«Abstract. The paper explores what exactly it is that users participate in when being involved in participatory design (PD), relating this discussion to ...»
urban planners, who participated in all stages of the project, and ‘normal’ citizens and other stakeholders, who contributed to testing the evolving prototype in the context of real urban planning projects (Wagner 2011). As using the rather complex prototype required not only technical support but came with an elaborate method of preparing both, the participants and content to work with, it was never used beyond project time.
Table 1 provides an overview of the four PD projects. As mentioned, all projects were preceded by research that had a big influence on the project vision.
The Florence project was started as the first Norwegian PD project aimed at designing an alternative IT system together with nurses (Nygaard 1986), and was seen as the reference case in a Nordic research program on PD (Kaasbøll 1983).
The history of the Sisom project started well before 2005, in the late 1990s, when the project leader Cornelia Ruland did her PhD. Her idea was to enable patients to give medical personnel more and better information about their symptoms, hence a more complete picture of their situation. Ruland engaged in developing a number of prototypes to concretize the idea: on a PC in 1999, on a Palm Pilot in 2000, on a tablet computer in 2001. Desarte was a two-stage European project.
Some of the design ideas in Desarte had been explored as part of Desarte I (1996Much of the understanding of architectural practice that IPCity is based on was shaped in an extensive period of fieldwork (1995-2005). It was also inspired by project ATELIER, which had ended with the notion of ‘bringing mixed-reality technologies out of the studio’ (Binder et al. 2011). The pre-history of these projects shows that some decisions were taken before the projects actually started.
We discuss the role of project proposal writing later.
4.2 Creating choices A lot has been written about the role of fieldwork in PD as fostering the cocreation of representations of a field of practice in which practitioners can recognize themselves and their practices (e.g., Blomberg and Karasti, 2013).
Some of the choices in PD emerge from these ethnographic accounts; learning about the practice is important in order to understand suggestions for choices and their rationale. Other choices open up while participants engage in imagining possible futures, deliberately changing the users’ basis for needs and wishes through systematically looking for new possibilities. PD projects use techniques that help participants widen their choices rather than closing the problem/solution space too early, handling openness and multiplicity (e.g. Simonsen & Robertson 2012). In PD, as in design work in general, this enlarging of the space for design ideas and maintaining it open to the possibility of change is critical.
The Florence project aimed at help establishing the practice of PD. It was firmly rooted in the evolving Scandinavian tradition of PD. The original project vision that an IT system should strengthen nurses’ position in conflict with other professional groups (e.g., medical doctors) was rejected by the nurses. They instead emphasized the need to collaborate with medical doctors. The Nursing system was grounded in an understanding of nursing practices developed through months of fieldwork in two different wards. The focus of the fieldwork was on understanding the logic of the nursing practices in the two wards, treating children with allergies and adults with heart problems, respectively. A special problem in the cardiology ward resulted from the fact that the patients were moved from 24/7 monitoring central where they stayed in the acute phase to a different part of the ward when it was time to learn to live with their illness (cf. the map in Fig. 1 right). Several problems were identified during the fieldwork, and were seen as possible problems to solve with the help of IT.
Figure 1. The nurses’ notes about patients, and a map of the monitoring part of the ward The nurses that participated in the project took part in a series of training sessions aimed at providing them with a basis for imagining and exploring how IT could support nursing.
They got some hands-on experiences with new interfaces of that time through trying out a Macintosh that was left in the ward as an example of modern IT. Hence, both the nurses and the designers had opinions about what IT could be used for in the ward. The nurses identified the communication about patients between nurses in a shift and between shifts as the main bottleneck in the ward. They hoped for an easy updating and sharing of patient information while maintaining the flexibility of their existing paper-based practices (Figure 1 left). The training sessions, together with their professional knowledge, enabled the nurses to create numerous other choices, including inventory lists, procedure overviews, lab communication, etc.
