It’s a month or so away from the final deadline of a PhD submission. Honestly, I didn’t think I could make it this far… the last GRC presentation had shook my confidence and placed severe doubts of what I was arguing for.
… but as my good friend Katsu said, a PhD isn’t about how clever you are, or how original your thinking is. It is about sheer determination. I now know what that means.
The last few months has been a effort to discipline myself to write. Write, write and write some more. As a result, I think the gibberish has begun getting clearer. The problem before was I was trying to write the ‘IT’, when I didn’t know what ‘IT’ was. So, instead, I just wrote. I just tried to ’say it’ first. I just played around with the concept, to see how it looked. In a uncanny way, its very similar to designing. The process just begins with a bit of this and a bit of that. Before you know it, gems start to glimmer in certain words and sentences. They get expanded into paragraphs, then into more paragraphs. It becomes clearer the more you continue this process.
I still have a long way to go, but I think I have my argument now. I think I know what it is, whether I know how to say it is another matter though. Here are my thoughts on it so far…
My research concerns the role of the designer’s agency, framed by human-centred design. My argument puts forward a case for the importance of a designer’s agency and the contribution of the designer within communication design projects. I perceive communication design as a human-centred design practice, rather than an artefact driven practice. In my critique of artefacts, I do not undermine the importance of a well considered designed outcome. I celebrate the aesthetics of an artefact. However, in this discussion, I reconsider the nature of how it comes to be. I re-examine how artefacts are created, what role it plays and the meaning is has for people. How can we think about what makes it ’shiny’?
On reading ‘Building trust in business, politics, relationships, and life by Robert C Solomon & Fernando Flores 2001, there are several interesting concepts that are being argued.
“To trust is to take on the personal responsibility of making a commitment and choosing a course of action, and with it, one kind of relationship or another. Trust entails a lack of control, but it means entering into a relationship in which control is no longer the issue. There is no need to broach the subject of trust with people or things we can utterly control.” (p.45)
… So is my research argument about ‘how to build trust’?…
I think that could be further research but not what I have argued in my exegesis. I think what I’ve done is to acknowledge the importance of trust between the people one works with in design projects. The agency in which I talk about is greatly affected by the trust that each participant has.
“Building trust requires talking and thinking about trust. If we get stuck on the idea that all trust should be like basic trust, primal, unthinking, devoid of doubt, then we will never get to authentic trust. If we get caught in the paradigm of trust as familiarity (marriage, friendship, a long-standing partnership), we will never envision a paradigm that includes building trust among strangers. But talking and thinking about trust, whether within intimate relationships, within a corporation, or between strangers in a global transaction, is not enough. Building trust begins with an appreciation and understanding of trust, but it also requires practice and practices.” (p.47)
From what Solomon and Flores discuss, the importance of trust is not unique to design practice – and infact its common to all human relationships and in any other practice or discipline. I believe I am de-mystifying the ‘design process’ by bringing the ‘human-ness’ into it and almost stating the obvious by arguing that a designer’s practice is built on the human relationships that occur within them. Trust in this context can faciliate the interactions that occur in projects/practice but I believe it also enables all stakeholders to peform at the best of their abilities. By trusting each other, one can take leaps into the unknown. By trusting how the audience might engage with the designed outcome, I think a designer can begin to open to the unexpected responses and interactions.
