This panel invites inquiries into the situatedness of design practices and artefacts. We welcome theoretical and empirical studies into the mutual configuration of technical and design practices with their geographical, organisational and material worlds and their implicit value claims.
Design, at the heart of creating new technologies, has a predominant existence and influence outside the theoretical framework of research as a professional practice. A plethora of practices identify as design. These range from traditional product design over design engineering to more recent conversions in UX/UI or design thinking. Simultaneously, the boundaries of design have become porous; research in the social sciences discloses that design is also practiced by those avoiding the term. Newer approaches at the intersections of design and STS, such as craft (Rosner & Fox, 2016; Pérez Bustos, 2017), critical technical practice (Agre, 1997; Boehner et al., 2005), hacking (Söderberg and Delfanti, 2015), repair and fixing (Denis and Pontille, 2014; Jackson, 2014), offer unconventional reconfigurations of both technological expertise and socio-political worlds. This diversity of locations and approaches makes it difficult to provide a definition what design means—something even design research has been struggling with.
Rather than seeking a substantive definition, this panel makes an inquiry into the location, circulation, presences and absences of design practices. Part of this challenge to situate design, is articulating the geographical, organisational, discursive and material arrangements that converge at sites, where design is practiced and reflexively delineated. We welcome both theoretical contributions and practical case studies that follow along dialogues on what design means for design, STS, and beyond.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Situating design in architecture: reflections on spatial-visual knowledge in architectural design education
In this paper, I present results of my STS-based ethnographic research on design and knowledge production in architectural design education. I will show that this knowledge can be conceptualised as "spatial-visual knowledge", that is produced through and represented in drawings and models.
Taking the ethnographic perspective of laboratory studies, a growing number of STS scholars (eg. Cuff 1991, Potthast 1998, Yaneva 2005, 2009, Houdart 2008) describe architecture as based on acts of design, such as drawing, modelling, and computer-aided designing. However, these studies understand design processes as grounded in experimentation (Yaneva, 2005) and as taking place in a laboratory like setting (Potthast, 1998), rather than reflecting on the epistemological transformation from an examination of the hard sciences to one of architectural design.
Against this background, this paper suggests an alternative way to situate design knowledge in architecture. To do so, I will present results of my ethnographic research on design education at various architecture departments. In particular, I will draw attention to architectural review sessions, the so-called critiques, in which tutors give feedback on the architectural work of students.
I will show that: 1.) Design artefacts, such as drawings and models, occupy a central position in architectural education, as they are the focal point of discussion in these critiques. 2.) These artefacts are treated by tutors as visually embodying the structural, material and aesthetic qualities of the spaces designed by the students.
Based on these observations, I will conceptualise architectural drawings and models as representing "spatial-visual knowledge" in two ways. Through acts of drawing and model building, students produce visual knowledge about space. Furthermore, these drawings and models are the objects around which discussions and judgements about the qualities of space are centred.
(Re)framing engagements in and with design - abduction, design synthesis, and the implication of heterogeneous actors through 'domestication'.
The paper addresses abductive sensemaking in design synthesis informed by the domestication of technology approach. It discusses the design relevance of understanding how heterogeneous actors are implicated across units of analysis in processes of domestication and their heterogeneous underpinnings.
The paper explores how abductive sensemaking in design synthesis may be informed by domestication of technology. Addressing design-use relationships in the context of domestication is far from new (Oudshoorn and Pinch 2003/2008). Yet, inquiry into possible interrelationships, between insights into everyday practices of engaging with artifacts and design as a situated practice, has yet to be broached in earnest, utilizing analytical and methodological repertoires pertaining to domestication. From its origins in consumption studies, the appropriation of domestication theory into STS has extended its analytical reach, with regard to (socio)materiality and reciprocal transformations of artifact vis-à-vis concrete settings of use. (Lie & Sørensen 1996) Moreover, this is so, in terms of 'use' not necessarily delimited in any narrow sense, but also broader forms of engagement, through multiple units of analysis that domestication affords. (Sørensen 2006)
The paper addresses heterogeneous underpinnings that constitute domestication, as a venue into exploring and sensemaking how actors are implicated in relation to its processes. In so doing, an abductive approach is taken to generating and synthesizing insights (Kolko 2010) from design materials as pertain to domestication. Informed by actor-network orientations of "an actor is a network, and a network is an actor" (Callon 1991), the framing and reframing of actors engaged in and with design, be they human or otherwise, serve as an interesting site for exploration. Intended as a conceptual paper, the contribution will draw also on concrete empirical material from research into activities of (and of otherwise relevance to) design.
