GROUND EIGHT was set up by Achilles Design as a place where professional designers do research. We take our task quite radically: we don’t just do design research, we do Research through Design. We believe that the specific nature of design skills and design knowledge leverage a unique research approach, which allows the designer/researcher to do what he does best: thinking in possibilities. At GROUND EIGHT, we think ‘what can be’, rather than ‘what is’.
Our work is fundamentally human-centered. Design is in the first place about people, about how we act, think and feel in the everyday world, and how we interact with each other. Technology and economics obviously influence our research, but they are not our main objective. For us, they form a means to an end, rather than being a goal in themselves.
Today, technology has become ubiquitous, and undistinguishably interwoven with everyday lives of people. At GROUND EIGHT, we adopt the metaphysical stance that technology is never neutral, and heavily influences the way people think, act and interact with each other. Put simply, the physical environment you inhabit, with its products and systems, shapes you.
This environment, or the way technology reaches and touches people, is determined by design. Design is, today more than ever and ever more, of capital importance in translating technology into workable and meaningful solutions that serve people individually and as a society. Therefore designers carry a huge responsibility. At GROUND EIGHT, we realize this, and we believe that a salient way of taking this responsibility, lies in the integration of design and scientific research.
A research position allows us to approach things from a wider perspective, and to come up with long-term solutions that go beyond today’s paradigms. Design research, more than design practice, allows us to challenge the status quo, and to explore new thought trails.
In order to provide our research with the necessary depth and background, we maintain strong ties with the research department of Product Development, Faculty of Design Sciences, University of Antwerp. For us, they are an infinite source of inspiration and motivation, and their research is highly compatible with ours.
One of the main goals of GROUND EIGHT is to position design as an instrument for scientific research. Our research methodology is Research through Design (RtD). Within RtD, the designer/researcher generates knowledge through the act of designing. In an iterative process where design and reflection are continuously interchanged, possible future scenarios are explored and verified.
The knowledge resulting from this process crystallizes in two different ways. First, there is the overall rationale that was developed during the research process. This rationale is established in written outcome. Second, there are the several artifacts that were built. They constitute the non-written outcome of the RtD process, and they illustrate and particularize the written rationale. We call them demonstrators or physical knowledge carriers.
Our interest lies in interaction with digital products and systems. Within this field, our research scope centers on two theoretical pillars: Embodied Interaction and User Experience.
Embodied Interaction advocates interaction with digital products and systems in a physical way. Digital phenomena are spread out over the physical environment, in such a way that our interaction with them becomes more direct, natural and intuitive.
User Experience extends traditional usability by pursuing the fulfillment of so-called hedonic values. Where traditional usability seeks to make products and systems efficient and easy-to-use, UX aims for the psychological well-being of the user, fulfilling universal human needs like autonomy, competence and relatedness.
At GROUND EIGHT, we believe that both frameworks are fundamentally intertwined. Embodiment is not merely about making interaction natural and intuitive. It is about our human rootedness in the physical world, and the fundamental values that the physical world stands for. We believe these values go beyond the instrumental and the pragmatic, and make up the very essence of what humans are.