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What is the Object of Design?

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Binder, T., Jacucci, G., De Michelis, G., Linde, P., Ehn, P., Wagner, I. (2012). What is the object of design?. In Proceedings of the 2012 ACM annual conference extended abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems Extended Abstracts (CHI EA ’12). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 21-30.

ABSTRACT – In this paper we reflect upon design at a conceptual level, discussing how creativity can be coupled with participation and experience, dialoguing with philosophers and social theorists, and looking for the experiential grounds of our understanding of the very nature of design. Three words: ‘drawing’, ‘thing’ and ‘together’, are at the center of our discourse. We propose a view of design as accessing, aligning, and navigating among the “constituents” of the object of design. People interact with the object of design through its constituents. The object of design is to draw things together.

Keywords: Interaction design; drawing; thing; object; together; design theory; design process; design practice;


Article excerpt: Controversial Things
In our approach to drawing things together the philosophical pragmatism of John Dewey and the ‘thing politics’ of Bruno Latour has been corner stones for reflecting upon design as participation in collectives of humans and non-humans.

Dewey’s position on controversial things and the public makes the project of drawing things together even more challenging. He argued that in fact the public is characterized by heterogeneity and conflict. It may be challenging enough to design for, by and together with collectives of humans and non humans where common social objectives are already established, institutionalized or at least within reasonable reach, where socio-material things are supported by relatively stable infrastructures. But the really demanding challenge is to design where no such thing seems to be within immediate reach, where no social community exists. In short, where a political community, a public characterized by heterogeneity and difference with no shared object of design, is in need of a platform or infrastructure. Not necessary to solve conflict, but to constructively deal with disagreements – public controversies where heterogeneous design things can unfold and actors engage in alignments of their conflicting objects of design. Participation in the making of such things, and the relation between professional design and design activism, stands out as the ultimate challenge when we gather and collaborate in and around design things. This we believe is a major challenge also to design thinking in general as well as to more specific participative and user-centered approaches to drawing things together.

Other articles published by Medea researchers at CHI 2012 and alt.chi 2012 are Jonas Löwgren’s and Bo Reimer’s Designing Collaborative Media: A Challenge for CHI? and Mads Høbye’s Touchbox: Intriguing touch between strangers.

Related articles
The concepts explored in this article are also discussed in the book Design Things, published by MIT Press; in the article Design Things: Drawing Things Together and Making Things Public by Pelle Ehn and in the PDC paper Participation in Design Things.

Copyright notice
Permission to make digital or hard copies of all or part of this work for personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that copies are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and that copies bear this notice and the full citation on the first page. To copy otherwise, or republish, to post on servers or to redistribute to lists, requires prior specific permission and/or a fee. CHI’12, May 5–10, 2012, Austin, Texas, USA. Copyright 2012 ACM 978-1-4503-1016-1/12/05…$10.00.