Using design as a guidepost

The notion of design is a simple, yet increasingly complex concept to grasp. An overarching question of design remains: what is the most effective manner by which user needs can be captures and how can they be made relevant as long as possible to recognised ‘users’? Some methods are distinct in capturing subjective realities: the human experiences, interactions, experiences, and elements such as personality types become the focus of analysis. Other methods seek to encapsulate the requirements of information systems by using an objective view, focusing on the properties of institutional elements that shape information systems.

Before the first introduction of the mobile phone, people had little notions about how they would use it. The institutional and technical properties of the gadget were the primary foci of design for designers and developers. Yet with increasing usage, people became familiar with its technicalities and found new difficulties. Such difficulties translated into requirements for redesign. New mobile phones then had to include dialogues from people. Such processes of design must call on the human actions shaping the eventual structure of information systems. Many information systems researchers argue for the case of iterative design as a way to factor in the effects of human actions.

Reflexive design is about the inclusion of voices, facilitating freedom, and is entrenched in the philosophy behind the creation of the commons. It is more than a mere case of cooperation, and while there is an eventual goal, outcomes are emergent and continually evolving.

Here are two contemporary examples of how reflexive design can be put into practice:

Exhibit Commons is an interactive science museum that allows people to add meanings to existing collections using audio and video files, images, physical objects, etc. Collections that arise out of this project are mutable and multifaceted.

The Eclectic Tech Carnival (ETC)’s site reads: “A carnival of exchanging computer-related skills, ideas and art. By women and for women”. The ways they achieve this goal are varied, and more importantly, it offers a safe place for women to come together. They are free to express themselves and to learn from one another. Having participants as designers is a critical catalyst for inclusion.

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