Participation in Design Things

Open Access:

Ehn, Pelle. (2008). Participation in design things. Proceedings of Participatory Design Conference (PDC), Bloomington, Indiana, USA, 2008.

ABSTRACT – This paper discusses the design of things. This is done in an attempt to conceptually explore some of the political and practical challenges to participatory design today. Which things, and which participants? The perspective is strategic and conceptual. Two approaches are in focus, participatory design (designing for use before use) and meta-design (designing for design after design). With this framing the challenge for professional design to participate in public controversial things is considered.

EXCERPT – People are fundamental to design, but also objects and things. But what do we mean with objects and things in design? In this paper the starting point is the kind of sociomaterial assemblies that Bruno Latour so strikingly has characterized as ‘collectives of humans and non-humans’. An early form of this collective was the Thing, and this thing was originally both social and material. In pre-Christian Nordic and Germanic societies these things were the governing assemblies and places, where disputes were solved and political decisions made. Participatory design, as it emerged in the 1970’s in Scandinavia, may theoretically and practically be seen as contemporary examples of such things or rather ‘thinging’ (as Heidegger would call it). Latour has in this spirit recently called for ‘thing philosophy’ or ‘object oriented politics’. […]