Bonnie Doon 1st – 4th July
The journey to Bonnie Doon was both mental, physical as well as a spiritual experience for me.To be surrounded by an environment rich with unfamiliar smells, sounds and sights helped trigger different thoughts in my head. It enabled me to be more reflective and contemplative in responding to the thoughts that Laurene had asked us to think about, which was Design, Research and Practice.
We went for a stroll down to the creek that ran near the property. Rain had fallen the night before. Raindrops were sparkling amongst the leaves scattering the mid-morning sun. Colours of greens, browns, reds, was at an intense vibrancy. The air was cold, clean and crisp. The process of walking, looking, breathing, listening, and my passion for nature and the joy of being immersed in it, was heightening my senses to the surrounding. Unwinding me and relaxing me from the daily stresses of work and study in a city.
During the walk, I began collecting interesting things…
Curly shaped leaves.
Odd shaped leaves.
Twigs with nuts and buds.
A pine cone with amazing texture.
Moss that looked like fabric.
Whilst scavenging around and amassing a collection of natural wonderments, I was also opening up to the intervention by the surrounding environment. I felt myself relax more. Walk slower. Let my mind wander. This led me to think about my intervention on the environment. The footprints I leave. The twigs that I take. Leaves I was collecting… and as I reflected, I wrote my thoughts on the leaves. It was a literal response of my intervention on the environment. A personal dialogue with the surroundings.
Engaging with this activity of writing helped me gather dispersed abstract thoughts into a more focused one. I likened the leaves to a sketchbook where I could jot down thoughts as it came to my head. A stream of consciousness. But rather than writing in my sketchbook which is my usual activity, I felt it important that I wrote on leaves, as a mark / symbol of my presence in the woods that faded with time. I left these leaves hanging off a branch, and I liked their inconspicuous nature. I liked how it blended in with its environment, and you wouldn’t know it was there until it was pointed out.
This activity revealed a great deal about my idea of design and design methodology. Though these revelations weren’t ‘new’ concepts as such, I gained a hightened awareness of my concept of design and methodology from this experience. I reflected on how I liked my piece blending in with the environment. This is because I place more value on experience and engagement of design, rather than the value placed on designed artefact alone. The writing on the leaves made it look and feel more ‘personal’, inviting others to peer closely at it to read the writings. When reflecting on my piece in the woods, I saw the leaves as ‘triggers’ and ‘residue’ of dialogue that I had in my head. The leaves (artefact) play an important role in enabling engagement, or retaining a residue of an engagement, but its the engagement which I place importance on in design. All these concepts are strong themes within my research.
On the second day, the themes within my research began to emerge more clearly. Instead of choosing a site/location to intervene with in the environment, I was content in being just where we were standing when my turn came to present my piece. So instead of relocating, I gave everyone a leaf that I wrote on with new thoughts since the day before. I wanted to share them with the group, as a trigger for dialogue or a residue of my thoughts. From this engagement, I had interesting responses.
Mike asked, “xxx”.
Keith commented, “xxx”. Keith’s comments echoed a question I asked myself earlier. If I valued the conversation and engagement by others, did it matter what I wrote on the leaves? Why didn’t I ask everyone else to write a question on the leaves themselves?
These questions relate to a comment on ‘agency’ that came up in the last GRC. ‘Agency’ means; ‘the means or mode of acting, or instrumentality’. Since then, I begun exploring the concept of the ‘agency’ and the designers agency, in creating engagement with others. I think I had a tendency to ignore or overlook my agency within a design project, by putting too much emphasis on what others did. So, when applying this to the ‘leaves’ I shared with others, it was driven by my intentions, but still allowing the input by others. The dialogue triggered by the leaves had an open-ended engagement, but the content of our discussion were closely related to my research interests.
The conversation triggered by the leaves echoed a concern I had within my research. I have often struggled with the paradox between somewhat opposite poles of being self-centred and submissive / neutral designer. However, I have come to realise that the two positions are not mutually exclusive and my research explores the position of being somewhere in between. This position in between acknolwedges the active role and agency a designer has in the process, as well as allowing input and engagement by others.
After two days filled with insightful and diverse conversations and discussions on design, research and practice, we were looking forward to going home to a hot shower and a good warm night’s sleep. Personal hygiene was something we rather not share with others! The trip to ‘Donnie Boon’ began with silly-ness and laughter and it continued throughout the four days, mainly during meal times.
There were many moments to highlight – Nurul made us an amazing soup with yogurt, vegemite and eggs at 2am in the morining. Neal put on an entertainment with shadow puppets. Laurene opened up a cafe serving poached eggs and porridge for breakfast. Mike became the woodsman and whittled himself a pipe. Tania and Keith shared their passion and knowledge on chickpeas. Lizzy’s question “What’s the purpose?” became our catchphrase during the trip.
We are a diverse group of individuals that came together for a shared passion for research through design. I often take these friends for granted, but this trip had reminded me of how fortunate I am. It is an invaluable community of practice where each contributes their own perspectives, criticality of thinking and richness of knowledge.
