By Mark Kamau
  Published 28 Apr 2014
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Last week we spent some time learning about participatory design and there were some interesting discussions around this topic. In this day and age of experts, many often rely on their training and their technical skills to develop solutions. This is especially true in the technology sphere where there is a considerable amount of specialized skill involved in the development of products and services. Most rely on their programming skills, often with a good user interface designer, to produce a product of technical and aesthetic brilliance. The real life their target audience faces on a day-to-day basis is however, much more complex. This therefore begs the question, what is good design? Is there space and need to rethink how we have been designing solutions? Do we really know enough to go and design by ourselves? The honest answer is often No to this question. This reality makes for a strong case to consider participatory design.


This is a process in which you actively seek to involve stakeholders in the development of a solution, but not at a dominant expert, but by placing premium on the active involvement of these stakeholders in the design decision-making process. By virtue of their experiences of the challenge, they are in fact experts in their own right. Participatory Design traces its roots to Scandinavian work with trade unions in the 60's and 70's, but its ancestry also includes Action Research and Sociotechnical Design. The fundamental argument for participatory design is the idea of contextual relevance and ownership, with a higher chance of designing sustainable and scalable solutions due to the shared cognitive and design decision load.


The process is often dependent on the context and challenge you collectively are designing for. The process at its core is however the same. It emphasizes participation and as such, you should consider the following guidelines:-


You may be an expert and indeed have a lot to contribute, but be very aware of your role in the process. Beware of dominance. You should pay attention to ensure the stakeholders are actively involved and remain important parts of the process with real design decision-making power.


It is important to see the participants and stakeholders as genuine sources of innovation regardless of their know-how. This attitude is extremely important to ensure rich design ideas coming from diverse sources and background but all contributing to the solving of a common challenge.


Innovation and good design requires an open mind. We are trained a certain way and have specific experiences that quite understandably, pre-dispose us to certain patterns of thinking familiar to our experiences and expertise. This is especially why participatory design is important. It allows for different stakeholders to equally contribute and divergent thinking in an open environment provide fertile ground for novel solutions that would otherwise be unilaterally arrive at because of our conscious or sub-conscious limitations. There is much more to participatory design, but by keeping the environment neutral, open and respectful, you should be on your way. Go on! Try it! Lets design together. We learn human centered design skills together at the iHub user experience lab. Samantha Merritt is leading this particular series. Come join us for the next lesson on Wed, 7th May. One of the most expensive and inefficient mistakes in Africa today is bad design. We cannot afford any more bad design.
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