Human-centered design, also known as User-centered design, sometimes gets a bad rep because of its numerous limitations. Don Norman went as far as calling it harmful and proposing an entirely different and far more superior, in his opinion, paradigm: Activity Centered Design. Suggesting that most successful and long-surviving inventions are designed around “activity” and not “user”, he argued against creating solely for the ever-changing needs of users and fluidity of their preferences. User’s opinions about their needs, therefore, are extremely volatile, provide insufficient grounds for research and development, and can put Innovation’s success and longevity at jeopardy. According to Norman, generating creative solutions for people should stem from serving the underlying activity even if users disagree. I did not find Don Norman’s essay convincing nor corroborating the current design trends. And in my own effort to shroud my perception of Human-Centered design from Don Norman’s devastating blow, I stumble across a conceptually similar notion of Participatory Design.
Before I talk about why this idea resonated so well with me, I wanted to highlight some of the criticism HCD received over the years. For instance, one reproach emphasizes designers’ biases and perceptual lenses that get in the way when they develop new products or services for people. Even though, the profound knowledge of the target user group and its context should always inform and direct the creative process, designers tend to interpret information based on their own beliefs, values, and preferences. We are humans after all. With this said, Participatory Design, or Co-design as it is often called, elegantly resolves “professionals designing for people” predicament. And this is only one of its many befits.
“Participatory design is an approach to a design strategy that brings customers into the heart of the design process. Also known as “co-creation”, “co-design”, or “cooperative design”, it encompasses techniques useful to both initial discovery and subsequent ideation phases of a project, where the end-users of a product, service, or experience take an active role in co-designing solutions for themselves.”
In other words, PD aims at including as many stakeholders and end-users as possible into the design process from the moment of inception to further understand and meet their needs. It is important to note that a design team still has an executive decision power and the invitees (key stakeholders and actors) play the role of consultants rather than professional designers in the process.
During a PD session, users might be asked to design software, product mockup, or a service, that they would like to experience and/or use in the “perfect world” scenario. They are encouraged to comment on why they developed a product in a particular way, and what about its functions appeals to them most. For design teams, a PD session is an excellent opportunity to learn how people think about a problem, discipline, or technology by actively listening to users’ commentary and observing their behavior. Additionally, the insight gained during or after a session can help to resolve a common dissonance between what users say they do and what they actually do.
The participatory design facilitates establishing a unique and intimate connection with an end-user in the way traditional HCD approaches cannot. It invites active participation and user collaboration not only in “test” phases of the process but rather in all stages (particularly, the early ones) of creative development. Based on a collaborative approach, it nurtures a more open, creative atmosphere and allows to avoid common “designed at users” rather than “for users” mistakes. Rooted in Human-Centered design, PD brings a new dimension and a meaning to the “focus upon people” principle.
Braga, J. (2019, July 15). Is human-centered Design broken? Retrieved July 15, 2020, from https://uxdesign.cc/is-human-centred-design-broken-cac130eecc48
Cipan, V. (2020, July 08). What is participatory design and what makes it great? – Point Jupiter. Retrieved July 15, 2020, from https://pointjupiter.com/what-is-participatory-design-what-makes-it-great/
Forsey, C. (n.d.). Using Human-Centered Design to Create Better Products (with Examples). Retrieved July 15, 2020, from https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/human-centered-design
Participatory Design in Practice. (n.d.). Retrieved July 15, 2020, from https://uxmag.com/articles/participatory-design-in-practice
Participatory Design. (n.d.). Retrieved July 15, 2020, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/computer-science/participatory-design