Further thoughts on participation
Leading from what Neal and I discussed during the writing of Fashion City for AGDA, a future paper that revolves around the idea of ‘participation’ had emerged. What is participation? We discussed Sander’s paper where she uses the analogy of cooking as a way of enabling creativity. On one end of the scale, there is a recipe to be followed that guarantees an effective outcome. In the middle, the recipe becomes tweaked and modified, and on the other end of the scale, it is recipe-less. Neal comments that on that end of the scale, the public would need to invest a great deal into it, therefore it is much harder. I questioned what the role of the designer is on that end of the scale, and perhaps the effort for the designer would be equally as hard. But how is this evaluated? When does this occur, when should it occur, and is this a ‘better’ model for design?
Then we discussed whether which end of the scale would enable participation, and which would be better? Neal sited Sanders when he argued that much of design is the ‘recipe’ model of telling the audience what to do. It was a form of designing that is closed and is a one-way monologue. The other end of the scale where it is more open-ended might appear to be a ‘better’ form of participation, but then we started questioning why?
I think there is a role for such models to exist in the world, and I would argue that art performs that role in society. Then Neal began stating how art and design is different, and he felt it was legitimate for someone like Sander’s to begin opening it up for designers to explore it. I think this is the value that Sanders brings, her work could be argued as things that artists do, but she frames it in a design discourse and thus forces designers to question what they do in relation to it.
During our discussion, we started then going deeper into why participation could be seen as important, and whether people participated in things anyway, irrespective of whether it was intended or not. We discussed the teapot in front of us, just a generic one made in China. The designer who designed this had embedded their cultural, social and economic values and heritage into the creation of this teapot, but how I create meaning from it is in its use. The way the colour had faded, the chips and kinks of it, the way the lid doesn’t quite sit properly etc, are all quirks that were not intended to be there, yet they are all features that make this teapot a teapot that is mine and familiar. I don’t like this teapot much, I use it because its the studio’s but if it had been given to me as a present, or I had actively purchased it, its value for me would be much higher. These values aren’t necessarily what the designer had given it.
This is the critique for ‘ambiguous’ and ‘open-ended’ designs. They claim how it can facilitate more meaning to be embedded into the object due to the ambiguity of the reference (ie maybe its not quite a teapot) and so it can allow the user to have different use/association with it. Even though this is acknowledged as being a different kind of association, and it may entice a creative engagement with its use, but is it better? Would it create more value for the user?
Here we talked about Luke and his anti-user stance. I’ve always listened to Luke because of his insistence that ‘trying hard to make it more appealing is off-putting’ kind of position had been provocative and it enabled me to question my position. Even though I think he contradicts himself or is in denial that he is subconsicously doing this anyway with his work. His position seems antithetical to Neal or I, but perhaps it is much closer than on first appearance.
I had read somewhere that the audience always participates – ie there is no such thing as a non-participating audience. A reception or interaction with anything require some form of participation, whether it is ignored or actively consumed. The telling-monologue model is still in this category So is the question what kind of participation is more appropriate/effective? Or, perhaps it is up to us all (designers + non-designers) to explore the whole spectrum of what could be possible?
Genevieve Bell on values
Its interesting how anthropologists (Like Margot Berreton) are always the ones who flags up the concerns with how values can be embedded in the process and outcome of design, and the impact this may have on people and our world. On reading this post in the New York Times website, (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/06/technology/circuits/06cult.html?ei=5007&en=2fbed84d2b46d2c6&ex=1399176000&pagewanted=all&position=), Genevieve Bell from Intel explains how their vision of ubiquitous technology is ’so secular, so profoundly embedded in a set of Western discourses, that we’ve created a vision of the world that shuts out a percentage of people in a way we can’t really even begin to articulate. (para. 9). In so doing, she challenges Intel to see its misconception about the potential users of its products elsewhere in the world.
She describes how values of humility and simplicity might make technology less welcome in some Hindu homes in India, or Muslim homes in Malaysia or Indonesia. ‘If part of the value of the home is this space of purity that’s protected from the pollutedness of the world, a place where you express values like simplicity, humility, modesty, grace … that becomes a barrier to adopting some technologies’ (para. 6).
My head-space at the moment is still trying to understand what ‘values’ are – or perhaps, try and better articulate it. When I read values such as ‘humility’ or ’simplicity’ on their own, they mean nothing. They are hollow, abstract concepts that I cannot associate with, try and embrace, or even adopt. But when it is described in the way Genevieve has stated above and given reasons to why they are important ‘to protect from the pollutedness of the world’, I can share that perspective, begin to understand how important that is, to respect it and therefore to make sure that is a concern that I address in any potential designs…
Fmmm, is this going somewhere…?
On reading Deontology
‘Deontology is a major approach to normative ethical theory that holds that whether an agent’s action is right or wrong depends not just on consequences, but also on other “agent-relative” features of an individual’s situation – their relations to others, to past actions, and so on.’
When reading this on the back of the cover of Deontology (Darwall 2003), I thought this book might shed light on ‘values’ more. In a chapter by Thomas Hagel ‘Agent-Relativity and Deontology’, he distinguishes between agent-relative and agent-neutral values. I’m still not sure how to describe the differences between them… this understanding may come later.
Reading further, I begin to get a sense of what he discusses as ‘impersonal values’ – ie, values that matter to me personally, but those that aren’t as valued or important to others. He uses an example of the desire to become a pianist. Then he has good and strong motivation and reason to practice, but other people have little or no reason to care if he practiced or not. However, if he had a headache and he wanted it to go away, anyone has a reason to want it to stop. Thus there is difference between how those values are shared.
‘Most of the things we pursue, if not most of the things we avoid, are optional. Their value to us depends on our individual aims, projects, and concerns, including particular concerns for other people that reflect our relations with them; they acquire value only because of the interest we develop in them and the place this gives them in our lives, rather than evoking interest because of their value. When we look at such desires objectively, from outside, we can acknowledge the validity of the reasons they give for action without judging that there is a neutral reason for any of those things to be done. That is because when we move to the objective standpoint, we leave behind the perspective from which the values have to be accepted.’ (p. 94)
The above paragraph points to how values are associated with us individually, but further more, how we appreciate eachother’s values, is determined by our relationship to eachother. Value is only to the subject, valid only from within our own lives. Our values are not impersonally detachable, because it is too bound up with the idiosyncratic attitudes and aims of the subject, and can’t be subsumed under a more universal value or comparable importance, like that of pleasure and pain.
So, somewhere in my exegesis, I need to make the personal values and universal values more distinct from one another. Even distinct still is the word ‘values’ used in branding and identity building ‘The values of our business is to put people first’ etc. – its as if they ought not to be called ‘values’ – they sound more like ‘characteristics’ or ‘objectives’.