Spinuzzi, Clay. “The Methodology of Participatory Design.” Technical Communication 32 (2) 2005.

  • claims that participatory design hasn’t been well defined as a methodology . . . so he’s going to try and do just that; however, the definition will be “loose.” That being said, he wants participatory design to be a rigorous research methodology, not just an approach to technical communication projects.
  • argues that participatory design is a “way to understand knowledge by doing: the traditional, tacit and often invisible ways that people perform their everyday activities and how those activities might be shaped productively” (163).
  • argues that PD is as much about design as it is about research. In other words, PD is research. He notes, “Although participatory design draws on various research methods (such as ethnographic observations, interviews, analysis of artifacts, and sometimes protocol analysis), these methods are always used to iteratively construct the emerging design, which itself simultaneously constitutes and elicits the research results as co-interpreted by designer-researchers and the participants who will use the design” (164).
  • In PD, participants’ interpretations are taken into account in the research – the goal isn’t to just understand the activity being researched; rather, it is also to shape the design through the process of research.
  • PD has roots in a Marxist commitment to incorporating workers into the design of the systems they use in the workplace – Scandinavia. See Zuboff 1989. In the US the emphasis is on efficiency, not workplace democracy. As such, PD tends toward nonintrusive, individualized action, not large-scale company-wide redesign (165).
  • Key points on PD:
    • Paradigm – Constructivist: sees knowledge as occurring through the interaction among people, practices and artifacts
    • Methodology – Practice Research: Not just gathering information/data but actually intervening in data production. Also, parallel theoretical reflection while intervening in data production as opposed to detached theoretical reflection a posteriori. Results in co-research and co-design with users/workers.
    • Research Design – Stage 1: Initial exploration – meet users and familiarize users with ways of work (Methods: ethnographic methods). Stage 2: Discovery process – Prioritize work organization and envision the future workplace. Clarify goals of users and values of users (Method: interactive – include role playing, interactive games, workshops, storyboarding and workflow models). Stage 3: Prototyping – Designers and users iteratively shape technological artifacts to fit into the workplace (Methods – Mockups, paper prototypes, cooperative prototyping, and PICTIVE) (167).
  • Shortcomings of PD: evolution, not revolution (it’s slow and may not be able to accommodate radical change). Sometimes a focus on functionality/efficiency rather than democratic industrialism results in a too-specific focus on objects rather than culture.
  • Criterion #1 for PD Success: Quality of life for workers. Requires reflexivity and agreement and codetermination (coordination between users and designers).
  • Criterion #2 for PD Success: Collaborative development requires involvement, mechanisms for consensus/agreement and representation, common language games (a shared lexicon by both users and designers to discuss the project) and common aims that are codetermined in advance.
  • Criterion #3 for PD Success: Iterative process that elicits continual participation, revisiting stages (revision plateaus) and sustained reflection.

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