30 May 2006

Ten potential pitfalls of participatory design methods

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Mobile Community Design
Jeff Axup writes in his blog Mobile Community Design about ten potential pitfalls in the application of participatory design methods.

“Participatory design (PD) is a design framework and related methods which advocate user involvement in design, and a political stance advocating worker rights. It originated from Scandinavian software development practices in the 1950s and inherits some of the social democratic intentions of that area.

There are a number of positive aspects to PD. Participatory methods are often used in the natural environment of the user (e.g. a workplace) and thus offer high ecological validity and are heavily user centered. Co-designing with real users in realistic situations and environments helps improve the quality of feedback users provide. Frequent iteration between users and designers reduces misconceptions designers make (in part due to insufficient domain experience). Additionally, the social intent of PD to avoid deskilling of workers and create humane products is admirable.

However, some of my recent research and a review of other PD research has revealed a number of potential pitfalls in the application of participatory design methods. There are a range of studies and methods which many researchers agree are PD, however, what is or is not PD is still the subject of debate. Consequently the ten pitfalls discussed in this post do not apply to all PD studies and methods, but would certainly apply to some studies which claim to be PD.”

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