Solution Vs Change.

What, why, how, where and for whom do we design ? — Reflection

Who is a designer? What is the role of a designer? What are their tools? What do they design for? What they should design for? What are their intentions behind design? And what are ‘we’ certainly looking for as a designer? These are the questions that often come across to me as a budding designer.

Often when asked “What is design?” the most heard answer would be similar to this — Design is a product of form and functionality to solve a problem as per user’s need. Now the underlying question is - as a designer should we solve the problem or question the occurrence of the problem?

During the 10 days studio of “Topics in the Future of Human Centered Design” facilitated and mentored by Dr. Naveen Bagalkot (Researcher and Course Leader at Srishti College), we dealt with various approaches by mapping current & historical events and the reasons for their occurrence, which made us tinker with design tools to speculate, aspire and visualize the plausible futures.

We studied and investigated the provocation of ‘Gender Based Violence’ through research and studio discussions with Dr Naveen Bagalkot and Dr. Padmini Ray Murray. We looked at the provocation through various approaches and resort to one or other combinations of the approaches to address a specific issue under the same provocation.

The Three Paradigms of HCI

3 paradigms of HCI by Steve Harrison Et. Al

So we started our studio journey by understanding the Three major shifts in the paradigm of HCI by Steve Harrison ET. AL. where we understood how the computing interaction have been changed with time.

The 1st paradigm, an amalgam of engineering and human factors, specifically focuses on single computing , optimizing man- machine fit.

The 2nd paradigm, classical congnitivism discusses how to facilitate information processing between man and machine become better.

However, 3rd paradigm becomes the most crucial as it focuses on embodied interactions. Through this approach we see user’s phenomenologically situated actions which treats interaction not as analogous to information processing but as a form of social and emotional construction of meaning in which artifacts and contexts are mutually defining and subject to multiple interpretations.

As the studio progressed we dealt with the approaches one by one and tried to make connections with the provocation.

Critical & Speculative design

By the definition, Critical design takes a critical theory based approach to design. This kind of design uses design fiction and speculative design proposals to challenge assumptions, conceptions about the role of objects play in everyday life. Popularized by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby through their firm, Dunne & Raby.

Understanding Speculative Design

Speculative design serves two distinct purposes- to enable us to think about the future and to critique current practices through design.

In the book ‘Speculative Everything’ by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby propose a kind o design that is as tool to create not only things but ideas. For them design is a means of speculating about how things could be to image the possible futures.

A research paper by Jame Auger, ‘Speculative design: crafting the speculation’ discusses one of the interesting project (by Auger–Loizeau, 2001) — Audio Tooth Implant which enables human to listen their radio shows and attend calls via their tooth. This design is actually critiquing the technology driven human behavior and how design can develop new attitude towards technology which is also supported by a research in ‘Para-functionality: The Aesthetics of Use’. Also, it questions how to appropriate usage of such technology. In case of disable beings who are not capable of hearing implanting say, in ear may be helpful for them.

Speculative Design — Audio Tooth Implant

Speculative design is one the powerful tools of a designer which has taught me how to engage the spectator to reflect, to think, to indulge in a conversation which was never happened before, to highlight the critical issues and make shifts of the mind-frame.

Post-Colonial Computing

Post colonial computing is the approach which questions the idea, technology, and concept. It helps to see design practices from the lens of how they are culturally located and power driven. It broadens the conversation about what other practices can count as a good design.

Dr. Naveen Bagalkot explaining — Post Colonial Computing approach

It involves studying approaches like Information and Communications Technologies for Development (ICT4D), Human Computer Interaction for Development (HCI4D), Science and Technology Studies (STS).

Paul Dourish ET Al in the research paper ‘Postcolonial Computing: A Lens on Design and Development’ discussed some of the challenges in ICT4D — While designing cross-culturally, visual conventions are not universal as there is a culture difference, community engagement becomes very important for understanding requirements and for developing co-design methods, and deployment of design sustainable, development mostly aligned with interest of politically powerful commercial and capital market actors, economically motivated legal actions shaped definitions of what counts as legitimate design work, innovation and creativity -concepts often taken for granted in HCI research and how knowledge sharing happens in across cultures.

While going through several case studies in that paper, I want to highlight some key points while designing- culture flows dynamically, it should be understood from individual perspective as well (yes, it is challenging), there should be understanding of different aspect of the problem and causes of that problem, primary focus shouldn't be on developing the solution rather on understanding the problem, and how to take steps towards a change we aspire.

