In theory class, we’ve been reading about the role of a designer as opposed to their participants in design. A participant can be defined as a target audience or a person who the designer has in mind when creating something (a system, a product, a service, a visual). I’m keeping the definition of “participant” intentionally vague, because there is a lot of debate within these readings on what the role of the participant and the designer is in the design process.
Some authors say that the participants are only the recipients of design, while others argue that the meaning of a participant is to actively participate in design. From my point of view, all of these are valid arguments depending on the situation. Sometimes designers should be designing for participants and other times the participation of a participant is absolutely necessary to whether or not the design succeeds.
I would also say that as the designer views complex human problems that require design thinking, the need for participants to design alongside the designer becomes more and more necessary.
The distinction between complex human problems and simple human problems is an important distinction that I’d like to make. Simple human problems are where there are specified boundaries, a very clear end goal, and while the problem may take some thought to execute, it’s not overly-complex. An example of this would be designing a poster for a band. The graphic or overall style of the poster should convey something to its audience, and that needs thought to execute. However, because the poster will not make a huge lasting impact on the human population, not a lot of thought is put into the audience that views the poster. User tests are not required, and the designer can work in her dark cave to produce something to unleash onto the world.
On the other hand, a complex human problem might be something along the lines of what Chris LeDantec did when he considered the use of technology in the social sphere of technology and the homeless. Many people had different ways of using varying types of technology, and since there isn’t a set way one person uses technology, LeDantec had to talk with participants and discover the ecosystem around the homeless and the care facilities that they interact with. Building anything with impact means that a designer must dive into the social realm of human complexity and subjectivity.
This means that as we tackle more and more complex human problems, the need increases for us to gain input from the people who are impacted by our designs. If our designs cannot capture complexity, how will we expect them to make an impact in the social realm?
For a more visual overview of what I’m talking about, I’ve illustrated a diagram with all of the authors’ points and where they fall on the spectrum of human complexity versus whether or not the designers feel that they are designing for or with participants. Click here to view the full diagram.
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