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Design tools and materials in creative work

A workshop at Designing Interactive Systems (DIS) 2017, June 11, Edinburgh

This workshop will examine and discuss the role and nature of design tools and materials in creative work, and explore how to meaningfully combine existing and novel tools to support and augment creative work. By exploring and combining methodological, theoretical, and design-oriented perspectives, participants will examine the potentials and limitations in current uses of design tools and materials, and discuss and explore when and how to introduce new ones. 

Download the full workshop call here

Participation in the workshop requires participants to document and analyse central themes in a case of their own choice, and present the resulting material at the workshop where the material will serve as the empirical grounding for workshop discussions.

Key themes and questions of the workshop

The workshop themes builds on previous and ongoing research projects (see related projects in the sidebar). Based on those projects we propose to explore the following three themes pertaining to methodological, theoretical, use-oriented, and design-oriented challenges. However we very much invite participants to expand, reinterpret current themes and contribute further themes based on their cases.

  1. What is the role of digital tools in creative work, and which theories can we draw upon (or develop) to help us understand it? Understanding the role and nature of digital tools in creative work entails fundamental theoretical challenges. Which theories can we draw upon and/or extend? Can existing frameworks in HCI - many of which are arguably oriented towards functional aspects and may have little to say about creative processes - still be of use, and how? Is there better suited theories outside of the normal scope of HCI research that are particularly productive for these purposes?

  1. How can we employ generative design materials? Schön [14] coined the term generative metaphors, generative in the sense that "it generated new perceptions, explanations, and inventions" (ibid 259). We suggest extending the concept to generative design materials, i.e. digital and physical artifacts that, when employed in a design process, support the development and refinement of design concepts. How and why do some design materials work in this way, and can they be digitally augmented?

  1. How do we find the right balance between mirroring existing tools and developing new, digital tools? Creative work often revolves around established processes and practices. New tools and materials should strive for a deep understanding of how and why existing tools function, and how they are intertwined with physical and socio-cultural structures of the workplace. It is pertinent to reflect on how and if a replacement of existing tools with novel digital tools should happen. When should we leave things be, when should we create hybrid tools, and when is the time ripe to replace traditional tools with entirely novel ones? How do we involve domain experts and professionals from the creative fields in designing new systems? Most current creative work practices rely on analogue tools such sticky notes, white boards, pen and paper etc. What is it that makes these tools so well-suited for creative work practices, and which strategies can we use for finding inspiration for strong mixes of analogue and digital tools?

How to participate

The workshop requires participants to commit to documenting and analysing one or more cases that focus on the use of design tools and materials in creative work. The case can be a finished case or a work in progress. The case can be a finished case or a work in progress. This forms the basis for the presentations during the workshop and grounds the subsequent discussions. In order to participate, interested parties must therefore do the following:

  1. Submit a proposal (2-4 pages SIGCHI Extended Abstracts Format sent to nbhansen@cavi.au.dk) describing:

    1. the case to be documented, the project or institutional/organizational frame (e.g. at which institution or company is it carried out and what partners are involved)

    2. the focus of the case (how a novel digital tool was introduced into an existing creative work practice and the challenges that this entailed) and the method and strategy for documenting and analysing the project.

  1. Participants must then document the case as outlined in their proposals. This work forms the empirical data for the workshop.


Nicolai Brodersen Hansen is a Postdoc in the project Creativity in Blended Interaction Spaces. His research focuses on design tools and materials and their role and nature in design processes, particularly in Participatory Design.

Peter Dalsgaard is an Associate Professor at Aarhus University. He is the PI and director of three major research projects that explore the role of digital tools in creative processes: CoCreate, Creative Tools, and PLACED. He explores how digitally enhanced tools and spaces can help people create and innovate.

Kim Halskov is professor of interaction design at Aarhus University where he is director of CAVI and the CIBIS project (Creativity in Blended Interaction Spaces). His current research interests include co-design, design creativity, design processes, material, methods and tools.