Most importantly through post colonial computing approach Dr. Naveen Bagalkot taught us “looking at issues from an insider perspective, yes it is not possible every-time to be an insider however this approach guides whom we can work with to get insider’s knowledge and view point. It also asks where the axes of power lies? look at how anything become incorporated in practice? Should we always obey the norms? Can we negotiate the norms through our design? Can we subvert through the design?”

Feminist HCI

Feminist methodology in HCI

For whom are we designing ? Who are the people to be involved in the user research? Often we loose our focus from the fact of design should be inclusive of all the gender while making. In case if the product or service is generic then user’s needs irrespective of all the gender must be considered.

The approach of Feminist HCI criticize those major solutions which are mono gender focused, power-driven and rejects the idea of embodiment.

The approach also says even if we are designing for female then we need to identify and account all those who can contribute, teach, influence their spouse, daughter, sister, or a friend while using the design and it is vice-versa in case of other gender.

‘Queering’ as one of the powerful theory or an approach under Feminist HCI says — “designing for existing values and gradually changing it through the process of negotiation for whom it is being made” .

Can we design to challenge the ‘status quo’? How can we subvert using design as a subverting tool? Can we hack and change the system, how people perceive through designs?- these are some major questions that theory of Feminist HCI raised and my major take away from the approach.


Dr. Naveen Bagalkot while giving keynote on his researh

Dr. Naveen Bagalkot has precisely explained the approach of Infrastructuring in his keynote at LeNSin Project, Srishti Institute of Art, design and Technology.

I would like to mention the excerpt from the video — “ The term infra-structuring originated from Scandinavian participatory design tradition. Participatory design tradition is about engaging with end users and other stakeholders in designing a product so that the product or a service is much more attuned to their concerns, their usage patterns and their every day life. Infra-structuring goes beyond. It talks about setting up an infrastructure, so that design happens continuously over time even when designers are not there. This infrastructure is not just technical but a social infrastructure.”

The approach of infra-structuring challenges the regular methodology of creating design. It is actually teaching designers (who do not belong to the community they design for) how can they infuse design as a ‘Life Skill’ among the community people thereby creating a system which is organic and self- sustaining and which is not colonized by outsiders. So the community can actually work on their issues themselves in way which is culturally apt.

The beauty of these approaches would be that they are trying to point out similar thoughts like how design can be power-driven, how can we question the biased designs and the aspect of sustainability of resources not just in material but people and the self sustaining system. These theory validates how critical is to look at these issues.

My Take Away

The studio was the eye opening experience. We were responding over issue like female genital mutilation, and questioning the societal taboos of menstruation, virginity as identity.

We questioned why to always design for the victim? Why can’t we designed for the culprit? When we are designing for victim are we giving a message to society that they are always weak? Why people in power stay quite when any gender based violence happen. That means they are fueling the thought behind act and supporting the culprit’s intention. These questions pushed me further to think from different lenses and broadening my thinking, reflecting and questioning capacity.

Our Final Take — Mayankk Jain (pursuing Masters in Professional Practice of Experience Design) and I took the approach of Speculative Design to critique one of the provoking current practice under the larger provocation of ‘Gender Based Violence’. We looked at ‘Why change in genitalia is a gateway of acceptance for transgender community people?’ For our final take and details of the response, please click here.

My overall learning so far, I have tried to sum up here —

  1. Context is the King. As a designer we must understand the people for whom we are designing and in what setting their interaction changes. What are the artifacts involved? What are the roles of artifacts or intention behind using those artifacts in a particular setting and culture? Here context plays a major role for the design foundation and thinking.
  2. Solution vs Change. When we say we can solve the problem by providing solution we are actually providing short term remedies to the never-ceasing issues. Now as a designer should we design for short term remedies or put a halt on the critical issues by designing for change?
  3. Changing by making. As a designer we create change by making. We as the maker or inventor of a product, service and system, we bring change as making shifts in the mindset of people.
  4. Scale of Change. Well scale of change varies over issue and the context. It can be immediate or long term.
  5. The idea behind intentions. We must question the intention behind design. Saying good or bad can be subjective. But what are the larger implications of our intention behind design.
  6. Questioning our assumptions. A pun which says — ‘Never assume, if you assume you make an ASS out of U and Me’ well I’m not saying all the assumptions are bad but it is always to good to question those assumptions else we can put our self in troubles. And if assuming then state clearly.
  7. Approaches as tools. Lastly but not the least, these approaches are a bag of design tools, where a designer can go back and use while thinking, executing and auditing. These tools are essentially a medium of how to broaden our vision, and how to look at a issue from different lenses.