor in a story or a fundamental component of a narrative. The Units encapsulate concrete knowledge about a given human experience, and are a fundamental platform to develop even more complex interpretations and comprehensions.
Narrative Units made by design students at Universidad de los Andes
Narrative Conversations is the result of a two-years research process. The initial aim of our research was to propose communication strategies to facilitate the presentation of Human-Centered Innovation projects. However, we discovered that the type of knowledge developed in these ventures requires a relational and dialectic approach to communication. Rather than transferring certain information, participants continuously co-create shared understandings about the information that they discover.
This is why Narrative Conversations approaches communication as a conversational process of collective reasoning, supported by a narrative study of human experience and embedded in an environment of mutual trust and care.
The methodology has been implemented with eighty-five (85) students in a class of the undergraduate program of Design at Universidad de los Andes. In the following months, the University will publish a book with the results of our research project.
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