Participatory Design Pt. 2 — Scandanavian History, Malmö, Activism v Elitism
Participatory Design: A product development methodology attempting to actively involve all stakeholders in the design process to help ensure the result meets their needs.
This is part 2 of a series on participatory design. In this series, I interview leading designers, review design texts, and playfully saunter across disciplines to contribute to the future of design research. You should check out Part One . This is another foundational piece I’m writing before moving onto more explorative/experimental thinking (which I’m really excited for!).¹
1. What’s the history of Participatory Design?
2. How PD can be applied today?
3. What does the future of PD look like?
I. What’s the history of Participatory Design? 📚
It depends on how far we want to go back :P.
I know this sounds funny, but inviting your 50,000 B.C. primate son to the hunting party is participatory. Modern democracy is participatory. Sharing decision making power with is a practice as old as humanity, and is synonymous to humanity’s progression in in every domain.
In more recent years, the German Bauhaus movement in can be given the namesake of modern participatory design origins. This movement notably blurred the boundaries between artist and engineer, and was the first recognizable modern multidiciplinary movement.
Even more recently, Scandanavians have provided home and inspiration to the equivalent ‘co-design’ practice. Notably, this practice emerged from labour unions demanding a fairer relationship with technology — with the implementation of computers into 70’s steel factories.
Oh the Scandanavians. They just got everything right.
II. What guides Participatory Design today?
1) Take Up Less Space
Luna Maurer, who runs Amsterdam based design studio Moniker, frequently discusses in talks how modern design is about actively creating more freedom. Their design studio’s methodologies involve defining a set of game “rules”, and then allowing participants to experiment with the rest.
“The designer should build the container or shape the boundaries and the user should fill in the rest…”
— Brock Dishart, fellow designer
This expression is reflected through most of the Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DIB) efforts that we see in startups and progressive workspaces in the 2020’s. This movement is noted for being a decentralized, and wider ranging movement that represents populations of racial, sexual, and neurological diversity.
[Angela Davis / Chimamanda]
Something to note when we talk about DIB efforts are that they have emerged out of fairly multicultural societies. They are less prevalent in culturally homogenous advanced societies like China & Russia.
2) Make space for Activism
If we’re taking up less space, what should we provide space for? A reasonable answer might be for us to start with populations who claim to need it the most. Activism might be the best space for it.
I’m betting that in 10 years, the most progressive organizations will eventually place local activists in roles where they can co-design technology. On the grander scheme, Technology has always empowered, and it should get closer to ground, where it has the highest potential to serve.
For example, in the world of Ecology, Conditional Occupancy Surveys are widely used to study wildlife and plant habitat use. They are used to detect where rarer species are, and where they aren’t. This research technique can be useful in helping organizations locate and serve underpriviledged communities better.
3) Leave less room for Elitism
This was one of the central criticisms of Bauhaus. As it grew, it became inaccessible and became more of an aesthetic, than ‘for the people’. In the same way, Diversity Belonging and Inclusion efforts, needs to make sure it doesn’t become a buzzword for educated intellectuals, drifting from the populations it aims to serve.
The same criticism can apply to an article like this. Most people who might benefit from seeing this, might not see this.
This is weird kind of mental masterbation that I’m not really for, so for every 1 hour I spend here, I want to spend 2 working and experimenting directly with my community. In the following articles I’m going to do that!
III. What’s the future of Participatory Design?
Future Scenario: Distributed, Data Driven Design
(China, Africa — 2050's)
As increasing rates of data continues to be produced by emerging nations, participatory design practices will evolve to be less manual, and more inclusive. Recall that Participatory Design: A product development methodology attempting to actively involve all stakeholders in the design process to help ensure the result meets their needs.
- Instead of having a researcher biasedly choose individuals for a design workshop, data aids in locating those who need it most.
- Activists’ goals are to help people produce data, and build larger data footprints to advance their causes.
- Participatory Design doesn’t just include people who are directly affected, but now can include second and third degree stakeholders, via networked analysis.
A Futurist Scenario — Linxia, China (2050)
A gradual migration of Muslim-Chinese into the mountainous city of Linxia prompts national resources to be dedicated towards erecting 3 new Mosques. Data suggests that the population has a positive sentiment towards minimalist design, for its accessibility to this particularly older population. The three mosques’ colours, capacity, and locations, are defined by each group’s unique needs.
This leaves room for 67 year old Aizat, and 16 year old Medina, to debate the usage of the garden space. They believe that the Gansu province’s city planning system has a algorithmic bias towards using the garden spaces for vertical farms and plants. However, Linxia is a high altitude, mountain city. Because of this, the two believe the mosque gardens are better used for windmills and solar panelling. They rapidly collect the votes of the city, as well as the votes of 25 other mountainous cities, via app.
The group sentiment of individuals 1-2 degrees further is also collected, and factored into proposal. Participatory design extends beyond the individuals that make it, to the individuals that use it, to the individuals that are affected by its users.
Thanks Tina Hsieh for your great prelim PD articles!
Check out Medea, Malmö University
¹ Check out the post (1/5 ) here. The following articles will be much more case study.
² Early German Participatory Design-like movement, in the 1930’s, I made a table of this in Section 1.
³ DiSalvo, B., Yip, J., Bonsignore, E., & DiSalvo, C. (2017). Participatory Design for Learning. Routledge.
- Simonsen, J., & Robertson, T. (Eds.) (2013). International Handbook of Participatory Design. Routledge.