Recently in IDSE102 Design, Society and the Public Sector, our class has been reading about different approaches and philosophies on interacting with users when conducting design research and creating new products or systems.
While reading A Social Vision for Value Co-creation in Design by Liz Sanders, I was struck by how her approach to co-design changes the very role of a designer. Rather than being someone who interprets and makes decisions with a degree of removal from the end user, a designer becomes a facilitator that leads users throughout the process of creation. The designer teaches the user how to make design decisions rather than making those decisions for them.
This philosophy was related to readings by Emily Pilloton and Chris LeDantec. They see designers as people who must be embedded in a users experience, empathizing with them and involving them in the design process albeit with varying levels decision making power.
This vision of co-design is in contrast to the views of academic Donald Norman. He sees design research and co-creation as impediments to innovation and original creation. Innovation is born out of new technology discovered by the individual, not through the collective processes of design research and co-creation. Users are all but disregarded.
Selections from Forlizzi and Fulton Suri show the importance of empathizing and considering a user. However, Forlizzi’s Product Ecology Framework focuses on how a designer can decipher a user’s behavior and all the factors which might influence their experience. The designer is still a decision maker, with allowances for participatory design exercises that act more as probes for feedback. Fulton Suri places emphasis on the process of synthesis, rather than design research. This leads to the designer having power as a decision maker, while still placing an emphasis on designing with empathy.
Gaver uses tools in the design research which might be associated with tools of co-design, but his interaction with a user is minimal. He sees the artifacts users create as abstract and for the benefit of provocation. While the designer might sympathize with their research participants, little emphasis is placed on empathizing with their experiences and viewpoints. This results in a philosophy of designing for one’s own self, rather than with a user community.
While these authors mainly fall on opposite ends of the spectrum, I found readings by Victor Margolin to be the outlier. He proposes a model of equilibrium, “a system of ecological checks and balances which consist of finite resources”. While his equilibrium model may sound similar to Forlizzi’s, I see his model creating a design system that facilitates design beneficial to society. His ideas of re-inforcing a grassroots design culture place the designer as facilitators of the larger systems at play for the good of the user, rather than involving said users in the design process.
You may view a corresponding visual presentation I created to understand these readings below.