From Participate: “Foreward” & “What is Participatory Design?”
Maybe it’s some small part of my contrarian self, but I’m often turned off by the idea that participatory design is somehow new. While true that the tools designers use to create participatory design are certainly recent inventions, design has always been participatory. A grand example may be St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
This magnificent structure simply couldn’t have been built by a single individual or even a small group. Every aspect of the building was a group effort. Every design element (from its inception through its creation) required a massive number of people, most of whom have been totally forgotten to history.
Often, the problems seems to be that designers identify with an extremely limited history. “Design” as a subject typically extends about 100 years, perhaps a little further. But design is simply not that new. Even the wheel had to be designed. Every written language started as a series of shapes. Every religion, ideology, or dogma has required a method of communication and all of them have been, in part, visual.
But maybe I’m over-thinking this. Maybe the problem isn’t that designers need to stretch their memory, but stretch their imagination. There is absolutely no reason that design should be a solo effort. Maybe the technology of the last 100 years, while giving us the tools to create design, has also limited our vision. And that’s why participatory design is so important; to stand as a constant reminder that you are not alone on this planet. You can’t do it alone. And you were never expected to.