Thursday, July 09, 2009

User generated content for design research

I've been searching near and far for a good way to publish my masters on the web.
This is what I was looking for. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Fellows form function

I have a feeling this concept is going to erupt. We talk of user-oriented design, service design, social design, sustainable design, and so on.

I have been using the phrase fellows forms function for a few years now. And it's coming together quite nicely. Here's what I mean: groups of people are the ones who are behind choosing how to accomplish a function. Design has always been about the function or the need to be solved as well as the form or manner to achieve it. But today in 2009, the actual design process itself is not anonymous nor single minded anymore. Design is just as much about the fellows taking part as it is interested in the form and function.  

I like the word fellows because it also evokes the ideas that it is not one person but a group of people who can together orient the avenues of better change.

I like the word function because it reminds me of the functional unit in the calculation of an LCA. You can't manage what you can't measure. 

I like the word form because it is used as a action verb, not a passive noun. To form the future. It implies a process.

To me that is design in 2009. Fellows form function. 

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Done_sky

There it is. Done. The pdf was created and sent.

Thanks for reading, listening, tagging along.

It's been a great ride.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

More Structure for unstructured users?

This paper comes from a specialist in information technology systems design. It is clear that in such a design process, the users’ input is really crucial to the success of the product or service. In fact, Leela Damodaran states that this inadequate involvement of the users has lead to IT systems failing to deliver the benefits expected by the users for the past two decades. So in this article, “User involvement in the systems design process: a practical guide for users”[i], exposes the kind of structures that are required to insure the users have enough influence in the development process.

The critique of the existing literature on participatory methods is that it deals with only some of the stakeholders in the design process. This continues the idea that participatory design is a complex process that needs to be taking into account specific organization contexts. Therefore so far, the focus has been put on the point of view of the PD initiators and their need to be reactive and improvise depending on the context and culture of the participants and their organization. They are also advised to seek greater bureaucracy by involving top and middle management into the process of getting users into the process. In IT systems design, another point of view has been discussed, that of the system experts or software developers. However, as Damodaran argues in this paper, the point of view of the user has not been explored in the past research on participatory design.

Damodaran, an expert in the field of participatory design methods, therefore begins by presenting problems coming from users in participatory design. In many cases, users are required to participate which doesn't bode well for the design team. It is said that the users are often lost in the process as they aren't briefed and don't understand their own role. Then there are user representatives that need to speak with users and find a way to come up with a consensus in order to represent the majority of users. Even though, guidance is given, participatory processes can become meaningless "rubber-stamping" exercises. What she proposes is to structure and organizational context around the users either with a user representative or with an ongoing quality assurance program. The simple need for an infrastructure to support user involvement shows that the participatory aspect might be more an effort in itself than the actual design part. Although there are surely many cases where participatory design is recommendable, she makes one wonder if it is worth the trouble.

Nonetheless, what matters to my research the most in Damodaran’s writings is the initial study on the benefits and pitfalls of user involvement.

Pros:

1. Improved quality of the system arising from more accurate user requirements.

2. Avoiding costly system features that the user did not want or cannot use.

3. Improved levels of acceptance of the system.

4. Greater understanding of the system by the user resulting in more effective use.

5. Increased participation in decision-making in the organization.


Cons:

1. Process success dependant on users being able to influence decision-making.

2. Hostage role: Users not wanting to contradict the experts or designers.

3. Propagandist role: Indoctrinated users taking on the view of the designers.

Damodaran’s conclusion is that for users to apply their knowledge and expertise to IT development, a user involvement structure allows for communications mechanisms and services necessary to support the user involvement process. My conclusion is that a more natural way of having users participate has to exist. Something seems wrong with creating more structures to better coerce users into participating. Shouldn’t they want to participate willfully in the first place. Maybe there’s more behind unconscious participation where users are doing what they do best: just use it.



[i] DAMODARAN, L. (1996). “User involvement in the systems design process a practical guide for users”. Behavior and Information Technology, volume 15, number 6, pages 363 -377.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

State of the PSS

A paper that retraces the evolution and the present understanding of product-services systems has been put forth just recently in 2007. Having reviewed with a fine comb the past decade of literature on the subject of PSS design, the authors have established the State-of-the-Art this growing field. Rightfully so, Baines et al. have named their foundation creating paper : “State of the art in product-service systems”[1].

