Tools: Designing interaction, “making” participation happen for public policies and other enterprises

April 29, 2010 at 5:43 pm 2 comments

Figure 0: Card sorting and information display from my students [Kyun Hur, Celise Bravo-Taylor NC State]
As I’ve pointed out in this blog before, designers have the skills to provide tangible solutions to interaction problems. In an interview made to her, professor Amy Smith from MIT indicated: “I’m often frustrated by conferences where the results are just presentations, posters and papers. The output of this conference will be real devices, things that people can use. Participants will be able to take prototypes home with them and start testing them”. This, to me, is absolutely true. And that is one of the interests in why other disciplines are engaging with design: “the making of ideas”. We can see business schools engaging the so-called “design thinking” in Stanford’s D-School [Engineering, social sciences & business around design] the MBA at California College of the Arts or Design Thinking at Rotman School of management in the University of Toronto . There are even some schools interested in working out their public policies as a service experiences driven by design. Why is this? Why are business and PP people getting in touch with design? Figure 01: Game I designed as a researcher in Procorp
Well, design has this articulated way to bring ideas into tangible solutions. But what if we don’t use it for understanding and providing solutions for consumers? What if we use it to work with social problems? Well, we are already doing it. Design is effective in putting down ideas, creating a common language between individuals and articulating needs and goals through “making” things tangible.This design quality of “making” can also be used for research and for participation enhancement.

In my own work, I’ve design methods and tools to communicate effectively with participants. Psychologist and anthropologist Elizabeth Sanders has been working in genera­tive tools , for collective creativity. She was a pioneer in participative methods in the design field. For her, design should serve people, not markets. She talks about co-designing and how to elicit the design abilities that is inherent to every human being. She defines a four-step evolu­tion graphic to reflect the new approach to people. The first step (see image) understands designers as users, this, related to the 1980’s approach related to the Xerox Parc interest in achieving user friendly product. Later, as she sees it, there are design-serving adapt­ers. Those are the ones inundated with hundreds of options for consumption. Design serving these adaptors, will be customizable, usable and desirable. In the third tier she considers design-serving participants. Participation has been greatly enhanced thanks to communication technologies. So people are already participating and collaborating in Wiki or blog formats. So design should seek to contribute and support the collective and networked processes. On her last and top tier (see diagram), she locates design-serving co-creators. So the development of generativity tools, used in contexts where the subjects can design themselves, their own solutions. For her, this approach requires a common language that designers and non-designers can use in a shared event. For Sanders, these tools should enable people to elicit their dreams and needs. In my own perception, is important to acknowledge that even though data might be raised from the collective experience, there is still a result that is subjected to the design researcher. It is interesting to see how design has been placing a special focus on interaction. For me, interaction is the “backbone” of all other disciplines in design. We need to see through interaction in order to address the issues that are humanly-relevant. I particularly agree with Sanders in placing design at the service of people, though we not always need or can approach fully co-creation. It might be purposefully used for certain critical stages of the research and design process.

Figures 02-03: Elizabeth Sanders’ “Make Tools”


Entry filed under: Design Research, Methods, Public Policies, Social Design.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Legis  |  April 29, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    I agree that “Design is effective in putting down ideas, creating a common language between individuals and articulating needs and goals through “making” things tangible.”. But, Is real the dichotomy design for people versus design for market? I believe that, in most cases, these to apparently different things are just the same, as companies want to make profit generating tools that “people” find usefull. I even believe this is true, in most case, for so-called people at the bottom of the pyramid

  • 2. constanzamiranda  |  April 29, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    actually this is a good point. It depends on what theory are you standing upon. Yes, we could address people as markets, yet the problem now is that the markets are micro-segmented, that’s why they become more complex, and it becomes difficult to address a whole bunch of people in a “standard” way. Micro-segmentation arises because of a series of issues, one of the most relevant is the access to technology and communication, overall because to the access to the WWW. That’s why we shouldn’t put, at least in my opinion, all individuals in the “same bag”. Please check also on the post about cell phones in Africa, and Rosling’s desmythification on Third World Countries. Looking to this, maybe is a better idea to address communities instead of large market segments.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas!


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contact + citing (CC license)

Constanza Miranda PhD(c) design.anthro
* Currently @ DILAB
* Ex.VR @ Stanford's Center for Design Research [DesignXLab]
* Ex.Instructor @ PUC Chile [Design+Engineering]
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Design for Social Innovation initiative by Constanza Miranda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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