How can I improve visual stories in audits? What does information design mean? Does an objective visual exist? What makes a visual a good visual? With these questions, I started the Master Design Research at the Willem de Kooning Academy in 2016. A big, exciting adventure for someone with a solid research background but without design education. Luckily, I could convince the admission board by showing my self-taught design skills and sharing my self-proclaimed mission. And what started out as my own small quest (visual stories in auditing) evolved into a new career path at the Netherlands Court of Audit (NCA).
Because what while my quest at the WdKA started with visual stories, I left the Master Design in 2018 with something that is even more interesting: design! Design is the engine behind all those visuals and helps to empathise, test and create. Since I completed the Master Design in 2018 (download my thesis here) my focus therefore broadened from ‘visual stories’ to ‘design research’. Visuals are still an important element of my work, but the elements of design research became just as important in my work: putting the human in the center and working iteratively.
The NCA left the phase of ‘why design is important’ and enters the phase of the how: ‘how can design increase the impact of our audit work?’ In October 2018, the NCA gave permission to set up the so-called ‘Design Audit Studio’ (DAS), a unit inside the NCA where we experiment with ways to adapt ‘design’ to the world of auditing. As a multidisciplinary team, we help auditors to create a shared image, initiate effective partnerships, and discover new perspectives for action. For example, making information visual/tangible helps researchers gain new insights. And knowing the needs of stakeholders, such as members of the House of Representatives, ministers, civil servants, and other stakeholders, ensures useful and accessible knowledge products. The corporate site of the NCA holds more info on design research methods in audits: https://english.rekenkamer.nl/about-the-netherlands-court-of-audit/what-we-do/innovation-in-audit/design-audit-studio