Practices, Materiality and Product Design
A workshop at Durham University, 6-7 July, 2006.
I participated in this workshop. Tim Dant, Gordon Hush, Graham Powell and I formed a loosely affiliated, fun-loving, anti-manifesto collective to come up with 'StuffIt' as a counter-proposition and built an algorithmic manifesto generator (based on a Cootie Catcher). Hopefully, this un-movement will replicate virally...
12.00 Registration opens.
13.25 1. Towards practice oriented product design - themes and contexts.
13.35 2. Designers, users and products - examples and experiences. Short presentations from designers and design academics who have experience of using innovative methods to study products in use and relate this knowledge to design.
Graham Powell Guinea Pig Design and BIAD.
Susie Bowman and Charlie Hill Glasgow School of Art.
Jack Ingram Birmingham Institute of Art and Design.
Pete Booth Tin Horse.
Matt Watson Durham University.
14.45 3. Six Times Tables. Progressive discussions in dynamic small groups of issues emerging from presentations so far.
15.45 Afternoon tea.
16.15 4. Manifesto launch. Presentation of the Manifesto of Practice Oriented Product Design.
16.45 5. Manifesto remodelling. Small group revision, reformulation and reconstruction of the Manifesto.
18.00 End for day.
19.00 Dinner, then to the pub.
09.00 6. practicing POPD. In the same small groups as in 5 above, an exercise to interrogate POPD through attempt at critical application to empirical case study.
11.00 7. Harvey Molotch.
11.40 8. Manifestations. Groups will exhibit/present the outputs from remodelling the manifesto and practicing POPD.
12.40 9. Discussion, summing up - wither POPD?
Designers fear they are the lackeys of capitalism. Of course they are. But they are also architects of society. They hold in their hands [a little bit of] the means to define the practices of which human experience and social order are constituted. Practice Oriented Product Design [POPD] recognises the opportunities and responsibilities this power entails. Of late, designers have been interested in User-Centred Design [UCD]. The radical idea - that products and services should be designed for the people who use them - is welcome progress. But it does not go far enough. UCD focuses on single products and on individual users; it encourages a fragmented pick-and-mix methodology for understanding user needs - needs which are taken to exist even before the designer's intervention.
POPD holds that practices are the basic unit of society. POPD renounces all approaches, whether in social science or in design, that focus on specific products or upon individual users.
POPD focuses on the routinised ways of doing, understanding, knowing, and desiring which comprise human experience and social structure at all scales. It is in the performance of practices that users and products come together, in complexes of skills, meanings, materialities and temporalities. It is in understanding the dynamics of practice and in identifying points for intervention that the power of POPD resides. POPD knows we are all PODers [practice oriented designers], engaged in assembling components of practice - products, competences, meanings -with skill and occasional creativity in the process of accomplishing everyday life. POPDers accept the limitations and opportunities this represents. POPD goes beyond the 'verbal' Kelley and Littman explain that IDEO thinks of products "in terms of verbs, not nouns: not cell-phones but cell-phoning". POPD has a more radical understanding of how practices structure society.
POPD realises that no object is an island so it attends to the relations between products, not to objects in isolation. POPD understands that history matters! Understanding the dynamics of practice means understanding continuities and patterns of co-evolution over time: look backwards to see forwards. POPD recognises that needs are made. Needs do not exist, ready made. They emerge from the dynamics of practice. Products, designers and consumers are all agents of change but none can change alone. Their interdependence defines and limits the scope of POPD. POPD assumes the relationality of value. Value does not reside in the product itself, nor in the meanings attached to it. Value emerges in practice, it is defined by relations between products, and between objects, skills, meanings and temporalities. Design success is situated and situational. POPD never ends! POPD is implicated in the long term evolution of practice. POPD refutes the temporal linearity of contemporary product design. POPD does not end when a product sits on shelf. That moment is but one in the POPDer's ongoing relationships with the practices in which they intervene.
By seizing hold of the means by which products intervene in practices, POPD shows destgners how they shape everyday life and the structures of society. POPD matters for designers who want to change the world and for those who want to sell more stuff.
POPD provides a critical understanding of design in cycles of production, consumption and use, It recognises the flow of meanings, competencies, purposes and products in which designers intervene. POPD integrates concepts from science and technology studies, consumption and design. POPDers are happy with terms like diffusion, innofusion, domestication and coevolution.
Methodologicallly POPDers study practices now and over time. This requires an eclectic and pragmatic approach: large scale data sets, statistics on the use of time, money and energy, market research, and detailed qualitative exploration of situated practice - all can help in following the traces of practice across time and space.
See also Heidi's Design Conferences blog post.