The Role of the Citizen in Design

April 6, 2009 § Leave a comment

Whether we’re city planners or interaction designers, it seems we come up against the same questions about the value of involving those for whom we design in the design process. As I’ve been studying city and regional planning forums for my master’s capstone research, I’ve come across some conversations that are eerily similar to those that still sometimes happen between designers in my own field. From the Cyburbia forums (registration required):

Submitted by jaws on Sun, 2006/07/23 – 1:28pm.

Citizenship has nothing to do with how roads and pipes and squares are going to be built, anymore than citizenship entitles you to decide how everyone’s shoes are going to be made. You’ve appropriated the notion of citizenship into a sphere that is completely irrelevant.

Submitted by Lee Nellis on Mon, 2006/07/24 – 7:45am.

Ah, the technical delusion.

Citizens should have EVERYTHING to do with where new roads, pipes, squares, etc. are to be built. They are the ones who are going to use them. They are the ones who will be impacted by them. That is why planners are not technicians (and why engineers who listen poorly, if al [sic] all, have messed up so many communities), but facilitators and educators.

There is, of course, a technical aspect to all of these facilities. Citizens are not going to have much to say about the actual piping schematic of a sewage treatment plant, but they are/should going to have a lot to say about the impact a new plant will have on the pace of growth and the quality of life. The reality is that efficiency cannot and should not be our goal in planning (in the actual construction of a plant, of course). Our goal has to be to help folks actualize their citizenship – and that is a messy, inefficient process.

Despite the vocal holdouts, many city and regional planners have been employing participatory design methods (mainly charrettes, interviews, and focus groups) perhaps even before interaction design existed as a profession. We may be working in different mediums, but I think this is yet another example of how designers of any object, system, place, or service have a lot to learn from one another.

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Safe Streets for Everyone

October 24, 2008 § Leave a comment

“In Bogota, our goal was to make a city for all the children. The measure of a good city is one where a child on a tricycle or bicycle can safely go anywhere. If a city is good for children, it will be good for everybody else. Over the last 80 years we have been making cities much more for cars’ mobility than for children’s happiness.”

Former Bogotá Mayor Enrique Penalosa, via Streetsblog

My capstone project has slowly been taking shape over the past month, and at the moment I’m hoping to focus on the development of tools that will help urban planners conduct health impact assessments. I want to remember the quote above because it’s a good reminder of why I’m passionate about pursuing this project.

Check it: MS Word is baroque.

October 20, 2008 § Leave a comment

From an old post I started and never published in Feb. 2008:

In my Experience Design course, we’re spending the month of February talking about experience design criticism and how it can inform our work. It’s fun to see how my training in literary criticism is helping me understand this way of thinking.

The first article we’ve read on the topic, “Criticism as an Approach to Interface Design,” by Olav Bertelsen and Soren Pold, yields this “juicy quote,” as my professor would say:

“Word can be seen as renaissances [sic?] in the sense that it builds on the tool metaphor and aims to incorporate a WYSIWYG interface. However, the abundance of new functions and domains, such as the inclusion of DTP functions, web publishing, support for reviewing and collaboration, has led to a baroque mannerism in the interface.

“Understanding the stylistic development from renaissance to baroque – a development that is not only referring back to the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries but is relevant whenever new expressions develop, mature and decay – is key to envisioning new designs for hybrid tools such as a word processor” (p. 26).

For more on interaction design criticism, you can check out the blog series my professor, Jeffrey Bardzell, wrote on the topic.

Bring the Extra-Sticky Post-Its

October 9, 2008 § Leave a comment

Last week in Interaction Design Methods, we collected all the research our team has been conducting this semester and created an affinity diagram.

Affinity diagramming takes a long time — bring rations!

Affinity diagramming takes a long time — bring rations!

It was a grueling process to transfer all our notes to post-its and arrange them into categories that made sense, but in the end, we developed some helpful insights that have pushed us further toward nailing down a design direction for our project.

As a team, we were surprised at the usefulness of the resulting diagram because our research had been seemingly unrelated up to that point — contextual inquiry with the city volunteer-matching program, ethnography at a local community garden, and a focus group of Bloomington citizens about their attitudes toward “buying local.”

Me, Augusto, and Xiaohan, transferring our research data to post-its

L to R: Me, Augusto, and Xiahan, transferring our research data to post-its

I’m eager to try this method out again with a future project — definitely with my capstone. Our instructor and associate instructor were nice enough to provide us with pictures of the workshop.

Our Related Readings

  • Beyer and Holtzblatt (1998). Contextual Design. Chapter 9.
  • Kuniavsky (2003). Observing the User Experience. Chapter 8.

Csikszentmihalyi is helping me resist online shopping today.

September 28, 2008 § Leave a comment

“The addiction to objects is of course best cured by learning to discipline consciousness. If one develops control over the processes of the mind, the need to keep thoughts and feelings in shape by leaning on things decreases. This is the main advantage of a genuinely rich symbolic culture: It gives people poetry, songs, crafts, prayers, and rituals that keep psychic entropy at bay. … We very much need to learn more about how this inner control can be achieved. Then objects can again be used primarily as instruments rather than as projections of our selves, which, like the servants created by the sorcerer’s apprentice, threaten to drown their masters with relentless zeal.”

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1993). Why we need things. In Lubar, S. & Kingery D. (eds). History from Things: Essays on Material Culture.

On Pushing Through Your Crappy Phase

June 6, 2008 § Leave a comment

In the video below, Ira Glass talks about accepting and getting through that time we all experience, where the work we produce is not as good as our own ideas of what good work looks like. Even though he’s talking specifically about radio writing and reporting here, as many other bloggers have pointed out, his pep talk can be applied to any skill we are in the process of developing.

I’ve just finished my first year as a master’s student studying interaction research and design, and it has definitely been a humbling experience for me. The type of work I hope to build a career around requires a keen critical eye in combination with research and design skills that will take me years to fully develop. This video was a comforting reminder that hard work and dedication really does pay off in the end, even if you have to spend significant time bumbling around a bit in the interim.

Prototyping a Museum Experience

April 23, 2008 § Leave a comment

Hold on to your hats – I’ve got lots more cycling stuff to come! My group for a course called Experience Design is iterating on a prototype for a museum exhibit about what a true bike culture is like, and I thought I’d post one of our early, low-fidelity versions. We’re going to do the final one this weekend life-size, but this one gives a good idea of where we’re going with the project.

The video you will see in the background is used with the permission of David Hembrow, who has also shot lots of other fun first-person videos while cycling around Assen, the Netherlands, where he lives and operates some awesome-looking cycling tours. Thanks, David!

Once again, it’s important to note that this is a low-fidelity, early-version prototype. The goal of creating this one was to make sure it had the feeling we were going for before we spent significant time building something large-scale and fully developed.

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