Revolution Lullabye

January 16, 2009

Schuler and Namioka, Participatory Design

Schuler, Douglas and Aki Namioka. Participatory Design: Principles and Practices. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1993.

Participatory design, as opposed to expert and speciality-driven design, asks the eventual users of a product or system to assist in the design and development with it. This collection, which arose out of the 1990 Seattle Participatory Design conference (sponsored by the national nonprofit organization, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility), focuses primarily on software and system design, but the prinicples of participatory design can be applied across disciplines. Advocates for participatory design argue that it is a more democratic design process and results in higher quality products because more people are participating in the design, especially those who know the intimate context of how it will be used (the workers and users.) Drawbacks of participatory design are mainly logistical: it requires much more time to involve several people in the design process (not all are specialists or professionals, so they don’t even share the same language to talk about the design), it is sometimes difficult to locate appropriate users and find adequate motivation to get them to participate in the process, and it is difficult to keep track of (and continue to motivate) participants to assess the performance of the product or process as it is being used in the workplace. Participatory design theory developed first in Scandinavia and works well with the demographics of their workforce: highly educated, highly unionized, and ethnically and racially homogenous. When participatory design is used in the United States and other European countries, however, researchers and designers need to understand that the demographics of their particular workforces will impact the effectiveness of participatory design (what the participants will expect, what will motivate them.)

Quotable Quotes

“Leaving out the users isn’t just undemocratic – it has serious consequences for worker health, human rights, job satisfaction, and also for the work process and the bottom line” (4) Ellen Bravo “The Hazards of Leaving Out the Users”

“User involvment and iteration are generally acknowledged to be more critical to success in software design than adherence to conventional design paradigms” (xii).

“Participation Design (PD) represents a new approach towards computer systems design in which the people destined to use the system play a critical role in designing it.” (xi)

“Practice as the social construction of reality is a strong candidate for replacing the picture theory of reality. In short, practice is our everyday practical activity. It is the human form of life. It precedes subject-object relations. Through practice, we produce the world, both the world of objects and our knowledge about this world. Practice is both action and reflection. But practice is also a social activity; it is produced in cooperation with others. To share practice is also to share an understanding of the world with others. However, this production of the world and our understanding of it takes place in an already existing world. The world is also the product of former practice. Hence, as a part of practice, knowledge has to be understood socially – as producing or reproducing social processes and structures as well as being the product of them” (63) Pelle Ehn, “Scandinavian Design: On Participation and Skill”

“Central and abiding concern for direct and continuous interaction with those who are the ultimate arbiters of system adequacy; namely, those who will use the technology in their everyday lives and work” (vii)

Notable Notes

secretaries and computers, eyestrain

Expertise is valued as a resource, not an unchallenged authority (xii)

unions and participatory design

participatory design doesn’t mean workplace democracy, but it does mean a bigger chance of participating in decision making.

making products and systems integral to the workplace, not just dumped into it by people who don’t work there and understand the context

using ethnographic field methods to describe and understand before beginning the design process

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