The authors proceed to examining many definitions of all the nomenclature that relates to the field. In some cases they show the variability in the definitions thereby demonstrating the evolution of the concept of time. For example the initial author treating directly PSS and naming it so was Mark Goedkoop as he defined PSS in 1999[2] as :

A product service-system is a system of products, services, networks of “players” and supporting infrastructure that continuously strives to be competitive, satisfy customer needs and have a lower environmental impact than traditional business model.”

This differs slightly from the definition of Ezio Manzini who picked up on the trail and popularized in design research the notion of PSS in 2003[3]:

“An innovation strategy, shifting the business focus from designing (and selling) physical products only, to designing (and selling) a system of products and services which are jointly capable of fulfilling specific client demands”

Ironically, Manzini is the author that speaks most of the possibilities for sustainability emerging from such process[4], however the mention of environmental impacts is not mentioned the way it is in Goedkoop’s initial definition. By studying other definitions of the sort, Baines et al. have noticed the adoption Goedkoop’s definition throughout the literature. Nonetheless, Baines et al. do dare to propose this simplified definition:

“A PSS is an integrated product and service offering that delivers value in use.”

In this paper we choose to follow the general consensus and continue with the definition that Goedkoop established. It is noteworthy to determine at this time the meaning that he attributed to the words Product-Service System in his definition. Hence, a product is a tangible commodity manufactured to be sold and to fulfill a user’s needs whereas a service is an activity done for others with an economic value and lastly, a system is a collection of elements including their relations.

Another way to explain what is the general concept of introducing a PSS to business markets is with the emphasis that a PSS provides in selling the use more than selling the product. There has been mention of three types of PSS. The product-oriented PSS promotes and sells a product in a traditional manner. This includes the original act of sale and additional services such as after-sales service guaranteeing functionality and durability of the product owned by the customer (e.g. a computer with extended servicing). The use-oriented PSS: selling the use or availability of a product that is not owned by the customer (e.g. a car-sharing service). Result-oriented PSS: selling a result or capability instead of a product (e.g. a laundry service).

The results-orientated model is more complex and nonetheless represents the most popular and innovative interpretation of the features of a PSS. Secondly, a result-oriented model better suits customer needs with an inherit flexibility for a company to customize their response consequently increasing the quality of their service and creating a differentiation between competing companies. In looking to create a total value for the customer, the experience becomes tailored to his needs and must take into account the culture in which the PSS will operate. All this leads to a PSS development process following a case-by-case basis and viewed from the client’s perspective.

A PSS is also new perspective for business to operate changes the role of the manufacturing strategy in developed countries. Their solution to a reduced amount of objects produced lies in augmenting the intensity of the knowledge required to produce such products. When a manufacturer becomes more responsible for its products and services through take-back, recycling (of even upcycling?), and refurbishment, the integration of a PSS reduces waste through the product’s life. That is the argument that authors present to describe PSS as a sustainable strategy.

In fact, the sustainability of the PSS becomes possible thanks to a systems view in the development and maintenance processes. Because of this world-view on the situation, designers are able to better manage the waste and quality of the output that the PSS produces. This same perspective not only allows for better environmental impact management but also economical cost to rendering the service. Interestingly so, the majority of the authors that expose the benefits of designing a PSS emphasize the benefits on a environmental and social scale more than demonstrating the economical successes.

This tangent for leaving aside the economical costs variation of running a PSS that researchers tend to follow might be the case because of the cultural barrier required to embrace such a shift in operating methods. This shift and new understanding has to take place not only in the minds of the company executives but also in the minds and hearts of the customers. So far, an initial resistance to ownerless consumption has been conveyed by users. Furthermore, if users have to relinquish their relationship of ownership of an object, companies have to become responsible of structuring their organization to receive the used products. Secondly the companies also take on the risk of product malfunction. This is not to mention the difficulty in pricing a single use of product. For example, what should be the cost of printing one sheet of paper? The conclusion to the barriers for a company to adopt a PSS as a business strategy is to work with a complex point of view and choose to develop a systemic approach to designing their services.

This complex point of view also suggests including all players into the equation as mentioned in Groedkoop’s definition. Therefore the users have a pivotal role to play in participating in the early development stages to create a system that is conscious of the user’s perspective of the service offered. Luiten et al. go one step further by stating that in an effective PSS, users should be thought as innovators, emphasizing a shift towards co-creation, whereby end-users play an organized role in the design process[5]. Therefore this change from product thinking to systems thinking modifies all the relationships between businesses, users and designers. (triangle diagram).