The Sisom project proceeded very differently. The starting point was the existing Choice system; a mobile systems where adult patients could register their symptoms before seeing a doctor, and the idea was to make a ‘children’s Choice system’. A group of school children representing ill children actively contributed to the design of the user interface and interaction mechanisms, creating choices with their drawings. For example, in the very first workshop the children were asked to try out some games. After playing the games, they were told a story about a child who had stomach flu and had to stay in bed. The children were asked to design a tablet PC that could be used by this child to express symptoms and problems. The second session started with a new story about a child with an injury. The children continued to work on the drawings they had produced in the previous session, with the adults showing them interface and navigation examples. In this way the children became more aware of what was possible and wanted (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Game metaphors: ‘shoot where it hurts’ and non-game metaphors: ‘click where it hurts’ The terminology for talking about symptoms was developed top-down from the medical literature about children with cancer rather than from listening to how the ill children themselves talk about their symptoms.
It was a choice made by the project leader in compliance with the notion of evidence-based medicine. Arriving at a list of symptoms that reflects children’s ways of talking was defined as a ‘translation problem’. Hence, the children’s choices were treated in accordance with predefined symptoms to consider. As concerns the use of the Sisom system, the project leader had decided in advance that it should be restricted to the hospital ward for children to prepare for a consultation with a doctor. Some emerging choices were not considered, e.g., aiming for a Sisom system that the children could take home for more continuous, long-term reporting of symptoms.
The initial idea for the 3D Wunderkammer grew out of many years of ethnographic fieldwork in the participating architectural office, which had, amongst other things, pointed at the importance of inspirational objects in design.
The architects’ stories about inspiration had shaped the notion of ‘association objects’ that assist the (landscape) architects in their effort to form, develop, and communicate design concepts (e.g. Wagner 2000). One of the participating architect-users took a leading role in creating choices, with a ‘wish list’ at the top of which was the idea of Wunderkammer. This notion was developed through several design sessions, with designers and users creating a vision of how this Wunderkammer might be filled with inspirational material, travelled, and explored with some of the material being selected and used in visualizing design ideas for an architectural project. These choices were also stimulated by extensive reading on historical forms of archiving and memory, on colonial traveling (e.g. Said 1985), as well as by looking through collections of inspirational objects that famous architects had published.
Figure 3. CAD drawing of the prototype as assembly of places on a grid; the first prototype The architect-users than provided a first sketch, which inspired the interface of the very first prototype (Figure 3).
The following design sessions furnished ideas of what kind of places the 3D Wunderkammer might contain and what modes of traveling through the places filled with inspirational material it should support.
The architects also provided the notion of ‘urban grid’ (a technique used in urban planning) as the basis for a modular system. Hence creating choices in Desarte was a joint process of ‘phantasying and projecting’ much in the way Schütz has described, with design ideas being visualized to be further explored.
Also IPCity had architects as full partners. Unlike Desarte it started with a strong vision. The key commitment was to design participatory technologies for urban planning that could invite real stakeholders to the design table. Connected with this was the notion of ‘openness’, which in the context of an urban project has to do with giving space to the multiplicity of perspectives. Also the key technical choices had been taken before the project started: to build a tangible user interface that supports the ad-hoc, ‘easy to handle’ creation of urban mixed reality scenes. The urban planning team that participated in IPCity brought their knowledge of urban issues and how to represent these into the project. Through defining and visualizing these issues they opened up numerous choices that were materialized in successive versions of the ColorTable. Many of its features are directly inspired by what these expert-users thought important to address in an urban project: how to represent activities in an urban space, the ambience of a place, connections with other places, mobility, and building types (Figure 4).
They also provided access to urban projects that were willing to offer a site for participatory workshops, in which the ColorTable was probed and tested. Their negotiations with the ‘owners’ of these projects – urban planners and local authorities – opened up further choices for the ColorTable by defining the range of possibilities, both in terms of participants and issues to be worked on.
Figure 4. Example of a choice turned functionality: visualizing flows of people in a) mixed-reality scene, b) on physical map Users can have a rather different role in the process of creating choices: from defining the problems the choices are an answer to (Florence, Desarte, IPCity), to merely delivering ideas (Sisom).