A comment on dualism and multiplicity of perspectives
Following from the post, comment and reply from the entry, ethnomethodology, I rang up Keith for a chat and coffee.
From there we had an interesting discussion on how the role of ‘client’ can often imply a negative connotation of a formal, service-demand relationship. This ’stereotypical’ impression of the client may stem from actual accumulated past experiences. In this scenario, ‘clients’ would often come with pre-conceived ideas of what they want, and see the role of designers as the ‘production’ person. However, we were exchanging our own experiences of working with clients who doesn’t fit that stereotype, and in fact, they were open-minded people who were happy to be engaged in discussions. This led me to consider whether it was ‘perspectives’ that were more important, rather than labels…
Then, I was wondering whether by using labels such as ‘clients’, ‘designer’ and ‘audience’, I was perpetuating the dualism that obstruct a collaborative practice. The ‘labels’ or definitions now seem like a red herring. It may have been a useful framework to begin the discussion (or in my case, research) with, but its function is now in question.
I believe that people take on multiple ‘perspectives’ during a design process. In shorthand, these perspectives can be called ‘clients’ or ‘designers’ or ‘audiences’, but I now consider this as rather reductive. I believe it is reductive because it implies an embedded meaning, which may rest on pre-conceived notions of who they are. Borrowing Suchman’s idea of situated actions, she states that people’s actions are influenced by the context of their specific situation. ‘Every course of action is highly dependent upon its material and social circumstances focusing on moment-by-moment interactions between actors, and between actors and the environments of their action’ (Cooper, 2003). In other words, there is no typical ‘role’. Those engaged in a design process put forward their own and other people’s perspectives that is in relation and responsive to others who are also on the team.
This led me to consider how a collaborative practice involves multiplicity of perspectives and viewpoints of people, rather than ‘clients’, ‘designers’ and ‘audiences’.
However, if I begin saying, ‘everyone’, then it becomes too broad where it loses meaning. I think there is rhetorical value to foster discourse when defining roles, rather than a segregation of roles. . When looking into the issue of the different roles, one needs to acknowledge how and why they differ. The main disparity between the roles of client, designer and audience from this perspective is hence not that client can be a designer, audience can be a client, or designer can be audience. But rather, the three roles represent, or is a shorthand for different identities, interests and agendas. At this deeper level, we find that embodied within these different roles, there appear to be incommensurable basic starting points and beliefs. In the following sections, we will look at some of these.
Then we got on to talk about why graphic designers are given such a low status, and we related it to the ephemerality of the work we produce. Keith raised interesting points about how the nature of designers are ‘to challenge’ the existing. This relates to the ‘provocteur’ and ‘what if’ scenarios. This notion of a ‘challenge’ calls into question the status quo and may provoke and ciritique the actions and understandings of other people. If designers by their nature ‘rock the boat’, this requires major consideration by the designer in ‘danger management’.
The ‘black box’ of design processes
I have often observed design processes visualised as a problem solving, linear flow chart (any refs here? The triangulation CSCW is one example I’ve found). The diagram communicates an efficient flow of set tasks and indicates the general activity at each stage. This understanding enables the designer to invoice clients and agree on timelines. The arrows indicate the main direction to a specified end outcome.
Suchman (1995, p.61) argues, ‘The problem is not that normative accounts are incomplete, or that actual practice fails to realise them, but that by definition normative accounts represent idealisations or typifications.’
Reading Jean Baudrillard, ‘The system of objects’ (2005)
This book, first published in 1968 discusses the human relationship to objects. He goes through, quite categorically, objects and concepts such as ‘chair’ and ‘interior design’ through to ‘colour’ and ‘atmosphere’. Though written so long ago, it is very relevant still to contemporary society. However, his critique of ‘advertising’ is nothing new – the discourse on branding and ‘personification of objects’ is a concept we are all familiar with.
The part which I thought was interesting, and may have potential for inclusion into my PhD is, his critique of ‘functionality’. I considered its inclusion due to a reaction towards the over-emphasis on ‘function’ in the discourse in user-centred design. If we align ourselves with Baudrillard’s critique of objects, humans do not have a ‘neutrality’ of association with objects which surround us. To quote:
“It will be clear from the foregoing discussion of the values of interior design and atmosphere that the entire system is founded on the concept of functionality. Colours, forms, materials, design, space – all are functional. Every object claims to be functional, just as every regime claims to be democratic. The term evokes all the virtues of modernity, yet it is perfectly ambiguous. With its reference to ‘function’ it suggests that the objects fulfils itself in the precision of its relationship to the real world and to human needs. But as our analysis has shown, ‘functional’ in no way qualifies what is adapted to a goal, merely what is adapted to an order or system: functionality is the ability to become integrated into an overall scheme. An object’s functionality is the very thing that enables it to transcend its main ‘function’ in the direction of a secondary one, to play a part, to become a combining element, and adjustable item, within a universal system of signs.” (p.67)
Concepts such as ‘universal value of signs’ and ‘the order of nature’ are highly questionable.