More on these relationships could be known if the literature presented more critical and in-depth evaluation of their performance in practice. Baines et al. have determined that the range of tools and methodologies that are present in developing PSS are often subtle modifications of more conventional design processes and lack the completeness of set of tools proposed. They wish to pursue their understanding of PSS by developing more tools to create PSS to study further what is called management of transition, and thus use more quantitative methods. However, the greatest challenge remains to integrate the relevant stakeholders in a participatory process. My goal is to show that users are already participating, and figure out how designers can translate that into more effective PSS.


References


[1] BAINES, T. S., LIGHTFOOT, H. W., EVANS, S., NEELY, A., GREENOUGH R., PEPPARD, J., ROY, R., SHEHAB, E., RAGANZA, A., TIWARI, A., ALCOCK, J.R., ANGUS, J.P., BASTL, M., COUSENS, A., IRVING, P., JOHNSON, M., KINGSTON, J., LOCKETT, H., MARTINEZ,V., MICHELE,P., TRANFIELD, D., WALTON, I.M.,WILSON, Y., (2007).State-of-the-art in product-service systems.” Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Journal of Engineering Manufacture Professional Engineering Publishing, volume 221, number 10.

[2] GOEDKOOP, M., VAN HALER, C., TE RIELE, H., and ROMMERS, P. (1999). “Product Service-Systems, ecological and economic basics.” Report for Dutch Ministries of Environment (VROM) and Economic Affairs (EZ).

[3] MANZINI, E. and VEZOLLI, C. (2003) “A strategic design approach to develop sustainable product service systems: examples taken from the ‘environmentally friendly innovation’ Italian prize”. J. Cleaner Prod., vo1ume 11, pages 851-857.

[4] MANZINI, E. and VEZOLLI, C. and CLARK, G. (2001). “Product service-systems: using an existing concept as a new approach to sustainability.” J. Des. Res., vo1ume 1, number 2.

[5] LUITTEN, H., KNOT, M., and VAN DER HORST, T. (2001). “Sustainable product service-systems: the Kathalys method.” In Proceedings of the Second International Symposium on Environmentally conscious design and inverse manufacturing, pages 190-197.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

What will this research entail?

So far in our research, we have seen that more than ever people want to participate proactively in the design process. In many domains, users have already become active in modifying or creating solutions for themselves to satisfy their needs and desires. In addition, the internet has proven to be a fertile ground, enabling large numbers of users to become active in generating content. With respect to our current research and experimentations with online crowdsourcing efforts, the idea generation phase has been the most potent for involving users into the design process. Furthermore, the traditional brainstorming activity relies in part on originality and divergence, and both are well served with the large quantities of online participation. Crowdsourcing a brainstorming is what we’re calling brainsourcing. Finally, a report from a study on user involvement in service innovation revealed that the users produced more original ideas than the company’s professional service developers[1].

To further narrow the scope of this research, we have decided to focus our attention specifically to better understand the relationship between the simplicity of participation over the internet and the user’s capacity to innovate. This study asks: what are the right conditions, for participants to create innovative responses to a design problem over the internet?

To do so, we would evaluate the creativity of the participating users while using the internet for crowdsourcing a brainstorming like task. Moreover, we hope to investigate the quality of the brainsourcing exercises by comparing them to a traditional brainstorming with professional designers. Could a brainsourcing exercise where online users express their ideas become a means for designers to perceive tacit needs? In a form of reflection-on-action, could the content generated by the users help the designers better define the design problem?


[1] Per Kristensson, et al. (2002) “Users as a Hidden Resource for Creativity: Findings from an Experimental Study on User involvement”

The internet as an innovative playground?

The internet is a new element in professional participatory design that this research brings to the table. Allowing for the problem owners to become problem solvers is now possible with the ever trail blazing communication advances of the internet. The year 2006 was determined to host the social revolution of the internet. A phenomenon called Web2.0 has seen people participating in the creation of the content to be published online. By writing blogs, sharing knowledge in a wiki, reviewing services, uploading videos, Time magazine has named all contributing online participants the “person of the year”. This user generated content shared over the internet is a contributing factor in a form democratisation by social empowerment. Moreover, the internet space allows for one to express his views that are proper to his context.

Needless to say that this form of self-publishing comes with its sets of disadvantages. Let it be said that the internet doesn’t automatically implicate democracy. The negative sides of the internet create a form of “maocracy”[1]. As it is true that many people don’t have access to the internet, and many don’t have knowledge of computers to actively participate in the process.