Who gets to situate design? Reflections from engaging with diversity in design.
Current unsustainability crises and the need for design to more meaningfully engage with 'the social' require situating design more consciously. As in our current project of engaging with Sami people, this raises questions of who gets to situate design, and how to learn to design and live together.
The current unsustainability crises have called on design to pay greater attention to the social, political, cultural and environmental dynamics of designing. These include the processes, relations, consequences, and response-abilities of design. As design practices continue to move out of the studio and engage with 'the social', the character of these design practices and their relation to the contexts in which they operate come into focus. The basic orientation of design—to approach with an intention to bring about change—can strongly activate and reveal the colonial ethos of design in these contexts, and raise questions of how to navigate different and even incommensurable value systems and types of knowledge. These issues are brought into sharp relief in our current project of working with Sami people in a project that is part of an advanced professional industrial design education. The project is motivated by an ambition to challenge ourselves and our students to open up to change through engaging with diversity. These engagements have required those involved to rethink their worldviews, values and understanding of knowledge. Situating design in this context, we must also ask: at what point does situating become imposing? Who gets to situate? Who are we to suggest something to this community as outsiders? Who gets to decide value? What does design have to offer? And, more hopefully: how might we shift from imposing our methods and values to a more transformational process of learning to design (and live) together, negotiating and sharing through an interweaving of partial perspectives?
The mundane and strategic work in collaborative design
We examine collaborative design activities in a major public building project and show how these were thoroughly permeated by practical work, project pragmatics and strategic actions, and internal competences. This raises the question about interrelation between "design" and broader "design work".
The tradition in S&TS is to study how technology, knowledge, and expertise are produced as not only as intellectual pursuits but as practical accomplishments, including mundane work and strategic actions. This perspective is useful in studying the kinds of work that go into achieving collaborative design, and suggest these are examined as co-constitutive to the processes, results, and further uptake of collaborative design outcomes as internal issues of user involvement and not just its external context or excludable routine execution. Attention to strategizing, types of work and project pragmatics is an emerging line of S&TS work on design. Continuing this line of investigation, we examine user involvement actions, which were conducted between 2012 and 2015 in the context of Helsinki Central Library project, a €100m flagship. We specifically analyze the retrospectives by the designers on six of the participation activities (out of total of twelve): open idea gathering on the web, open idea gathering in public events, idea refinement, participatory budgeting, focused interest group workshops, and a formation of the user-developer community. The most salient cross-cutting feature of all collaborative design activities and their post-mortem assessments was that they had been permeated by practical work, strategizing, and internal constituency competences, and that this permeation featured significantly in their merits and shortcomings. This however poses a further question - where does design end in all the work that goes into achieving collaborative design, and which thoroughly affects the design processes?
Situating design in a mobile phone research intervention to train Kenyan health workers: the design-reality gap as a lateral concept
I deploy the "theory of design-reality gaps" as a lateral concept to situate design in a globally-distributed mobile phone intervention for Kenyan health workers. This generates more nuanced understandings of gaps, sustainability, scalability, materiality, project failure and desired social change.
"It is not the prerogative of the (STS) scholar to conceptualize the world," assert Gad and Jensen, "all our 'informants' do it too" (2016, p. 3). Lateral concepts create "the possibility of enriching our own conceptual repertoires by letting them be inflected by the concepts of those we study" (Ibid., p.3). I deploy the "theory of design-reality gaps" (Heeks, 2002) from the empirical domain of Information Communication Technology for Development (ICTD) as a lateral concept to trace the locations, circulations, and value claims of design practice in a globally-distributed research intervention for Kenyan health workers. Weaving this lateral concept on ICTD project failure with post-structural material-semiotic tools and classic actor-network theory, I demonstrate empirically how the design-reality gap in this mobile learning project was not so much a matter of geographic or socio-cultural divides, but was instead constituted as fluid space (Mol, 2002) separating the researchers' designerly practices from the multiplicity of ways in which health workers, mobile phones, and other actors lived in relation to one another. At least six different patterns of sociomaterial relations operated through a given set of people and things, enacting the competing material-discursive apparatuses (Barad,1998) of educational research, healthcare, the market, the state, and the local community. By deploying the theory of design-reality gaps as a lateral concept, design practices of researchers were located in relation to this fluid space, allowing for more nuanced discussions of gaps, sustainability, scalability, materiality, project failure, and the contested material-semiotics of social change.
