Constructive Design Research


  • Type: Elective
  • Goal: Research how a vending machine can affect manifestations of altruism through control of users’ perceived level of public exposure.
  • Final grade: 7
  • Competencies: DRP | US | MDC

Key learning points

1. From qualitative to quantitative perspective.
2. Application of different methods for different purposes.
3. When to use what type of approach.



research poster


Costly signaling is the act of sharing resources as a way to show that the person has an abundance of resources or is capable of collecting more resources. This design experiment was conducted to frame costly signaling as the culprit for seemingly charitable acts. This study was conducted using the lab methodology and used a vending machine as a model for the interaction. Forty-five participants were evenly divided into three different groups with different levels of perceived exposure - Public, Anonymous and Control. The participants were asked to name their price for a Coke, if they chose to pay more the difference would go to charity, if they decided to pay less they got a Coke for a small price. The results suggested that participants exposed to a higher level of exposure will donate slightly more that anonymous participants, which is in agreement with our initial hypothesis and follows the theory of costly signaling.


During this very first elective, I experienced that my perspective often still came from the field approach, where quantitative data next to qualitative data is part of the whole. As I chose for the lab approach, a clear focus had to be made on gathering quantitative data, which changes the attitude towards the experiment. The human character, the context, can be totally removed from the experiment as the focus is on a certain variable.

Considering the three approaches I do think I have a preference for the field approach as this in my opinion offers the most natural interaction with the user in order to obtain knowledge of a certain context. The lab approach can be more satisfactory, as numbers create clear answers, though are not necessarily directly valuable to the real world. In contrast, the field or showroom approach can be more of a hassle in interpreting qualitative information, though in my opinion provide answers that are closer to the real world, or at least to that certain context.

I think that the lab approach would be beneficial in either a very early or later stage of the design process, for example if you would want to test the usability of a concept. At a later stage the context is already established with previous field research and the focus is on certain aspects of the design itself, of which the evaluation won’t be harmed by decontextualization. The other way around, in a very early stage, the lab approach could be used by means of a pilot, to address initial usability issues of a design before to a field study is conducted.