Nonetheless, the internet has proven that it can be catalyst for initiating change. No other place could allow for democratising the design process with the same amount of participation. Basically, the internet is levelling hierocracy with its network. Not to mention that all the information and the activities taking place on websites are easily documented, timestamped, classed and memorized. This allows for an asynchronous approach to project development.

Enter crowdsourcing, another 2006 internet phenomenon. It happens when a specific task is completed by a crowd of people using the internet as a network. It originates from the idea of companies out-sourcing specialized tasks. Therefore, solutions could come from the productive potential of millions of plugged-in enthusiasts [2]. The neologism crowdsourcing embodies a complex principle where the average response of a large group of people is nearly always better than any individual’s answer [3]. In stride with what Sanders had been studying, these professional-amateurs don’t consider leisure as passive consumerism but active and participatory [4].

So far, collaboration is not truly present in the current forms of crowdsourcing initiatives. The essence of true collaboration is present when team members are actually “thinking together” rather than only exchanging information and opinions[5]. An exception can be made for cases like Wikipedia, where people are adding to the work of others, in a distributed asynchronous form of “thinking together”. This is one of the strengths of a wiki where users can dynamically modify and create the published content put forth by their peers.



[1] Lanier, J. (2005) “Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism”

[2] In 2006, Jeff Howe exposed in Wired magazine the concept of crowdsourcing by looking at how amateurs with digital cameras affected professional photographers.

[3] Suroweicki, J. (2005) The wisdom of Crowds.

[4] Crowdsourcing is possible because of the rise of Professional Amateurs. With open source ideals, they get involved in publicizing knowledge and skills to the greater public. This way, other amateurs can learn and train to become Pro-Ams.

[5] Larsson, A. (2004) “Making Sense of Collaboration: The Challenge of Thinking Together in Global Design Teams”

What is the relationship between the designers and the participative users?

Within this context of democratizing the design process, the designers and the users need to be revolutionary. Sanders states that the task of getting users to create themselves starts with designers empathizing on the difficulty of waking the creativity within. In addition, Sanders believes that people want to express themselves and to participate directly and proactively in the design development process. The collective aspect of this generative process helps resonate within the users or rebounds onto another idea, in displacement of concepts.

In researching the shift from user-centered to participatory design approaches, Sanders has been a pioneer in helping the user articulate his unspoken feelings, inexperienced needs, and unthought desires[1]. Starting from one’s innate visual abilities, she has created the games, tools and experiences that simplify the involvement participants into the design process and thus enriching what can be extracted from the process by the designers. So far in professional participatory design, the focus has been put on need intensive tasks. For example, developing a particular type of product or service is assigned to the users, along with the tools needed to carry those tasks out [2].

Sanders uses many diagrams to illustrate her research findings, all to show the user’s capacity to express himself. The following table quickly synthesizes the subtleties and relationships between what the users create, and the nature of that self-expression.

In professional participative design, the role of the designer changes because the user takes on some of the creative aspects in the process. Sanders views the designer’s new role as facilitating the expression of the user’s needs and dreams. This new role has the practice of designers and social researchers not just coming together, but completely fading one into the other. This new bread of design researcher will create the tools to let the user express his creativity, then analyse and interpret user generated artefacts and models, to lead the process to inspiring innovation.


[1] In applying the social science of psychology and anthropology to design research, Sanders calls herself an experiment. She dates participatory design at the end of 1999 when the designers and social scientist started respecting each other’s particular field of interest within the user experience. This coming together of the practices of science and creativity is where Sanders sheds new light on the design process.

[2] Von Hippel (2005) Democratizing Innovation

How can participative design generate design ideas?

A change in concept comes from seeing the new in terms of the old. That is to use the situation at hand to change our perception of the old. This is a shift. Schön calls it a displacement of concept[1], describing it as a metaphor of the extension of the concept of old in terms of a new situation. New concepts arrive as a result of this shift. He adds that it is not applied, new concepts happen after the process of discplacement.

Tying into another of Schön’s idea generating concepts in reflection-in-action and in the concept of surprise, Coyne and Snodgrass demonstrate how the design process is apparent to a contextual and dialogical understanding of a conversation[2]. They also recognized that in design terms, the initial question begins a conversation which then flows with more questions. The objective of this dialogue is that both parties engaged expand from their initial understanding. This to-and-fro movement from the first point of view and that of the third person point of view leads to the displacement of concepts.

