Over the past couple of weeks, our Design, Society and the Public Sector class has read five articles that discuss different methods of engaging users and the value that such engagement produces. More specifically, the type of meaning created when designing “with” or “for” people and society.
As I considered the different articles, I paid attention to how each author views the importance of engaging the user in the design process and how it directly relates to the importance of either empathy or authority in order to bring value and meaning to society.
The Value of Co-Creation
Liz Sanders’ article “A Social Vision for Value-Co-creation in Design” emphasizes the importance of Co-creation as a tool for driving significant social change. She defines Co-creation as collective creativity to create an unknown.
While there are three types of value co-creation, monetary, use/experience and social, and while all produce different ranges of value, social co-creation is where the opportunity for significant change and social transformation resides.
“Co-creation puts tools for communication and creativity in the hands of the people who will benefit directly from the results.”
For this to work, empathy for those directly affected by any change is imperative. This is key as the designer becomes the facilitator. She recognizes that everyone is creative and has the ability to creatively solve issues, especially those pertaining to their immediate circumstances.
The Value of Synthesis
In Chapter 4 of the “Exposing the Magic of Design”, Jon Kolko discusses the importance of ethnographic research as an avenue to innovation. Through the uncovering of a potential for a future state, design research that focuses on human behavior is the most effective at discovering innovation – but it only provides an opportunity for innovation. These two are linked through the process of synthesis where meaning is made from the observations during the research phase.
This process of problem finding through design research and sense making through synthesis paves the way for the design phase to produce something that solves the problem and adds value to the human condition.
The Value of Uncertainty
Bill Gaver discusses the use of probes as a tool for inspiration in his article, “Cultural Probes and the Value of Uncertainty”. He emphasizes that what we “know” has limits and meaning can be found through such inspiration provided by the empathetic reframing of situations.
“Probes are collections of evocative tasks meant to elicit inspirational responses from people–not comprehensive information about them, but fragmentary clues about their lives and thoughts.”
Through such evocative activities, the participant is inspired to reframe their lives. Which in turn, provokes the designer to understand through empathy and feeling rather than lean on rationalization. By reframing your viewpoint, you can create open your mind to new ideas.
“Probology is an approach that uses Probes to encourage subjective engagement, empathetic interpretation, and a pervasive sense of uncertainty as positive values for design.”
It’s more of a tool for inspiration. That reinforces the idea that we must constantly reframe our perspective in order to truly empathize and provoke new ideas and possibilities.
The Value of Context
In “What we talk about when we talk about context”, Paul Dourish recognizes that with the advancement of technology and how it has moved evermore into our everyday lives, our understanding for and consideration of context must evolve.
He states that context arises from the activity. Thus it is dynamic and interactional. We design products that have their own context, and as people interact with the product, they create new context. They create new meaning.
“Finding the social world orderly and meaningful is a practical problem that people solve, endlessly and unproblematically, as they go about their business.”
He does not discuss how people are involved in the design process, but rather how the design process should consider the context of people and practice and how it is a living, breathing thing. He considers the need to design for users to be active participants in making meaning through the use of technology. In this, there is some empathy for the constant evolution and adaptation that is inherent in people (and their need to create)and communities and it is important that technology take this into consideration.
“Practice, is first and foremost a process by which we can experience the world and our engagement with it is meaningful.”
The Value of Technology
Donald Norman’s provocative article, “Technology First, Needs Last: The Research-Product Gulf,” he takes a stance that opposes the ability of such tactics as co-creation and ethnographic research, where human needs come first, to drive significant change for innovation. He champions the lone ranger engineer/tinkerer for all true innovations and downplays the role/ability of design research to drive any sort of innovation.
“The technology will come first, the products second, and then the needs will slowly appear, as new applications become luxuries, then “needs”, and finally essentials.”
Norman believes that now, human needs are a result of the integration of technology into people’s lives. This blends with Dourish’s concept that context is interactional and people adopt and adapt – creating new context and new need.
Meaning is then made once technology is adapted. Technology drives innovation which creates human need, so ethnographic research and co-creation are only useful for incremental product innovation rather than the creation of something new.