The Methodology of Participatory Design
Clay Spinuzzi, 2005
Expand stuff on how participatory design is research.
The approach is just as much about design – producing artifacts, systems, work organisations, and practical or tacit knowledge – as it is about research. In this methodology, design is research. These methods are always used iteratively to construct the emerging design. blah blah.
Read this para more, and formulate how the concepts translates into the process of designing.
‘What distinguishes PD from related approaches such as UCD is that the latter supposes only that the research and design work is done on behalf of the users; in PD, this work must be done with users. (P.165) Again, this is echoed in Fischer’s article on ‘Meta Design’.
The more I re-read over PD literature, the more it begins to make sense. Rather than its methodology, I am ‘in’ with its concept. Check this out.
‘Participatory design’s object of study is the tacit knowledge developed and used by those who work with technologies… Tacit knowledge, which is typically difficult to formalise and describe, has tended to be ignored by the thoery of cognition that has tended to dominate HCI.
In practice, this theory tends to lead to a rationalist approach to design, which generally assumes that there is one best way to perform any activity.m
Exploring both user-centred design and participatory design approaches has illuminated significant value systems within my design practice. I believe my design practice is a manifestation of my personal value system. The core value system within my practice revolves around the quality of consideration given to people. This was a clear understanding I had from the start of my research. I discussed my concerns and impetus for my research that relates to design’s role in society in the chapter, ‘xxx’. However, by engaging with user-centred design, participatory design and other ‘people’ centred discourses and manifesting the theories in practice, it had clarified and consolidated my value system even further.
Traditionally, there is constant struggle between the designer and client in the discourse in communication design. Furthermore, often the voices of audiences are absent or ignored in the literature. This is further explored in page xx in this chapter. On the other hand, user-centred design and participatory design advocates the users or audiences to a level that subsumes other stakeholders. This is discussed more in page xx. Both paradigm elevates either the designer, client or the user, but not all three. However, I have discovered that I take great importance in considering all stakeholders as equal partners in the process. In order to do this, I believe the value systems of all stakeholders must be made transparent, understood and respected. Conflict arises when these value systems are not made clear, or it is in discord.
In communication design where participation of the audiences remains a theoretical model, I believe it is the client, designer and other team members’ responsibility to respect the value systems of the audience. This means, at times, discussions amongst the team will arise that addresses the concerns of the audience. These discussions had emerged a number of times during the interview with communication design practitioners. Some said, “xxxx’. Others, “xxx”. I have discovered through the interviews that despite the audience not physically present, the designers I spoke to frequently advocate on their behalf. Some even positioned themselves next to the audience (Jen picture).
The discovery through the interviews were significant in many ways. It had illuminated a practice that contradicts a common perception of designers who ‘are often seen to construct solutions and thereby design for people essentially like themselves’ (Crabtree et al, ??). Designers have often suffered the stereotype of the ego-centric, and some may say this is a well-earnt reputation. In Poynor’s (p.66) book, Obey the Giant, he critiques some designer’s obsession with self. He explains,’ …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.’ I believe that Poynor’s criticism may rightfully apply to some celebrity designers. However, I don’t agree with painting all designers with the same brush (as I don’t think I’m one of those who he describes either!). One of the arguments I wish to make through my research is to place value on the role of the designer, and what they do that can resonate and create meaningful engagements for people.
why is it important to have a collaborative practice?
A characteristic that define the practice of communication design (and perhaps may apply to other design disciplines as well) is that designers very rarely work alone, unless they are undertaking a personal project. The diversity of people they work with enriches and gives breadth to the practice but it is difficult to be specific about a designer’s role. A designer who works in publishing has a very different role and people they work with, compared to an art director in an advertising agency. A mac operator or a finished artist require different set of skill and knowledge, as opposed to a web designer. Yet they are all practitioners in communication design.
From this observation, I have framed the practice of communication design around people. By situating the research from a people’s perspective, I acknowledge the diversity of roles, context, skill set and knowledge that vary within the practice. However, what I am focusing on is to illuminate tacit knowledge designers have of how they work with people, and to further extend this in a collaborative practice.
A collaborative practice allows the diversity of people working on a project to bring together their individual skill sets. In a collaborative practice, knowledge from the individual stakeholders are equally important as each other. Not only are the individual skills and knowledge important, it is open to the possibility of unexpected interactions and emergence. Fischer (From his Meta Design paper, 2003) discusses this framework of design as ‘Social Creativity’. He explains that ‘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.’
In the coming chapters, I will explore what facilitates the design of a collaborative practice. By framing it as something that can be designed, I am putting forward the idea that a collaborative practice is not a given or a condition that comes naturally. (put in some ref here from psychology on relationship etc). However, to have a perspective or an intention to design a collaborative practice, it has made me become more reflective in my practice (Schön, 1983) and has hightened my awareness of my self in relation to others.