In Praquin’s master’s memoir on collective idea generation, it was difficult for the participants to detach themselves from their personal perspectives and see the world from each other’s point of view. This comes with no surprise, as Schön of the original model was also aware of its limits. In this case, Schön makes clear that “closed minded and narrow minded describe not only pathological conviction but conviction generally. And conviction is necessary for directed action.” It was therefore expected and comprehensible that the participants might not engage in the concept shifting aspect of the process.

For displacement of concepts to happen in participatory design, the creation of a common language or translation between the participants and the users is the most critical aspect [3]. Sanders has been a pillar in developing such field study methods and design activities to build the bridges that lead to user idea generation. The goal is to integrate “systemic analysis, appreciative intervention, and practitioner participation” to create conditions that reduce the gap between design vision and users’ reason. In fieldwork such as videotaping participant observations and follow-up interviews, designers can understand the nuances of users’ everyday practices[4].

For Arias, complex design solutions don’t lead to consensus, but informed compromises. He presents four reasons why the existing technological tools are not being used for complex design problems. Large amounts of training and knowledge is required for proper use, lack of flexibility in decision making, prohibitive cost data gathering and maintenance of the systems[5]. This is reminiscent of why Jones stated that there needed to be human functionalism. He defines this concept as making design thoughts public so that they’re not limited to the experience of the designer and can thus incorporate scientific knowledge of human abilities and limitations[6].



[1] In the chapter called “Starting from Scratch, treating the new in terms of the old” Schön attempts to explain how ideas are generated. He tries to answer the question how can we deal with the new in terms of the old but without reducing it to the old. He starts by stating that when working towards the new, all we can use is the old. This could be seen as a form of unintelligence. Thus leading to dealing with novelty by ignoring the old.

[2] In the 1997 article, “Is designing hermeneutical?”, Coyne and Snodgrass established that ideas are generated in conversation by comparing this process to the works of the German philosopher Gadamer to understand language.

[3] The Scandinavian software researchers, Finn Kensing and Andreas Munk-Madsen, wrote an article on participative design called “Pd-Structure in the toolbox”. Their main objective was to suggest a model for understanding the communication paradoxes between participating users and developers. Their research led them to believe that PD design efforts that fail are caused by misunderstanding between users and designers.

[4] Schuler, D. and Namioka, A. (1993). “Participatory design: principles and practices”

[5] In the article entitled “designing a design community”, the dream of a common language is the second idea that transpires from Arias’ systems of interaction. The research looked at how people communicated each other and what the common ground was in communicating design thinking. The results showed that the common language had been the use of the system in place.

[6] In Jones’s Designing design, he states that human functionalism has lead to the emergence of ergonomics, and he calls for the more human scale normative work for the non-physical aspects of design.

How is participatory design leading to democratising the design process?

In 2006, Bonsiepe shared a broader perspective on the relationship between democracy and design. The first dimension that was touched was ethics within the multiple practices of design. Again the modernist past is evoked because of the way rational problem solving created an ephemeral spike of interest for a design creation that paid no attention to the ensuing relationships that were forming. The concept of democracy that Bonsiepe favours reduces the domination external forces. This ideal is a quest for autonomy of thoughts, of actions and an autonomy of dreams. His view on democratic design can be summed up as “autonomy of projecting”[1].

Back in Scandinavia, the idea of democratic design has also been developed for practical constraints and the use of technology at work [2]. Historically, trade unions were seen as vehicles for industrial democracy. In the context of democratization at work, a participatory approach to the design process alone was not sufficient [3]. In such a context, the definition of democracy was simply “freedom”. This goes one step to far. In Bonsiepe’s perspective, the idea of democratic design was “freedom, in action and reflection, to formulate and carry out an ideal”[4]. This vision is more pertinent as it remains within a boundary and is oriented towards attaining an ideal.

Many researchers and practitioners advocate participatory practices because it breads the values of democracy into civic, educational, and work settings. It had been proven by the works of Pateman that one benefit of participatory democracy is the acceptance of the ensuing decisions [5]. This democratic value that can be seen in the strengthening of disempowered groups, in the improvement of internal processes, and in the combination of diverse knowledge to make better services and products. Recently, Beck started a new discussion arguing for the necessity to recapture participative design’s political dimensions [6].

