Participatory Design Conference 2012, Roskilde, Denmark
Ann Light PDC 2012
Attending the Participatory Design Conference 2012 (12th – 16th Aug, Roskilde, Denmark) was again a very thought provoking and personally rewarding experience.
Ofcourse the highlight was to get to know Ann more, given our previous encounter at PDC 2010 was thwarted by her illness and foggy recollection. I don’t think I fully appreciated how unusual it was to write roughly four papers (2 good ones published) together without really knowing one another previously. But just as we had thought, during the days in Roskilde, we got on really really well, and I think we’ve counted up to five more papers we need to write together – or was that six? Anyway, it just shows how we’ve got a lot of things we’re keen to explore through our productive writing and discussion. I really like the way we can ‘riff’ off one another with our ideas without being too precious about them.
‘Working with human values in design’ was a really interesting workshop, run by Ole Sejer Ivensen, Tuck Wah Leong, Geoffrey Bowker, Judith Gregory and Peter Wright. The shape and content was rather broad and vague, reflecting how difficult it is to ‘pin down’ what values are, so I didn’t really know what to expect but I still enjoyed the conversations, and each person’s interpretation, understanding, and manifestation of values in their work. The irony that struck me was, given that we were trying really hard to articulate and make explicit other people’s vaules, if we were to turn it around and ask ourselves what our own vaues are, would we be able to know or say it out loud? If values are inscribed in everything we do and ways we want to be, how can we separate it out – a bit like separating out a whole tomato from a bolognese pasta sauce (poor analogy but it’ll do until I find a better one!) The other paper that we discussed was the kinesthetic, embodied way of designing (paper 4?), and the values embedded / expressed in objects (paper 5?) Anyway – Ann and I are hoping to write a paper from the things we’ve observed from the workshop (paper 3) so I’m sure that process will clarify a few murky thoughts that are still floating around in my head…
The great thing about workshops is that you meet people and can get to know them really ‘quickly’. Given I didn’t know many people at PDC, it was definately a useful ice-breaker. It was great meeting Rosanne van Klaveren and being introduced to her participatory art practice on ‘togetherness’ through her workshop. The imagined scenarios of giving the Lada to the Nenets was a really fun (boardering silliness, as the photos will show) execise! Triggered by my hasty talk, Liam Bannon and I begun an interesting discussion regarding human-centred design and being human through a Japanese lens, which I’m looking forward to continuing. He’s given me a loads to read – so candidly and generously – I really want to know more about his work so we could continue the dialogue we’ve started.
Other exciting encounters were with Mika Yasukura and Ryo Sakurai, who are exploring PD methods with Japanese people in ’start-up’ initiatives to assit businesses and communities after the March 11 disaster. There were interesting threads they were beginning to tug, for example, how the Scandinavian PD model might work in a place like Japan, or even looking at a ‘Japaneseness’ in the methods used. There was a bit of a buzz from the audience on this, perhaps due to the success of Japanese cultural export in many areas that one might expect or desire for the same in design methods as well. The three of us are hoping to meet in Tokyo in December and flesh some of these ideas out. Ofcourse, my gut feeling says that there is nothing particularly ‘Japanese’ per se – its dangerous to over-generalise that a culture can be simplifed – but in Ann’s lovely words, it might be nice to ‘feel out the edges’ in some way.
I felt that cultural values and re-orienting ourselves to being sensitised to it were things that emerged quite strongly during the conference, given that Nic Bidwell was the closing keynote speaker. Though, I was struck in most cases how it needed to involve such ‘extremes’, ie, a white person going to Africa, Scandinavian methods into Japan, making that ‘difference’ more pronounced. Layering this with a conversation with graceful Dagny Stuedahl – an ethnologist (studies their own culture, as opposed to an anthropologist who studies cultures outside of their own) made me think how attentive one must be to perceive their own, as if from the outside. The excellent exploratory paper by Samantha Merritt and Erik Stolterman highlighted critical things on culture that we tended to overlook – that we are already ‘hybrid’ of many things (echoing Bourdieu) – which looped back nicely to the values workshop that begun the conference for me.
Despite our mild anxiety about ’stating the obvious’ and having to cram a lot in the presentation, the paper by Ann and myself was received very positively (Pelle congratulated me in person and Finn Kensig wrote me a list of things to read), eliciting some to say that it was one of the best papers in the conference (well, all reviewers gave it 5/5, so we knew it could be well received). During the question time, Lucy Suchman said “I think there is a tension in the way that we think about the maturity of a field, that somehow for participatory design to be a mature field, that it should have systematic methods … I’m sure there are colleagues in the room who would, for quite good reasons, hold that view. But for me, a sign of maturity is that people get up and give papers about what is really hard and messy about their practice, that’s aways for me what’s most exciting…”. And, that’s a darn good complement, I’d say! Ann reckoned that it might be more to do with the ‘right climate’ – we popped something that needed to be popped. I too, think we aired a real concern that had been lingering a while, and we demonstrated an embodied way to share our stories – which most would resonate with.
There was something very lovely about Nic’s presentation on walking together to design – and the power it held was very much in the embodied acts we engage with one another as a way to understand and open up to others. To me, this approach is so beautifully ‘unmediated’ and honest, and put simply, human. It situated the inter-relational actions together with the transformative process of ‘going somewhere’, (neither mine, or yours, but ours) and where one ends up is just as relevant as the path they took together in getting there – resonating with ‘Tao’ concepts that strongly run through my work. Through Ann, I got to talk to Nic quite a lot, even exchanging giggly laughs about ‘blue spongey ear plugs’ (can’t quite remember how that started) and given that the next PDC 2014 is in Namibia at Heike’s Polytechnic of Namibia, I hope there is an opportunity to meet these wonderful people again in the near future…
Design Futures at Media and Communication
The irony of discovering the thing you seek is, in fact, residing in the work itself happened today… Reuben and I presented our work to the School under the Design Futures group and made us realise what it is that makes our collective interesting. Before I forget, here are some realisations from the conversations we had.