Meeting users and meeting needs - negotiating use in assistive technologies
My presentation draws on ethnographic data and reports on practices of assistive technology professionals in the UK's public healthcare system. My aim is tracing connections between critical approaches to design and practices of accommodating dis/abled people with technological means.
My presentation draws on ethnographic fieldwork into the work practices of assistive technology professionals within the UK's public healthcare system. The aim of their work is using technological devices to accommodate people diagnosed with neurological conditions. This work consist of delivering personalised systems, and it is underpinned by an institutional culture that places value on the specific individual's use instead of an abstract and potential usability.
So far, in Disability Studies and STS, the potential of creating better technological arrangements for dis/abled people was mainly discussed in terms of good design, especially novel techniques of engaging users (at an initial stage). My data presents a different case insofar as my interlocutors' practices can be simultaneously described as the implementation of established technological products, and as an inventive, ongoing technological practice that results in novel and productive human-machine configurations. It can be argued that my interlocutors, without taking much interest in design or STS, conducted a form of critical technical practice (Boehner et al, 2005), and this can be linked both to critical making (Ratto, 2008) and repair cultures (Jackson, 2014).
By unpacking some episodes of these practices, my presentation considers how dis/abled people are accommodated by ways of redistributions of expertise agency and resources, and how this ultimately entails unsettling and transforming the figures of user, device and design. Finally, I trace how this critical technical practice relates to sustainability and institutional culture and evaluation regimes that utilise technologies primarily as social goods.
Makeshift Engineering: practicing the craft of locally manufactured small wind turbines
Wind turbines in Scoraig grow out of their environment in an organic relationship to the social, the material and the natural. In this empirical study, the 'makeshift engineering' culture of locally manufactured wind turbine builders, proposes a sustainable design approach to rural electrification.
In the isolated peninsula of Scoraig, Hugh Piggott has been building small wind turbines for the last 40 years, by reusing materials sourced at the local scrapyard. His design manuals and hands-on construction courses have led to the creation of a global network of wind turbine builders, the Wind Empowerment association. The authors use an ethnographic action research approach to immerse themselves in this grassroots technological network, attempting to experience the fluidity (De Laet and Mol, 2000) of a locally manufactured wind turbine and study its co-production from precarious wind patterns, self-built tools, recycled and up-cycled materials, basic electricity needs and the unique design styles and temperaments of different builders. By revisiting the human scale design of the Radical Technology movement (Harper et al.,1976) and its more recent revival in the Design Global Manufacture Local trend (Kostakis et al., 2016), where desktop manufacturing meets the 'benchtop' of crafts men and women (Sennett, 2009) in a multitude of urban Maker Spaces and rural Farm Hacks, the authors attempt to sketch the concept of a 'Makeshift Engineering' culture, where sustainable design meets the ability of an engineering arrangement to adapt to continuous changes in its a material and immaterial environment. The makeshift engineers encountered, design wind turbines by putting science to service, by making the most out of available materials, by cultivating skills in maintenance and repair, by tweaking and tinkering with their machines and by sharing the 'recipes' of their designs with their social networks.
Radical engineering: an ethnography of promise
Based on fieldwork in the "Dynamic Medium Group," an influential research collective in the San Francisco Bay Area, this paper focuses on a specific form of engineering and design, based on a set of promises, most notably the promise of making history by "working on the medium."
This paper is about a specific form of engineering and design in the tradition of Alan Kay and Douglas Engelbart, whose aim is to perform work on the computational medium. It is based on ethnographic fieldwork in the "Dynamic Medium Group": a highly influential research collective in the San Francisco Bay Area. The group, working under the lead of Bret Victor, consists of a handful of engineers and designers working towards building the conceptual and technical foundations for a new "dynamic spatial medium."
Drawing on this two-year long fieldwork, the paper will show that at the core of these engineering and design endeavors is a set of promises, most notably the promise of making history by working on the medium. With the notion of 'promise', the paper thinks through the gestures, with which the group constructs futures, and as such itself as a strong subject. The research group at stake makes, develops and stabilizes their ambitious promises through various forms of prototyping. Internally, these promises produce both coherence and conflict. Externally, the research group tries to fight off attempts to use or understand their work without buying into the full set of its promises. Even though their promises consist of daring junctures of speculation and technology, they are positioned as opposites to the technosolutionist shortcuts situated in the Silicon Valley and beyond, and are directed against current digital media and their commercially-driven development.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.