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In a reflective article written as a follow-up to the Participatory Design conference held a few weeks ago in Trento, Italy, Ann Light dissects the difference between participatory design (PD) and user-centred design (UCD).

“What is the status of the ‘users’ you are working with?” she asks. “Are they treated as providing inspiration for design or are they treated as co-designers?”

Citing Patrizia Marti of the Communication Science Department at the University of Siena, Italy, Light writes that with the ‘user-centred inspiration’ approach “there is no accountability to the people who are the source of this material, or return to them for further engagement.”

According to Marti, “the origins of PD are deeply intertwined with trade unions’ efforts to bring democracy into work domains. So there is a political energy in the philosophy of PD about engaging people in the designs that affect them. This desire to democratise is not apparent in much current UCD work. [...] She pointed out that end-users are still often considered as Human Factors rather than Human Actors.”

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