- Design/designing is enabling. This seems a fitting key concept for Design Futures. Neal then mentioned how he thinks about design as propositional or provocative, and that was an interesting way of thinking about ‘enabling’ as well. Alongside that, I guess there are many other adjectives too – questioning, reflecting, playing…
- Strong connection between artefact, people, process/method and practice. This is in contrast to areas that tend to separate them out individually as THE thing that represents design eg. especially artefacts, or in HCI-esq discourse where method is the king. Our area makes this connection/relationship between them central, and in doing so, brings a different way of presenting/talking/sharing/researching design. In fact, I think we need to be better at talking about this connection, and that will make what we do even more interesting.
- Related to the point made above, connecting design to different fields of knowledge/discourse/practices. Design, in fact, becomes the bridge or the needle that ’stitches’ fields together. This changes the conversation where design had to be ‘different’, ‘unique’, ‘original’ emphasising separation rather than connection – we celebrate the similarities between design and other fields because we see design’s agency when it ‘lives’ in contexts outside of its field domain.
- Participation is a strong value we bring and promote. We practice it, as well as interrogate it.
Reuben and I then later lamented how little we share / talk about our research with one another these days. I haven’t seen his work since he began. I miss the Design GRCs – I think we took that forum for granted and so I really see the impact of its absence now. Lets bring it back – or at least, have ‘mini GRCs’ within our group!
Slides from my preso:
Oscillation between artefact and process – I used this as a framework
artefacts that trigger / scaffold engagement, and in turn,
engagement that creates artefacts or experiences (ie, open-ended and contextual = human-centred)
Probious: Making graphic design visible
As we inch closer to launching the ‘probes’ for the Probious project, I’ve been having really interesting conversations with a few designers. This morning, it was great to get a phone call from Kevin Finn, who I e-mailed out the blue asking for recommendation for designers in regional areas of Australia.
There was a lot we talked about that resonated with conversations that emerged out of past workshops with other designers, but there are a few that stood out from the rest. One area that provided rich discussion was on ‘community’ – its oft nebulous, mis-used term – and that this project was a way to define and describe what the connections might be among people who call themselves ‘graphic designers’. Who are we, what makes us get out of bed in the morning, and what is our relationship to design? These ‘human’ elements can begin to show the make up of our design ‘community’ that is not defined by a job description/qualification. Kevin shared some personal experiences and recollections when he was practicing out of Kununurra, in remote north Western Australia. He said that he didn’t purposefully seek out other designers, but instead, allowed those connections to form naturally with those he had shared interests with. We then laughed at my dislike of being deliberately introduced to other Japanese people in a large party, just because we are Japanese and therefore we must have so much shared interest, or we know common people back home (!)
In our fetish for design artefacts, these often become the criterias in which a designer is evaluated by – “s/he’s a good designer because s/he does engaging and unique work”. This peer-evaluation works on a certain level (such as awards and setting certain ‘benchmarks’ of work) but is not conducive in building cohesion or connection – the bonds that define a community to give its characteristics and unique experiences. In discussing hypothetical scenarios of designers who are in remote/regional areas of Australia, they might deliberately disconnect with the borader design ‘community’ for that reason – for fear of being judged based on their work – because so much of the design ‘community’ is driven and celebrated by those with established their practices in urban areas who have a wide range of ‘interesting’ clients to work with. Designers who are in regional/remote areas may not have access to that diversity, the multi-faceted cultural stimultion and opportunities for exposure of their work, but they are designers nonetheless with personal motivations, their own definition and trajectory into the field of design. The picture of the ‘community’ we are building is to look inside the individual and the contexts they are surrounded by. We need to avoid the reductive, and instead, build a picture of pluerality and diversity.
Kevin warned not to make the designers in such regional/remote places feel as if they were chosen for this study because they are a strange ‘anomaly’ of the design ‘community’. The ‘bearded lady’ to be gawped at at a circus. I can see how easily this project can be misconstrued that way from their perspective, especially if there is a deliberate disconnect from their part and healthy mistrust for ‘all that jazz’ in the city. I’m glad to be reminded of it so we can proceed with more care and caution than before.
Kevin wisely commented that this project can become bigger than initially conceived, generating more questions rather than answers. I sense this enormity as well, and this reassures me that its a piece of research worth doing. However, the question I struggle with now, which came out of our conversation, is whether this is about graphic design at all. Neither it is to make the hidden aspects of it more visible to the public for it to be valued more. These may have been the intial intention of the research project, but I think it has shifted through the process of doing the reserach and having such insightful and critical discussions with practitioners like Kevin. Perhaps this project is similar in objective to the bushfire community preparedness research – an action research that is bridging disconnected individuals though a common purpose or interest – and through this connection, generating knowledge and learning experiences for all.
New Contexts New Practices – Day one
I’m at this conference and I’m half excited and half disappointed – today provided lots to think about but also ‘de-mythicised’ a few people who I had regarded quite highly.