“Building trust means thinking about trust in a positive way. If trust is considered only in terms of risks and vulnerabilities, no incentive is provided. True, trust necessarily carries with it uncertainties, but we must force ourselves to think about these uncertainties as possibilities and opportunities, not as liabilities. This means trusting trust, which means in turn trusting ourselves.” (p.50)
“Trust opens up new and unimagined possibilities. Trust is not bound up with knowledge so much as it is with freedom, the openness to the unknown. This means moving beyond the realm of Knowing What We Do Not Know to the richer realm and exciting opportunities of leaning What We Do Not Even Know What We Do Not Know. This is not a realm that most of us can enter alone. We can arrive there only with and through other people. And for that, we have to trust them.” (p.50)
“We also tend to mecahnize trust. In other words, we confuse it with reliance and dependability, the virtues of a good machine. But trust is not a matter of predictability and expectations. It necessarily involves interactions and relationships (no matter how abbreviated). It is a function of our active commitments, which in turn assume the mode of reciprocity. Trust involves doing, not just believing; reciprocal action, not passive reliance and prediction. Trust is a mode of interpersonal engagement, not mere calculation.” (p.56)
To practice human-centred design, perhaps its not just a ‘mechanical’ procedure of diplomatically involving everyone in the process and respecting their values. That to me just sounds like following a manual. I think, to be corny for a minute, one needs to be more ‘human’ than that – and I mean that you need to be trusting, empathetic and empowered person. I think that’s where I’ve got to through this research, that I now know that human-centred design isn’t a cold, detached rationalised argument that is embedded with ideology, but a emotive, compassionate, humane thing… its touchy-feely… and I think it needs to be to be real and genuine.
“All form of trust involve relationships and interaction with other people, but in authentic trust it is the relationship itself that is the focus of attention.” (p.92)
“Because Authentic trust is an emotional skill, a set of practices involving our moods, it is necessary to be able to trust our own impulses, moods, and emotions and to be able to trust our own self-control.” (p.125)
“Life at the turn of the millennium is not uncomfortable, but it certainly is not secure in any sense that our ancestors (or even perhaps our grandparents) would have recognised. Now, new worlds are opening up before us all the time, because of new technology, because of the new “multicultural” sensibility, because of the global economy. These new worlds are not unfamiliar, but what is familiar is always changing rapidly.” (p.146)
Design Plus People: An Approach to Interaction Design Projects
This was presented at Design Principles and Practices conference, London 2007 and it is also published in Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Vol 1, No. 4.
When citing this paper, please use:
Vaughan, L, Viller, S, Simpson, MR, Akama, Y, Yuille, J & Cooper, R 2007, ‘Design plus People’, Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, vol. 1, no. 4, pp. 131-138.
It can be downloaded from here (fees apply):
This work proposes a hypothetical model based on a shared understanding of design and ethnography that draws on the agency of both disciplines. In particular we explore how ethnography and design can become equal partners in an interaction design context. All too often one side or the other dominates this discussion. When the design view dominates, the ethnography is about providing empirical data to inform the design process. In this context, there is a risk that ethnographic fieldwork is seen simply as an empirically based service to derive data for the designers to work with. However, when ethnography dominates the project focuses on building theory, rather than meeting the brief. In this context, design is viewed as being about aesthetics and layout, and ignores the tools, methods and experiences that designers have in their repertoire to understand the people in context. This down-plays the analytic qualities that ethnography can offer in contributing to knowledge and theory. Thus the paper draws on the research undertaken within an interdisciplinary project involving designers, ethnographers, and technologists concerned with understanding how human-centred design takes place with considerations of how to enact this in the future.
Design, Ethnography, Interaction Design, People, Communication
Reading a collection of essays on design research (Heller, 2006), I flagged a page where one author was discussing student-centred learning. Though her article was not particularly illuminating, what she said about ‘enabling the students to find and articulate their voice as citizens’ triggered certain thoughts. And here they are.
I think I need to begin to clarify what I mean by designer’s agency. I know I keep returning to this, but the questioning so far seems almost ‘generic’. Am I afraid of my own definitions, or do I regard ‘generalisable’ concepts to be more important?
Just for now, if I considered that my own perspective and definitions to be as valid, what is MY agency in a design project? It’s not about how good my skills in layout are, or how I kern my type. Rather, I think my agency is in how I voice my views, values and perspectives through the design projects. I feel a sense of connection to society thorough the people and design projects I am involved in. So, when I’m relegated a ‘layout role’ at the end of a design project, I feel less connected to people, because I’m limited in how I can engage, interact and communicate with them.
But could you call that, agency?