7. About Practices

If one wanted to learn about the patterns of what people do and their lifestyles as Designers we need to learn about Practice Theory from sociologies. At a high level, Practice Theory is about understanding the relationship between what people do and the systems and infrastructures they exist in. What people do is influenced by their sociotechnical context. Many of us live in cities that are optimized for transportation by car but it was not always that way. Not only was the technological innovation of cars necessary, but also infrastructure changes in our cities and countries as well as social changes. Public perception on trains and the railroad barons had to sour in order for the infrastructure investment necessary for cars to be made. Another example is to consider Segways. At one point considered the future of transportation, it is only used in niche contexts now. There just simply was not the physical infrastructure or social habits needed for it present to be successful.

The Segway example exposes the necessity for Designer to Design in context of the sociotechnical practices, while the car example shows the possibility for Designers to transition these practices. With both these examples of practices in transportation you may notice the pattern of how practices are not contained to an individual and need to be thought of the larger scale of a society. My practices as an individual both influences the practices of others but is also influenced by the much larger network of practices. Behind every practice is a system, and understanding the systemic nature of practices is critical in researching and observing the practices of those we Design for.

Although practices need to be considered at a network and society level, it is also important recognize what practices look like at the individual level as a part of the larger system. At an individual level practices are heavily dictated by tastes as described in the previous unit. They also often appear as routines or rituals. For example, think about the sequence of actions you usually take when you get up in the morning. For my practice of waking up in the morning I have three roughly defined sub-practices of getting out of bed, cleaning up in the bathroom, and then changing clothes. Within each of those sub-practices are a sequence of actions such as brushing my teeth, washing my face, and styling my hair. Each of those actions have skills associated to it, I have a particular way of style my hair given my haircut. Those actions also require stuff whether it’s an environment like the bathroom or a product such as a toothbrush. Lastly, there is also some meaning and emotional quality to these actions. Sometimes when I am changed, I do not have as much time to think about what I am wearing and just have to throw on clothes. I would consider it as part of my practice that is done less well in those situations.

A Designer is as effective as their ability to recognize the practices of those they Design for as well as the related practices of society. Practices also provide a way for Designers to understand humans more holistically and not merely Design for increased productivity or convenience. By looking deeply into the emotional quality, meaning, and aesthetics of a practice they can also understand other ways in which Design can be “good” Design.

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