I was excited about:
Service Design being a large focus of this conference – the conversation seems to be far more broader than graphic design per se. In Meredith Davis presentation, which I really enjoyed as a very thought-provoking, well-framed discussion, she talked about the broader cultural, environmental and technological contexts were design need to be in relation to (though I remain unconvinced by the example projects she presented – there was very little time to drill down deeper into them, which was a shame).
Talking with Ric Grefé, the Director of AIGA, it seemed like they were far more supporting and proactive in working with education, thereby establishing a stronger partnership with academia and industry. This is great to see. Ric was also of the opinion that ‘adjectives’ needs to be dropped in design – ie. graphic, industrial, communication etc – and focus more on design thinking and problem solving for design to have agency in more complex contexts. Though this isn’t a ‘new’ thing, its great to see this being advocated by the Director of AIGA (and, unfortunately, reflects poorly on what AGDA is doing – they’re so behind..!). Ric also told me how the role of AIGA isn’t to be one that gives approval and impart expertise, but their role is to ’start the conversation’ on this new way of promoting and talking about design, which was really refreshing to hear.
Rick Robinson’s talk was highly entertaining (and thanks to him, I know how to pronounce the author who wrote ‘flow’!). I took away quite a lot from his presentation, especially on being able to be ‘in-between’ disciplines is to know the ’structures’ that make-up your discipline, and then be able to push and play with it. This then ables you to see how it ‘fits’ with another discpline. He brought up a great example of musicians – the idea of improv and jamming – and the idea of being ‘adept’, which were all really good ideas to think about.
I was disappointed by the key-note provocateurs:
Shelley Evenson’s talk on Service Design – I think I heard this before – maybe on TED – I am a ‘tougher’ audience than most to talk to about Service Design, but she had said a few too many things that made me think ‘oh-ooh…’ and that was disappointing. For example, she talked about the dog that tweets, as if that was a good example of power of social media technology. She talked about some skewed idealised version of ‘people co-designing’ their experiences in Starbucks. Oh dear. She talked about designers being responsible to design the various touchpoints for the service delivery, which made me think of the total ‘big-brother’ idea of design control (brrr…!), and the un-design of any serendipitious encounters, which is inherent in any dynamic, living, organic systems. Neither her, or anyone in service design is talking about this obvious contradiction. She was clearly doing a ‘hard sell’ of service design to the audience and there was very little critical perspective that she brought to it. She also talked about the ‘bridge-model’ diagram that she did and published in Interactions journal – and I still have some grave questions about that too, in the way it ’sanitizes’ the design process and opens up misinterpretation that design isn’t iterative or involve a ‘double-looping’ learning process (Schon) in the thinking, making and critiqing.
Sharon Poggenpohl on design research – I know she meant to be provocative, yet, I just felt that I was lectured at – and I’m probably one of those in the minority (98 people with PhDs – wow, what a statistic) who have already ‘converted’. Tim made an interesting point later at dinner about ‘provocation’ might mean to take a conservative stance on research. So much of her talk was that ‘designers should read more, should research and publish more’, the ‘graduate programs in the states are a re-hash of what wasn’t understood in undergrad (harsh!) – so stop doing it’ – and what else, using ‘google isn’t research’. On it went. Clearly, her definition of design research was the way I have described it – the ‘Big R’ research and not about the ‘little r’ – emphasising the research that can be evidenced, made explicit, publishable (in writing) and what I would imagine designers running a million miles away from. Lisa mentioned how she thought it alienates people even further, rather than encouraging and supporting them into design research, and I couldn’t agree more.
The value of design research to others
What does design research contribute, that no other methods in research can offer? Laurene and I had a conversation, stemming from personal frustrations I am feeling with the bushfire project, on how the value of design research can be communicated more effectively to others, particularly our peers in the social sciences.
This is the age-old question, and I’m sure there are literature out there that might shed light on this already. I’m also looking forward to the conversation with a researcher from psychology who is also looking at effective communication, and see how our approaches might differ. There is something in here about the use of language, metaphors and symbolisms that we need to use, to articulate better what we do to others.
Design research is project-driven. Well, so is any research project.
Design research does visualisations. Well, other researchers also draw diagrams.
Design research is iterative and reflective. Well so is any research process.
So, what is its value that add to the traditional research methods?
One thing that sprung to mind is how design research (in the context of what we did in the bushfire project) actively create/generate ‘agents’ to explore what the network/system could do, as opposed to simply studying it as it is. This could be the case with the postcards that we distributed among the community, to see what conversations it could generate.The only shortfall with that, is that there was no follow-up investigation – it was released, and we never really found out what happened with them.
Using Playful Triggers is also an act of co-creation (co-design) – and through this process it generated knowledge far more than we have expected to know. This act of creation, I think, is quite designerly. That the agents for the investigation were ‘designed’, is also central to design research. We make together, and by doing so, we generate knowledge that we didn’t know was there before.
I also think there is something here about future propositions, but scenarios are more commonly used in other research streams that we think.
This is an on-going thinking project – more to follow.
Australian graphic design: making the diversity visible
Recent indicators such as the wide criticism of the cost of designing the City of Melbourne visual identity suggest there is a significant gap between the public’s understanding of the nature and value of graphic design and that of the graphic design community. To add fuel to the fire, Rick Poynor recently warned at an AGDA event that graphic design is on the verge of complete surrender to business imperatives unless designers can make the public more aware of the value of graphic design beyond its commercial application. As design educators and practitioners we have had a long-standing interest in what happens in contemporary Australian graphic design. However, we see that graphic design lacks public recognition by comparison to a field like visual art; graphic design works having short life spans and mostly appearing without recognition of their creators. This has prompted us to consider how the diversity of Australian graphic designers and their work might become more visible to the public and to researchers.
