Design and Evaluation: A conversation worth having

Cameron Norman
4 min readNov 17, 2022

The two fields of Design and Evaluation don’t cross paths very often. Speaking as someone who lives in both of these professional worlds, I think it's time for this to change.

When most evaluators I know think about design, it’s usually the design of an evaluation. That is the methods and approach to gathering data about a thing — a social program, a product, or a service — and how that data will be analyzed. They might also consider ways of working with the clients (or ‘evaluands’ in evaluation-speak). Sometimes they consider the thing’s design, but that is usually in the background. Their focus is on evaluation.

When I speak with designers, evaluation is a term that is rarely used at all. Designers will often use words like impact and change about their products, maybe even inspiration, yet rarely speak of how it is that we know these things take place. They are commonly taken as givens.

I once heard a senior design lecturer say, “We know that design thinking works” to which I replied, “How?”.

His response: “we just do.

That’s not going to fly far. When pressed, he couldn’t articulate what “works” meant and how we know it. He just asserted it, and those around him did, too. This is what evaluators are good at; we ask these questions and have methods, tools, and approaches to explore the answers.

Designers are good at making what changes people, places, and systems, while evaluators can help us learn if things change and how much. It’s time for these two groups to talk more.

Engaging Designers and Evaluators

Evaluators deal with evidence. Designers deal with the creation of things.

Both of them deal with the implementation of those things into the world. This is why design and evaluation require more conversation.

Design shapes our world. Everything that humans touch is involved in design in some way. Our buildings, our institutions, our culture, and even our identities are designed. Every design has effects on the world in some way. Evaluators help to understand what these effects are.

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Cameron Norman

Designer, evaluator, educator, & psychologist supporting people in making positive change, by design. Principal @censeltd @censeacademy