Subsequent work supplemented the foundational democratic motivation with a need for combining complex knowledge for realistic design problems. In the case of too many end-users for everyone to participate directly, representative democracy is another avenue for implementing participative design. However, with the avenue of the internet, quantity is no longer the problem, yet the quality of participation is to be evaluated. Bonsiepe finishes by bringing up the advent of technology which modifies the design questions to symbolic inquiries. And in such cases, he describes the role of the designer as making these invisible functions visible.

Democratic participation sees the people as the means of the process as well as the ends. Therefore, in participative design, democracy involves more than the formal right to vote. This particular understanding of democracy in the sense of active participation relates to the design process allowing emancipative proposals to answer needs of social groups. No matter how small the presence of a utopian ingredient, reminiscent of the Scandinavian initiatives, democracy symbolizes the autonomy of projecting within the participatory design process.



[1] Bonsiepe, G. (2006) “Design and Democracy”

[2] Iversen, O. S., Kanstrup, A.M., Petersen, M., (2004) A Visit to the ‘New Utopia’ Revitalizing Democracy, Emancipation and Quality in Cooperative Design, NordiCHI '04, Tampere, Finland.

[3] Ehn, P. (1993) “Scandinavian Design: on Participation and Skill”

[4] Iversen, O. S et al. (2004) “A Visit to the ‘New Utopia’ Revitalizing Democracy”

[5] Carole Pateman is a british feminist and specialist in political theory. In 1970, she wrote “Participation and democratic Theory”. She takes a problem-oriented approach to political theory and is concerned to bring theory together with policy and empirical evidence.

[6] Beck, E (2002) “P for Political: Participation is Not Enough.”

How can participation integrate a creative design process?

Understanding design as a communicative process is uncovered by the works of Schön. He treats design primarily as a relationship between designers and the design material. In doing so, Schön emphasizes that design competence is foremost the ability to orchestrate the mutual learning process from the relationship between the design practitioners and the design material. But presently, we are moving into another generation of design research methods were the actors are becoming the central focus of the design process, not material objects. The communicative and dialogical aspect of designing remains, but instead of designers having conversations with materials, they are beginning to have conversations with the users.

As a researcher who focuses on the participation of users in the design process, Carroll reveals 8 aspects of participative design by finely studying how humans try to control the natural world by designing the artificial world[1]. They are :Social aspects of design, identifying stakeholders, human development, human activity, understanding human activity, dynamics of design, intelligibility of design representations, and participation in design.

For example, Simon speaks of active people taking charge of their future and thus taking part in the design process. “The members of an organization or a society for whom plans are made are not passive instruments, but are themselves designers who are seeking to use the system to further their own goals. [2] From which Carroll then defines participatory design as “the direct inclusion of users within a development team, such that they actively help in setting design goals and planning prototypes. [3]

Simon emphasized that designers must consider the consequences of a design beyond the client’s directly articulated concerns. For Simon, the designer has the obligation to act as a teacher, and not merely an implementer [4]. This sparks Carroll to investigate the intelligibility of the design activity, and the need for a common language. Carroll states that if users are to play a significant role in design, the design activity should be intelligible to all stakeholders [5]. In that objective, Carroll studied three tools that create a level playing field for designers and users to interact: scenario building, prototyping, and organisational representation. These activities have become a “lingua franca” for people. Carroll even characterizes the science of design as a “core discipline for every liberally educated person.” With all the specialization taking place in the various fields, there has to be a way to bring everyone back to a common stepping ground. In the post-industrial era that is said to be the information age[6], the common ground could be seen as the values that are conveyed in the language of design.

An interesting new practice of participatory design is brought when the Bødker and Iversen speak of initial fascination of user involvement. This comes from software designers that were indeed amazed by how their users handle real world situations. They felt that users needed to be implicated in the design process. And these researchers wished to go beyond this fascination, and go beyond the trial and error process. Consequently, they proposed that the participative process require the planning and intervention of the designer to insure its success. They call this professional participative design (proPD).

According to Bødker and Iversen, there are two questions that need to be addressed by the designer for the participative process to begin and follow through smoothly. They noticed the users required the “why” and “where-to” notions. Simply put, the “why” concept is a reflection on the main purpose of the project, an end-in-view. The other deficiency in the participative design process is that the general direction of the project is hard path to stay upon. Off-loop reflection in terms of participant’s introspection and discussions about the project are in general is often treated as unprofitable idling[7]. In a professional setting, reflection is usually viewed as the budget buster and is therefore cut to a minimum[8].