What can be done?
This issue sparked debate, concern and excitement at a workshop in Melbourne, late September 2009, which was attended by several graphic design practitioners, educators, post-graduate students and design researchers. The discussion highlighted the paradox of graphic design practice – that its ubiquity was very public and visible, yet its practices was poorly represented and understood by the broader public. Many designers were excited about the benefit of making the practice more visible to others and to the design community. They believed that such initiative would spark curiosity, interest and recognition and strengthen client’s understanding of graphic design. The usual ‘traps’ of reductive definitions of Australian graphic design was avoided, and instead, the discussion described a practice that was rich, broad, hybridised and varied. Questions were raised concerning what ‘design practice’ means, why designers ‘painted on Sundays but didn’t in the studio, etc…
What were some of the ideas?
Many participants emphasised that designers’ creativity, thinking processes, their unique contexts and perspectives were important aspects to capture and make visible to others. Instead of using traditional methods of interviews and questionnaires, the ideas sought lateral, creative, visual and tactile methods of capturing the diversity of practices. Creating a cultural probe as a method of capture and collection therefore seemed ideal in fulfilling this task. A cultural probe is a commonly used ethnographic method in design research. It is usually a package, sent to the participant, containing various items with instructions, questions and provocations to trigger responses to reveal facets of the participant’s life.
Brainstorming what a cultural probe can provoke and trigger to reveal aspects of a designer’s individual and professional design practices generated an abundance of ideas. Examples, like collecting ‘design blunders’; continue a story-board by narrating or filling in the speech-bubbles; providing a ‘chart’ to record one’s mood over the course of the day; responding to ‘what does your mum say you do?’; disposable cameras to record inspirations by the letter ‘G’ in Bodoni; flash-mob SMS to document one’s activity at 10:53:44… and much more. Common to many of the probe ideas were the use of constraints, finishing something that had already been started, capturing a ‘snap-shop’ of the every-day, opening up creative dialogue in a variety of mediums, and provoke lateral responses to avoid any ‘promotion’ or standard company-line of what designers do. We also felt that it was important that the probe be sensitive to design aesthetics and fun to use, prompting designers to reflect on aspects of their identity and experience as designers.
The next steps?
We hope to continue with the discussions and generate ideas of cultural probes, inviting more designers to become collaborators of this project. Our intention is to design various prototypes of the probes and trialing them in 2010 by sending them out to graphic designers around Australia. This allows us to evaluate what kind of probe would best suit the purpose. After this trial period, we will launch this initiative by asking designers to nominate other designers in their network. We will send the probes to them, and ask them to nominate more designers, allowing this process to continue until it exhausts itself. We hope to capitalise on social networks among designers, which is a valuable human engagement and resource.
Eventually, our idea is to capture the diversity of individuals, practices and contexts that comprise Australian graphic design in urban and rural environments. Its intention is to make the invisible, visible by inviting contributions from all Australian graphic designers, here and overseas, with the aim of discovering the richness of graphic design practices as a complement to the image portrayed by more visible, client-focused work. After the process of sorting, categorising and analyzing is conducted, the collective outcome will hopefully surprise and delight, revealing the vibrancy, distinctiveness and breadth of the Australian graphic design community. This project will create a ‘snap-shot’ of the graphic designers today. The collection will become a significant archive of the practice and profession of graphic design – a community who is daily, contributing to our visual culture and landscape. The body of knowledge will also be an important resource for graphic design educators and researchers to help them generate more information on the nature of contemporary Australian graphic design. The vast collection from this project will be presented publicly, whether through a website or a physical exhibition, the possibilities will be endless.
This project is in partnership with AGDA and is supported by the Design Research Institute, RMIT University, and Swinburne. We would like to thank and acknowledge the participants of the September workshop, including, Stephen Banhan, Greg Blakey, Miek Dunbar, Marius Foley, Elise Hassett, Tania Ivanka, Bec Nally, Dion Tuckwell, Peter West, and Jeremy Yuille.
The Grampians 22-27 June 2007
What an awesome place. Handful of labsome and Phd students visited the Grampians last weekend for a mapping project. Co-ordinated by Milesy, he wanted us to place constraints on the way we ‘mapped’ the particular area we were exploring.
My recent experience in taking pottery classes has awakened to ’see’ through touch. Its a new experience where I’m forced to mold clay on a wheel without looking at what I’m doing, opposite to my usual practice of being visually led and relying on sight to do design. Molding the clay through sight can be detrimental because the hands responds to what it sees and tries to over-correct the errors. But when I mold through touch, I can ’see’ how thick or thin the walls are, how to smooth out the bumps and how to centre an off-balanced clay. Its a completely different relationship, one that is felt through the body via the fingertips rather than perceived through the mind via sight.
The visit to the Grampians seemed like a perfect opportunity to explore this idea more and use ‘touch’ as one of the constraints. Rather than my usual practice of taking photographs and being visually led, I decided to make ‘impressions’ of things that seemed interesting on the walk. I took along small balls of clay which I flattened into a disc.
Here are some of the results. I’ll upload all of them onto the flickr shared site.
and also here are impressions of other plants and then taken a photo on a rock surface.