In the case of the Sisom project, the children’s ideas were taken seriously but the context in which they were invited to create ideas was carefully designed and restricted. In some of the projects (Florence, IPCity) ethnographic work played a large role in generating choices. In all four projects choices also came from users’ professional experiences and visions. In two of the projects (Sisom, IPCity) the process of creating choices was driven and partly also constrained by a strong vision that had been formulated before the actual project started.
4.3 Selecting among choices While widening the design space and not closing it too early is crucial to creative design, some choices have to be selected and concretized in a design artifact, such as a mock-up or prototype.
In the Florence project, the selection of choices on which to build the Nursing system was arranged as a negotiation meeting between the designers and the nurses. In the early days of PD negotiation was considered an important aspect of
democracy. As Björgvinsson et al. (2012) remind us:
Hegemony within companies was at stake and constitutions or negotiation models to transform antagonistic struggles within the companies into passionate agonistic design and innovation strategies were tried out, with special focus on workers and their local trade unions, and on their empowerment and skills’ (p.129).
Each of the two groups; the IT designers and the nurses, had met separately before the negotiation meeting making a prioritized list of choices. During the mutual learning period, several problems and some possible solutions had been discussed, but the choice was deliberately kept open for negotiation. The negotiation started by a presentation of the two lists of problems/solutions to address, and although the nurses’ first priority (providing support for the shift report meeting) seemed technically unchallenging, the designers understood enough of the nursing practices to acknowledge the nurses’ arguments (Bjerknes and Bratteteig 1988b). As the designers also had this suggestion on their own list, agreeing on a common problem area was not difficult. The reason for this easy negotiation was the bad experiences from the first design cycle in the project, where the designers did not listen to the nurses’ arguments: they decided to go for their own first priority, which was technically interesting and challenging, ignoring the nurses’ arguments and warnings – actually not understanding their arguments until they were demonstrated in a faulty, hence rejected, prototype (Bjerknes and Bratteteig 1987). In the second round designers and nurses jointly arrived at the key design decision.
In the Sisom project all decisions were subordinated to the project vision, which the project leader had defined. Within this frame, two selection processes took place: the first selection included choices of what the children liked and thought were good design elements; the core team then decided which of the children’s ideas were to be part of the final system. A graphical designer was hired to lend those ideas that the core project team thought interesting a professional touch; these visualizations were returned – beautiful and finished – to the children in the next workshop (Figure 5). In one way the children were ‘seduced’ into confirming certain choices by being presented professionally made design elements. While in the first session they had drawn the figures themselves, all the children used some of these graphically designed elements in their later design suggestions: they made the design suggestions look more professional.
This was the case with the major navigation mechanism: the image of travelling to different islands where different kinds of symptoms are dealt with, which was originally suggested by one of the participating informatics students and then introduced to the children as one of the inspirational materials made by the artist.
All the project members liked the idea of ‘islands’, because it would motivate children to behave like explorers, hopping from island to island, thereby covering the full range of possible symptoms. When everyone could see how the children picked up the idea, also the project leader accepted it. In fact, the adults in the project listened carefully to the children’s way of talking about symptoms and considered all their visual ideas. However, the children were not included in the decision-making itself, which took place when the core team watched and discussed the video recordings of the workshops with the children.
Figure 5. Integration of professional-looking elements in children’s drawings and prototyping Much of the decision-making in the Desarte project happened in the numerous collaborative design sessions of the architect-users with the designer team.
The first part of these design sessions served to elaborate the design concept. The functionalities that were decided on were quite literal translations of the architects’ stories about how they would like to use the 3D Wunderkammer. In the design sessions that followed, the user interface that had been visualized in a set of first sketches was further developed. Hence, selecting among choices happened as part of what Schön describes as ‘design moves’. The IT specialists in the project worked partially in parallel, exploring different technical options and taking decisions on the technical paths to follow. They brought these decisions back into the team of architect-users, project leader, graphic designer, and 3D design specialist to inform the design choices these fleshed out together.
A consequence of this continuous collaboration was that those designers that worked with the landscape architects decided to develop ‘their own’ 2D Wunderkammer, a ‘visual and textual indexing landscape’ (Büscher et al. 2000).