In addition, these researchers attacked head on the criticism of participatory design in Vicente’s “Cognitive work analysis”[9]. Vicente brings to the table some limitations to participatory design: leaving possibilities of new technologies unexplored, the use of incomplete design methods such as scenarios and prototyping and the lack of purpose to the analyses made in relation with the design’s progression. To palliate to these deficiencies the authors offer a frame set to facilitate the development of the project. They propose that the designer must envision a strategy for the entire process. In professional participative design, the designers envision a strategy for the entire process that evolves and develops itself depending on the users and situation. They prone an interesting hybrid approach where the designer facilitates the process. On the other hand, there is a line to be drawn between a facilitation in proPD and an interventionist approach, where the designers give direction for the design.

In devlopping proPD, the authors respond to the limitations foreseen by Vicente. They propose to use scenarios and prototyping; they propose to reflect on the initial problem and to have a sense of perspective upon the process. The authors state that the advantage of a professional participative design process is that it remains always in context because the designers implicate problem owners directly in the solution process. Another role of the designer in proPD is to identify and include the stakeholders into the participatory process. All this relates to what Cross has described as the rise of systemic or complexity in the post-industrial age, which in turn has become part of the objectives of this research.

“ In the systemic paradigm design is described as being participatory, anonymous, and democratic. The process is collaborative since it engages individuals from different disciplines in the process. It is democratic by giving those affected by design the right to participate in making decisions concerning the design. Participatory refers to the relationship between the designer and the others involved in the design process. The designer’s role is now not to design for others, but rather to help others design for themselves.[10]

So far in this paper, we have seen that complex design problems can be addressed with participatory design practices. The following model further develops this specific research’s framework. A take on LeMoigne’s illustrations of complexity, this diagram presents the four elements making up complex research: the environment, the subjects, the object of study, and the project at it’s center[11]. The subsequent sections will focus on these four entities individually as they set the table for the research question. This question will then direct the methodology in elucidating the relationships holding this model together.




[1] In the spring edition of Design Issues 2006, Carroll proposes “Participation in design” and exposes the underlying concepts of user participation by dissecting Simon’s the Science of the Artificial.

[2] Carroll, J.M. (2006) “Dimensions of Participation in Simon’s Design”, Design Issues

[3] idem

[4] Simon, H. (1962) Sciences of the Artificial.

[5] idem

[6] Pink, D. (2005) A whole new mind.

[7] Bødker, S and Iversen, O.S. (2002) “Moving PD beyond the Initial Fascination of User Involvement.”

[8] Norman, D. (1988) The design of Everyday things

[9] In Cognitive Work Analysis (1999), Vicente critiques PD and provides another program for designing computer-based information systems, based on detailed mapping of information flows, task constraints, and control processes.

[10] Cross, N. (1981) “The post-industrial Age”

[11] LeMoine, J-L (1995) La modélisation des systèmes complexes.

So how did participatory design begin?

As an expert within the participatory field, Muller defines participatory design (also referred to as PD) as a set of theories, practices and studies related to end-users as full participants in activities leading to software and hardware computer products and computer based activities [1] . This definition relates to computer science where participative design practices first began in Scandinavia[2]. In the 1970’s, the birth of the participative design approach came from a cooperative movement to counter the growing technological immersion into workplace settings. Participative design activities, comprising tools and cooperative techniques used within workshops, prototyping, and planning were developed to provide users the means to take an active part in the design process. During this period various different projects took place in Norway with Nygaard, Sweden and Danmark with Ehn and Kying. Considered as one of the founding figures in participatory design research, Ehn related the rise of this practice to an explicitly political context during the Scandinavian workplace democracy movement[3]. Initially, research-based participatory design projects were design alternatives to insure user quality matters compared to mainstream solutions constructed by large companies. The participative design approach propagated ideals of democracy, emancipation and quality were essential when designing technology for the workplace [5]. Since then, Muller argues that the successes of participatory design in the Scandinavian countries will be difficult to reproduce in North America or Britain, because of significant differences in labour, legislative, and workplace environments [6].