The process of creating these small ‘impressions’ was transforming how I saw the landscape. I was struck by the scale of detail – from the delicate whispy-ness of plants I was trying to capture to the eternal existence of the rock surfaces we were surrounded by. There was so much to be felt through touch. I would often loose a sense of scale when looking between the texture of bark and the rocks behind. Both weathered from and resilient to their environments. I imagined what kind of ‘impressions’ could be made from those rocks if there was clay big enough to be able to do so. What could be felt if you could run your fingers over the caves and cliffs of Mount Zero. I also noticed that I captured different aspects of a plant’s life cycle, from its fleshy leaves to how it became withered and brittle; a flower in bloom to the seed pods they created. Through the impressions created, I also noticed details that were invisible to the eye previously – a pattern of bumps on the underside of fern leaves or star shapes created by gum nuts – a delightful surprise revealed through clay.
Others have captured different aspects of the trip. You can view them here (or go to http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/affectiveatlashallsgap/)
I’ve done it!
Today marks a historical day… well perhaps it was last night when I finished the binding and sticking the covers on…. but anyway, its all done! For now. I’m pleased with how it has turned out, though, there are minor irritations with the finish but that’s the perfectionist in me speaking.
Its a feeling that I can’t put into words right now… there is that niggling thing of ‘is this it?’, and doubting whether this box really represents 4 years of work…
On the other hand, this date marks a different departure. Now my focus can move onto something else, rather than the blinded commitment I have been making on writing and producing a DVR for the past 6 months. What that focus would be, I have no idea yet.
Here are some images of it. It’s a box with laminate wood-patterned covering to reference a table-top. Conversations and face-to-face interactions often take place over tables so I wanted to make some connection to it here. I like how ‘boring’ and rather un-interesting it looks from the outside, but lots happen when you open it. The book covers are also done in a similar approach, it ‘comes to life’ when it’s opened. Because so much that I talk about is the richness of implicit human interactions in design practice, this approach seemed relevant as well.
The main exegesis is separated from the design projects, Conversations, Dear John and Management vs. Community. I think the main exegesis can be inaccessible for design practitioners as it is written in an academic language and its mostly text. I decided to separate them so that the practitioners may find the booklets much more easier to relate to – it is more visually led and shorter to read. The language is more design project oriented with less reference to research as well. Though, I think you can get the sense of what I was trying to explore in each of them.
The responses by people (all friends) had been very positive. I think there’s something about a ‘box’ that truly excites people, they usually can’t wait to open it and explore whats inside. The booklet, the fabric lining and the Yowies are good tactile triggers for people to be engaged in it too. Anyway, it was fun to make and I think that comes across in its final outcome.
Reflecting on Fashion City – learning from collaborative experimental design
You can download the paper from this link: http://research.agda.com.au/
When citing this article, please use:
Akama, Y & Haslem, N, 2007, ‘Reflecting on Fashion City – learning from collaborative experimental design’, Visual:Design:Scholarship, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 39-47.
keywords: participation, co-authorship, reflective practice, collaborative learning, relational aesthetic
Learning through designing is a common pedagogical model in design education. Many design institutions utilise studio-based teaching with design tools and methods facilitating students’ learning in a discovery-led way. This paper builds on the above model by examining the learning and discovery that took place that arose from a collaborative student design project named Fashion City. In contrast with most other learning models in undergraduate studio-based teaching, this project did not have a prescribed learning objective. Rather, it took an experimental approach to learn and discover from propositions, interventions, friction and failures. Instead of having a set objective, Fashion City evolved as a response to context, generated through the interactions and actions of a group of designers who all had developed research agendas. In this way Fashion City simply took a position of ’seeing what might happen’ when a group of graduate students collaboratively designed a project within a particular context.
Kaleidoscope of roles: valuing the agencies of the audience, client and the designer
This was presented at Include conference, April 2-4, 2007
When citing this text please use:
Akama, Y 2007, ‘Kaleidoscope of roles: valuing the agencies of the audience, client and the designer’, Include 2007 conference, Designing with people, Royal College of Art, London, UK, April 2-4, 2007
You can download the paper from here:
Kaleidoscope of roles: valuing the agencies of the audience, client and the designer
This paper broadens the discussion on the inclusiveness of design process. It discusses an inclusive approach to communication design projects that values the agencies of various stakeholders involved. In particular, this paper explores the importance of the designers’ human agency to enable a human-centred approach in the practice of communication design. The paper draws on data drawn from design-led investigations and interviews with design practitioners. These were undertaken as part of the author’s practice-led doctorate research, which is situated in the field of communication design.
What roles do people play during the design process? How does this affect the design outcome? The paper argues that the multiplicity of perspectives is vital to the design process in creating engaging and meaningful outcomes for all concerned. A dialogic interaction that occurs between various people in the project facilitates multiplicity of perspectives. The paper concludes with a proposition for communication design to embrace the notion that designing is an interpersonal, complex and layered process that includes the multiple roles that people have.
This paper broadens the discussion on the inclusiveness of design process. It discusses an inclusive approach to communication design projects that values the agencies of various people involved. In particular, this paper explores how the designers’ human agency, and the agency of other stakeholders can be valued to enable a human-centred approach in the practice of communication design. This human-centred approach in the practice of communication design is explored through investigations and interviews with practitioners undertaken within the author’s practice-led doctorate research.
Human-centred design is becoming widely discussed in various design disciplines. For example, in ‘The Semantic Turn’, Klaus Krippendorff (2006, p.48) calls for a human-centred design approach to include the designer’s agency;
Designers’ extraordinary sensitivity to what artefacts mean to others, users, bystanders, critics, if not for whole cultures, has always been an important but rarely explicitly acknowledged competence.
