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Design in the Open December 4, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, collaboration, identity, IPD, questions.
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Shortlisted for a major project on the west coast, I’m going into a project interview in a couple days.

With little interest in giving a dog and pony show, I want the meeting to be a working session.

To give them a taste of how we – as a team – are to work with.

And to make good use of everybody’s time.

Get some real value out of our brief time together, whatever the results.

We’re not going to pretend we have all the answers.

So we’ll ask a lot of questions.

And answer some of their questions with questions of our own.

Not to be difficult.

But to engage the client in a dialogue.

An Identity Problem

Participatory design is a design approach that seeks to actively involve all stakeholders (employees, partners, customers, citizens, end users) in the design process to help assure that what is designed meets their needs and functions well for all.

It involves cooperation and collaboration, and the attitudes and mindset necessary to allow these practices to flower.

Prior to its popularity in the 60’s and 70’s, participatory design was known as Cooperative Design.

Now we have Crowdsourcing and Integrated Design.

And would you know it, Co-Creation, too.

In The Power of Co-Creation: Build It with Them to Boost Growth, Productivity, and Profits, authors Venkat Ramaswamy and Francis Gouillart explain how to tap into ideas, design  and build products and services by engaging directly with employees, stakeholders, clients and suppliers.

Even with competitors.

The applications to, and implications for, Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) – especially in terms of how co-creation can help to lower risks and costs – are readily apparent.

“Participatory design always works.”

And like IPD it involves a democratization and decentralization of value creation among other benefits.

Participatory design is a far more democratic approach to design than most architects today would be comfortable with.

And that’s too bad.

It’s one that requires relinquishing control of the very design process that the architect struggles with to lead.

The American architect Charles Moore – a successful proponent of participatory design – had flippantly said that, in his own case, his oversized ego allowed him to relinquish his reigns on design.

This is an accurate statement in that Moore alone among architects at the time (1980’s) had the self-awareness and self-belief – the confidence – that he could take any form the masses came up with and turn it into an exceptional work of architecture.

And he was almost always right.

Charles Moore, an incredibly intelligent and creative architect and entrepreneur, late in his career said that the only architectural truth that he discovered was that “participatory design always works.”

Plain Modern: The Architecture of Brian Mackay-Lyons presents the work of Charles Moore’s internationally acclaimed, California-based firm Moore Ruble Yudell, whose unique expertise in community involvement and participatory design has profoundly influenced the course of contemporary architecture.

Moore’s advocacy of user participation in the design process influenced a whole generation of designers.

One of these was Brian MacKay-Lyons of MacKay-Lyons, whose mentor was Charles Moore.

A Design Process by any Other Name

But in changing names of this powerful design process over the years have we inadvertently thrown the baby out with the bath water?

Today we may talk about building social ecosystems, designing engagement platforms and expanding scope and scale of network interactions, but what we really mean when we say transforming enterprise operations through co-creation is…participatory design.

Whatever name you give it, participatory design is fast replacing traditional thinking that viewed design innovation as a proprietary activity.

Changing names on such a regular basis has led to books such as the unlikely (and awkwardly) titled “Crowdsourcing: Neologism, Independent contractor, Outsourcing, Crowd, Participatory design, Human-based computation, Citizen science, Web 2.0, … intelligence, Distributed computing.”

Architectural collaborator Dave Premi reflects on participatory design as a highly creative and evolving process when he looks back on his experience collaborating:

“I have been involved with MacKay-Lyons’ participatory design process on a number of buildings. Each time we created a new process, since every client has its own requirements. You have to mold the process each time to suit the requirements. It’s not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ method.”

Other take-aways from Charles Moore and his protégé MacKay-Lyons’ on participatory design:

  • To succeed, the architect can’t have his mind made up before working with the public on the design
  • No preconceived ideas
  • The secret to making it work: don’t get defensive
  • Have the conviction that you can make a nice building out of anything anyone comes up with
  • In the participatory design process, “the public define the shapes, we refine them.”
  • Refining building form is up to the architect; their sole domain
  • Participatory design is somewhat similar to advocacy planning of the 1960s where architects acted as midwives for lay people’s visions

Design in the Open

Architects, upon being asked a design or building question, can no longer say let me go back to the office and study it.

Because it’s all integrated and participatory from here on out.

It’s all open source.

Today we have science in the open, theater in the open, “out in the open” with CNN’s Rick Sanchez.

But design in the open?

To succeed, get buy-in and move projects forward, architects and other design professionals will need to design in the open.

Learning from Participatory Design

Take this exchange from a recent interview in the Huffington Post between Guy Horton and Witold Rybczynski:

Guy Horton: In your opinion, can architects reclaim more of a public role? This is something that is discussed in professional circles. There is the perception that they are more insular and out of the loop and have ceded much of their power to developers. What can architects do to elevate the visibility of their role?

Witold Rybczynski: I just watched an interview with Charles Moore on YouTube. He was talking about how architects should listen to the public, rather than dictate to it. It was quite compelling. That was in the 1980s, and neither postmodernism nor Moore’s vision of participatory design caught on. Not many architects had Moore’s confidence to share design decisions with their clients. Moreover, architects tend to be persuaders rather than listeners. Success in the architectural profession–realizing one’s vision in something as large and complex as a building–requires a strong ego and a single-minded, almost obsessive, attention to detail. These qualities can easily turn to arrogance. It is, as the French say, a déformation professionelle.

If the result is an increase in participatory design, here’s to a déformation professionelle in 2011.

Watch the interview.

And read this book: one of the best books ever written on the subject for those who want to encourage full participation in their own work, universally esteemed and revered,the Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making by Sam Kaner et al. Highly recommended.

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