In 1987, Ehn initiated one of the most famous participatory design action research called the Utopia project[7] along with Bødker, another founding figure in PD research. Starting a long line of Scandinavian research projects in the health sector, these endeavours were still orchestrated in response to technical and organisational changes. Their design methods emphasised hands-on experiences with the problem-owners. A parallel project took place in Florence where Bjerkness and Bratteteig were working particularly with nurses. They developed approaches for them to get a voice in the everyday work processes and in the information technology implementation in hospitals.This notion of active implication of the user during the development of a project has recently been explored by many other disciplines, young and old. The field of participatory design has been applied to many diverse other fields like user-centered design, graphic design, engineering, architecture, city planning, psychology, anthropology, sociology, and political science. However, in an attempt to define participatory design, the diversity of these practices has not led to a single theory, paradigm of study nor common approach to practice[8]. Rather different perspectives focus on certain aspects of user involvement and most of participatory design theories and practices require simply the combination of multiple perspectives[9] .


[1] Muller, M.J. (2003). “Participatory design: The third space in human computer interaction.”

[2] The history of the participative design has been well studied and described in the writings of Michael Muller in the early 1990’s in “Participatory design: The third space in HCI.”

[3] idem

[4] Bødker, S. (2003) “A for alternatives”.

[5] Iversen, O.S. et al. (2004) “A Visit to the ‘New Utopia’ Revitalizing Democracy, Emancipation and Quality in Cooperative Design”

[6] Muller, M.J. (1999) “The scandinavian challenge”

[7] Bodker et al. (1987) “A Utopian experience in Computers and democracy”

[8] Slater, J. (1998). “Professional misinterpretation: What is participatory design?”

[9] Muller, M. (2003) “Participative design the third space in HCI.”

Thursday, May 17, 2007

How can complex design processes take place?

The design process has introduced itself into the complex school of thought for two reasons. Firstly it has come in opposition with the dictatorial approach of modernist designers. The design profession is no longer to be limited nor represented by the capacity of a single expert mind or of a team augmenting such a mind. A single mind trying to design for the variety of a million minds, has to reduce us all to numbers and not people[1].Secondly, in the earlier stages of the profession designers have relied heavily on the expertise of others by referring to textbooks, standards, legal constraints and especially previous design efforts. Yet there is so much knowledge to be contextualized that there needs to be more people included into the design process. That’s why divisions of labour and collaborative strategy have been created to accomplish tasks more extensive and complex than any individual could accomplish[2].

Of the many ways to tackle the growing amount of complexity in design planning processes, Forrester proposes that a dialogical attitude is to be initiated amongst the problem owners. For the sum of their knowledge will lead the way towards framing the problem space and proposing creative solutions. In a time of distributed cognition and shared creation, specialization increases. Means of collaboration and effective team work is becoming increasingly important as the nature of work changes because of the complex nature of the problems. This creates design communities that have to cope with spatial, temporal and conceptual barriers.[3] As spatial and temporal barriers can be surmounted by technological advances, Checkland illustrated how the concept of information is the most powerful idea contributed so far by the complex systems movement. So much so that he compared it in importance with the idea of idea energy[4].


All this collaboration is subject to communication problems amongst the participants. In depth understanding of the translation problem among different actors who directly participate in design activities is key to a more effective, valuable, and direct partnership between designers and users[5]. There has been observed a “gap in rationalities” that creates barriers between the developers projected meaning and the users’ actual understanding.
The importance of this “gap” between the worldview of the designer and the specific view of the potential user is one of the motivations for participatory design. The other gap is felt amongst participants was called “symmetry of ignorance”[6], enounced by Rittel. The mutual incomprehension between users was transformed by Fowles into a complementary “symmetry of knowledge” where the active participation of the stakeholders gave way to learning[7]. Participatory design is one of the field that has been studying the communication amongst the participants as well as between the designers and the participants.

Accordingly so, in this paper, the participative design process is perceived as starting point address complex design problems where there is no single truth to be told, but multiple truths to be confronted.



[1] Jones, J.C. (1991) Designing Design.

[2] Simon, H.(1963) Sciences of the artificial.

[3] Fisher, G (2004) “Social Creativity: Turning Barriers into Opportunities for Collaborative Design”

[4] Checkland, P. (1981) Systems Thinking, Systems Practice.

[5] DePaula, R. (2004) “Lost in Translation: A Critical Analysis of Actors, Artefacts, Agendas, and Arenas in Participatory Design”

[6] Rittel H. J. and Webber, M. (1984) “Planning Problems Are Wicked Problems”

[7] In 2000, Fowles added to rittel and webber with “Symmetry in design participation in the built environment: Experiences and insights from education and practice”.