Krippendorff’s observation illuminates how designers are perceived within Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and Computer Support Cooperative Works (CSCW) literature. In these fields, designers are often portrayed as ‘producers’ that create prototypes for user testing or implement feedback obtained from users. The emphasis on ‘users’ in user-centred design has inadvertently excluded the designers’ human agency and the values they can bring to the design project. This paper argues that the design focus should not purely be on the users’ need, input and feedback, but also on what agency the designer-as-human can bring to the design project.
Thus, echoing Krippendorff’s notion, the discussion here addresses how designers manifest their ‘humanness’ in the design process with others, in the creation of artefacts. The discussion is constructed from the explorations and illuminations from the author’s practice-led doctorate research in communication design. Firstly, a brief explanation of communication design is given at the start of the paper. Then, the context in which a human-centred approach manifests within a communication design practice is examined. It is argued that a mutual relationship amongst the stakeholders is a key component to the human-centred design process. Secondly, the value of the dialogic process is discussed. This allows stakeholders to negotiate, question, highlight issues and enhance a ‘Social Creativity’ (Fischer, 2003). Lastly, the significance of the designer-as-human perspective is argued as an agency that designers can bring to the design process. Thus, this paper illustrates that human-centred design in the practice of communication design, is an interpersonal, complex and layered relationship that include multiple roles of people; the audience, designers and clients. Finally, the paper concludes by putting forward a human-centred proposition for the discourse to embrace. It argues that embracing this approach would lead to significant shifts in broadening the designers’ role and activity within the practice of communication design.
Communication Design context
In this section, the context of communication design is briefly discussed. To add, the term ‘design’ and ‘designers’ used in this paper specifically applies to this context. Communication design, also known as graphic design, has traditionally emphasised its activity as the design of graphical language. The abundance of visual examples within the field celebrates the crafting of the artefact. Thus, the human-centred perspective argued by this paper differs in emphasis to how the field is traditionally defined. Discussion on human-centred design remains minimal amongst the literature within communication design, despite the body of work by Frascara (1995), Forlizzi and Lebbon (2002), Nini (2002), and Siu (2003). Therefore, the paper explores how the designers’ agency, and the agency of other stakeholders are valued to enable a human-centred approach in the practice of communication design.
As stated in the introduction, the discussion here draws on the investigation undertaken in the author’s practice-led doctorate research in communication design. Various design projects were carried out with clients and other collaborating designers to explore a human-centred design approach. These explorations illuminated knowledge absent from literature and endeavoured to make the tacit knowledge explicit within the author’s practice in communication design. Furthermore, interviews were conducted with a small sample of communication design practitioners in Australia. A diversity of practitioners from various backgrounds was selected to give a broader view of the practice of communication design. The perspectives shared within the interviews have informed the author’s understanding of the interactions that occur between stakeholders when designing with people.
A characteristic that defines the practice of communication design (and may apply to other design disciplines as well) is that designers very rarely work alone, unless they are undertaking a personal project that is driven by, and is intended for themselves. However, the personal projects designers undertake, or indeed their own personal creative activities that are undertaken are not in discussion here. Rather, this paper discusses the significance of interaction with other people during the design process.
Interactions amongst people vary considerably within the practice, yet most design projects in communication design involve a number of people from specialised areas where they contribute to create and realise the design outcome. Across the practice, designers usually work with a client who commissions the work or project. The relationship between the designer and client is instrumental in enabling a human-centred approach to design. This is explored in the next section.
Relationship amongst people in projects
As stated earlier, communication design is typically characterised by the emphasis on artefacts. Critical to this is the emphasis given to the ‘form giving’ role. This has positioned the designer at the tail end of the design process in producing end outcomes. Yet, there is a genuine desire for designers to be involved at an earlier stage of the design process and to elevate their position as mutual partners or collaborators in a design project.
Poynor explains, ‘…designers have always insisted that, to function effectively, they need to question and perhaps ‘rewrite’ the client’s brief. They have argued that the client’s understanding of the communication problem may be imperfect and that this is why the client needs their help in the first place’ (Poynor, 2003, p.120). Poynor reveals the designer’s eagerness to be involved at the earliest stage of the project to ‘re-write the client’s brief’. Such discussion with the client may reveal a different perception of the ‘communication problem’ that was initially perceived by the client, resulting in a re-evaluation of the design objective. Thus, discussions with the client ensure that the overall outcome is effective for all concerned. The importance of such discussions and negotiations are explored later in the paper.
Trust is a vital factor in the relationship between the designer and client. The relationship a designer has with their client can span many years. Indeed, some clients will keep returning to the same designer again. This is partly due to the talent and professionalism of the designer. Clients also value the knowledge that designers’ accumulate of the client, the clients’ audience and nature of work. These experiences form the foundation of trust between the two stakeholders. Having the trust of a client allows the team to put forward ideas or propose future directions with confidence.
Many designers who were interviewed commented on the importance of ‘trust’ between project team members, and especially with their client. ‘I don’t think we’ve ever lost a client since it opened for 5 or 6 years. Definitely, clients stay with us. …Our clients genuinely like us and who we are, and listen to us and respect our opinions, which is fantastic’ (Interviewee A). Furthermore, other designers spoke in depth on the value of collaboration. One designer comments:
The [website I worked on] is all about people with different ideas coming together. It’s all about sharing your perspective and sharing your knowledge and that’s really rewarding. Majority of all broadcast design work have lots of level of collaboration. All projects are collaborative anyway, even with your client. You’re both collaborating to get to the end, regardless of the amount of work you’re both putting into the project, or who’s hand is sculpting, or who’s actually applying the brushstrokes. It is collaborative. (Interviewee B)
Clients can also become a ‘collaborative partner’ in the process. Rather than a physical collaboration in crafting the design artefact, the client input could be via active discussions, conversations and critique, which are a vital part of the overall design process.
