Molly Sauter grew up in Bucks County, PA, and has lived, variously, in Annapolis, MD, Austin, TX, and Somerville, MA. She studied Philosophy and the History and Philosophy of Science at St John’s College and the University of Pittsburgh, where she was a Brackenridge Fellow.
Before arriving at MIT, she worked as a researcher at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, and as a freelance narrative designer and game critic in the indie game scene. Molly’s research focuses on cultural and socio-political analyses of technology, particularly hacktivist and other political technologies exported across cultural lines. She also nurses interests in digital poetry, science and technology in popular culture, the HCI of information security, and remix aesthetics.
She can be found on Twitter @oddletters and occasionally blogging at oddletters.com.
In today's episode of the Co-Design Lit Review, I'm looking at the Collaborative Design space. I noticed something interesting while working on this week's chapter. The term "collaborative design" is most predominantly used to refer to the use of multi-disciplinary design teams and not explicitly to community involvement in the design process. Because of this, there is a lot of interesting work in the collaborative design space on topics like conflict resolution and work flow. Though the Co-Design project is most closely focused on direct community engagement with design processes (and thus focuses on issues that occur when non-professionals are brought into the design process), these other issues, though framed in a professionalized context, are still very relevant.
In Sanders' "Generative Tools for CoDesigning," Sanders looks at different tools that can be brought to bear on the collaborative design process, as well as briefly treating a defense of the process in general and some greater questions that arise. Sanders emphasizes, several times, that the best design should be "people-centered, not just user-centered," and repeatedly uses the term "everyday people" to make clear just who those are meant to be. This "everyday people" concept is meant to stand in contrast to "user" (as in the end stage of "consumer-customer-user"), but also in contrast to "the CEO, technologists, and business strategists" who Sanders initially conceives of as driving the "dreams" of the world. Sanders presents the collaborative design process as a way to access the "dreams" of "everyday people" to affect the shape of the future landscape.
The major case study in this paper is the creation of a headset for preschool-age children to use in conjunction with a computer game. Some interesting methodological points are made here:
-Because the preschool-population couldn't handle complex verbal responses, the collaborative design exercises were tailored to their skill level, with activities such as coloring in a picture of the headset (to determine color palette) or stating their favorite colors.
-The designers recognized that the target community in this case was complex, and reached out to pre-school teachers and parents for additional information.
Beyond this specific case study, Sanders identifies more general practices that could be part of a collaborative design process. The article identifies three types of "toolkits" that could be mixed and matched to serve different groups: 2-D toolkits (made up of photographs and paper shapes), 3-D toolkits (made up of velcro forms with stick-on buttons, panels and knobs), and expressive toolkits designed to encouraged the telling of stories and narratives over time. The purpose of these toolkits is to use the "simple and ambiguous" power of visual communication to encourage participants to communicate feelings and experiences.
Overall, the focus of Sanders' toolkits is to elicit experiential responses from community members, which the designers then analyze and build off of. The toolkits presented do not explicitly involve any framework of user testing and reevaluation.
As I mentioned above, the majority of "collaborative design" literature I found focussed on the use of large, multi-disciplinary design teams. The major themes identified were the challenges of collaboration and communication within a multidisciplinary group and conflict resolution tactics. Lu and Cai, in "A Methodology for Collaborative Design Process and Conflict Analysis," present a methodology for organizing stakeholder responsibilities and inputs across a range of disciplines. While the approach is rather technical, the paper does contain useful insights into how an analysis of the roles of different members of the team can help create a relationship map of the team.
Ngimwa and Adams present an analysis of how policy considerations at the state, local, and institutional level affect collaborative design processes in libraries in Africa. It is a useful analysis of an issue that is rarely addressed, and would be of particular use to practitioners in the civic media space.
You'll find a bibliography of the articles I looked at in this chapter below. If you have any other examples or articles that you think I've missed, please leave them in the comments! We'd love to have your feedback on this project!
E.B. -N. Sanders, "Generative Tools for CoDesigning," Collaborative Design, Scrivener, Ball, and Woodcock (Eds.) Springer-Verlag London Limited (2000)
S. C.-Y. Lu (2), J. Cai, W. Burkett, F. Udwadia, "Methodology for Collaborative Design Process and Conflict Analysis," Annals of the ClRP Vol. 49/1/2000
P. Ngimwa, A. Adams, "Role of policies in collaborative design process for digital libraries within African higher education," Library Hi Tech, Vol. 29 Iss: 4 (2011)