Mutual respect and trust allow the diversity of people working on a project to bring together their individual skill sets. Knowledge from individual stakeholders, including the client, is equally important as each other. Allowing mutual input by team members opens the possibility of unexpected interactions to emerge. Fischer (2003) discusses such a framework of design as ‘Social Creativity’. He explains, ‘bringing together different points of view and trying to create a shared understanding among all stakeholders can lead to new insights, new ideas, and new artifacts.’ Knowledge-making can occur through interaction among people, practices and artefacts. (Spinuzzi, 2005)
Multiplicity of perspectives facilitated by a dialogic process
Discussions, conversations and critique are common activities within a design process that actively involve other stakeholders. As explained earlier in the paper, the discussion and negotiations begin as early as the briefing stage. During these dialogues, a common vocabulary and language is established to facilitate communication between all stakeholders involved. This dialogic process is crucial in establishing and strengthening working relationship between people. The discussions can revolve around any number of things. For example, any assumptions that people have are questioned; expectations and values are illuminated; ideas are shared and critiqued; issues are resolved and objectives are clarified and negotiated.
Amongst the various discussions that take place, the one that centres on the audience is most significant. Absence of a physical participation of the audience requires the client, designer and other team members to take on roles to advocate for the audience. I believe this to be a critical and significant part of the design process to ensure that the design outcome can be engaging and meaningful for the audience.
For example, personas (Cooper, 2004, Grudin and Pruitt, 2003) as a tool was revealed as an effective communication and collaborative tool. It was used in a design project conducted in the doctorate research to collectively discuss concerns surrounding the audiences. Each collaborating designer was asked to describe a persona that characterised the audience. Lengthy discussions revolved around each persona that illuminated the values of the audience we wanted to engage with. The personas triggered questions of our assumptions and we were able to discuss these concerns. The characteristic of personas thus helps to ‘bring sociopolitical issues to the surface’ (Grudin & Pruitt, 2003, p.14). Through this process, the team shared their knowledge of the audience, which facilitated our understanding. It enabled the team in being conscious of the variety of audiences’ values. More significantly, it facilitated the critique of our assumptions and approaches to the project. Thus personas became a catalyst in accelerating and facilitating a rigorous discussion that, on reflection, became a crucial stage in shaping the overall outcome for the project.
Designers who were interviewed also emphasised the importance of the multiplicity of perspectives within the design process. As the example above demonstrates, various stakeholders often take on different roles in contributing to the discussion from different perspectives. For example, in the absence of the client, other members on the design team may take on the role as the ‘client’. The work is then critiqued from the client’s perspective to ensure that the client’s values and concerns are addressed.
Such discussions and negotiations can potentially be a highly emotive experience, especially if there is discord amongst the team. Again, this was experienced during the design projects where some discussions were rigorous and confrontational. Carter (2004, p.9) explains that, ‘collaboration is always, first of all, an act of dis-memberment… the stories, ideas, locations and materials thus dismembered are put back together, but re-membered, in a way that is new.’ Carter’s use of the word ‘dis-memberment’ has a violent connotation, suggesting that a collaborative activity can be a discord resulting from a clash of ideas or opinions. It can be confrontational and challenging. Through this rigorous process, assumptions are questioned and discussed.
Collaboration is a complex social relationship amongst participants, and so the process and outcome is complex. Collaboration as a practice enhances the self-reflective practitioner because through such process, participants provide spontaneous feedback and critique to each other. In such processes one cannot avoid being self-reflective and open to feedback – in turn this speeds up the cycle with fresh perspectives offered by those within the collaborative group. Furthermore, in a collaborative process, it can also spur and facilitate a generative activity that can spontaneously inspire creativity and new direction, as mentioned by Fischer early on in this section.
It is interesting how Carter explains the notion of ‘re-membered’ as a way to retain the original memory of the individual of a group. This suggests that by collaborating, participants are not blending or homogenising into an indistinguishable blob. The whole is a sum of the parts where each part participates as an individual. In this way, the interaction that occurs between individuals retain each of their own identity and values, yet share, be inspired by, self-reflect and be confronted by each others’ values and opinions. Through such rigorous and complex dialogic process amongst the team, the design process is driven to create engaging and meaningful outcomes for all concerned.
Designers’ agency and the human perspective
The audience of the intended design outcome will change depending on context and client. For each specific project, the designer accumulates knowledge of the clients’ audience through multiple iterations and receiving feedback of how their designs have engaged the audience. This is evidenced in the interviews. Many designers have explained that they generally receive feedback from their client of the design jobs undertaken. One designer comments, ‘the only level of feedback you get is from the client, and they let you know whether it’s been successful or not for these reasons’ (Interviewee C).
The designer accumulates awareness and knowledge of the client and their audience through continued experience of working with the client. Continued experience of designing for and with other people provides a way of knowing. Thus, a designer’s skill and knowledge centres on people through designing. As Downton (2003, p.92) explains,
Designers know about designing and this knowing is enriched and positioned by their knowledge of prior design works, the past and present discourse of design, and also through a knowledge of related ideas that can be made to pertain to their designing.
Designers from the interviews also revealed that they observe and experience how design engages people by reading, talking, listening to other people and it is an accumulated knowledge from past designing experiences.
For a lot of what we do, it’s about seeing ourselves as part of the audience. (Some designers) see duality between clients, designers and audiences where there is a divide. I don’t think it’s that simple. We’re part of that same community that we’re talking to, we don’t go out into the community with lab coats and microscopes and taking notes like science. We’re part of it everyday. We live it. Of course there are specific audiences who are outside of our experiences, but it helps to just understand that we’re part of what our visual messages adds up to. In terms of researching specific audience needs, it’s about reading, talking to people. (Interviewee C)
Similarly, as explained earlier in the paper, other members on the team may bring their knowledge and experiences through a dialogic process. Fulton-Suri (2005, p.175) explains how people harness tacit knowledge through observation of others.
Each of us possesses unique knowledge that we use in creative ways to achieve our personal and social goals. This intuitive expertise is a very important resource for design because it represents know-how that has been built and honed often through years of experience …we can work together to uncover the opportunities for improvement. Thus, these various accounts suggest that designing is a manifestation of the world, according to how people experience the lived world. The same applies to designers who understand the world from within, as people. I argue that the characteristic knowledge that designer-as-human have is significant and essential. This approach has significance on two levels. Firstly, it differs from an approach where the designers views and manifests the world as it revolves around themselves. The interviews contradict a common perception of designers who ‘are often seen to construct solutions and thereby design for people essentially like themselves’ (Crabtree et al., 2003, p.1). Designers have often suffered such egocentric stereotype, and some may say this is a well-earnt reputation. Poynor (2001, p.66) critiques a designer’s obsession with self by stating, ’the old fashioned egotism required to believe you have something to say than an audience might want to hear is superseded by the narcissism of thinking you deserve an audience simply because you are you.’
Poynor’s criticism may rightfully apply to some designers whose work has been influenced by celebrity designers. I do not wish to condone their work and nor do I believe that the designer’s personal, creative expression produces ‘bad’, disengaging design outcomes. However, I believe the egocentric stereotype had given a negative perception to all designers. This can undermine the value and knowledge brought by designers of their understanding of the world from within, as people.
Secondly, designers’ knowledge is built on the notion that individuals have identities, histories and emotions. Such notion challenges the baggage still carried from Modernism’s worst moments when it embraced formal, objective and scientific approaches. This approach has been problematic for design as it resulted in a disconnection between design and people in society. Dilnot (1993, p.62) critiques this formal practice where it has ‘disembodied and disembedded’ the subject and was too easily rationalised and reduced to an ergonomic criteria. He argues, ‘The model of the subject developed here is far more congruent with a designer’s instinctive understanding of the actualities of the subjects he or she designs for than the older model of the “abstract generalised other.”’
In the same article, Dilnot further equates the concept of ‘gift giving’ in relation to how designers make/design for users. ‘The giver – in this case the designer-maker – knows, and has understood, recognised, affirmed, and sought to concretely meet our most intimate and human needs and desires.’ In this ‘gift giving’ paradigm, there is a deeper level of consideration, care and attention given when designing. There is also the anticipated joy when it is received and appreciated. Designing could thus be argued as a personal human-to-human relationship, residing in empathy. The designers’ empathetic practice is echoed by Tonkinwise and Lorber-Kasunic (2006). They state, ‘It is an embodied practice precisely in an interpersonal sense… an interpersonal embodiment, grounded in a shared body experience.’
In this way, the designer manifests their experience as people to create artefacts for other people. The knowledge designers have of people is ‘situated in action’ (Suchman, 1987) rather than a static, detached, objective understanding. It is not framed by a “passive, ‘fly on the wall’ spectators of a scene” (Heritage, 1984, p.104). The designer’s world-view, their interactions and exchanges with other people reflexively inform and contribute to their understanding of design.
Proposition for the practice of communication design
This paper explored how human-centred approaches can manifest within the practice of communication design. It has contributed to the discussion on the inclusiveness of design process by illuminating how the designers’ human agency, and the agency of other stakeholders are valued in the practice. It has highlighted that designing is a dialogic process, based on interactions between people in creating engaging and meaningful outcomes for all concerned. Multiplicity of perspectives was enabled through stakeholders taking on ‘roles’ to be inclusive to other people’s viewpoints. Furthermore, the paper has argued that the designer’s skill and knowledge centres around people through designing, based on personal human-to-human relationship. The paper has argued how designers manifest their ‘humanness’ in the design process with others who they work with, in creating design artefacts.
Yet, the ‘semantic turn’ addressed by Krippendorff has not begun within the discourse of communication design. I believe that acknowledging and embracing the human-centred approach would lead to significant shifts within the practice. Firstly, the current emphasis and limited role of designers as ‘producers’ at the tail end of a design project would begin to shift. A human-centred approach to designing can broaden the designers’ role to co-create human-to-human engagement with other stakeholders. Secondly, I believe this broadening role will bring different opportunities to explore how designers can be facilitators of interaction and communication between people. A new discourse will emerge from actively exploring tools, methods and concepts within the discipline, and embracing knowledge and learning from other disciplines.
Clearly, there is more to be discussed and explored if the human-centred approach became the core paradigm for communication design. Liz Sanders (2002) presents discussions around an emerging model of a ‘New Design Space’. She speculates of a design space where, ‘Collectively, they will generate many new ways of expression, experiencing and meaning-making.’ Thus, the proposition of a human-centred framework in communication design raises many questions for us to explore. What would communication designers design; how and with who in this new paradigm? What new discourses will emerge from these explorations?
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