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Participatory Design

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Participatory design is a design methodology that involves users (or research participants) and their feedback in the production process. Unlike the user-centered approach, where designers focus on users but still maintain primary control over development, participatory design positions designers (authors) alongside users so that work is collaborative.

Participatory design levels the field of expertise between designer and user so that knowledge from both are recognized as valid and important to producing mutually beneficial technologies: documents, toasters, vehicles, OWLs.

Expanding on Scandinavian manufacturing and computer design methods developed by Kristen Nygaard and Pelle Ehn, Robert Johnson (in User-centered Technology: A Rhetorical Theory for Computers and Other Mundane Artifacts) points out the social nature of participatory design, saying that the aim of participatory design researchers “is to broaden the perspective we have of what computers are and how they are used . . . participatory designers are interested in the social, political, cognitive, and practical facets of computer usage” (83).

According to Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, participatory design is an approach to the assessment, design, and development of technological and organizational systems that places a premium on the active involvement of practitioners (usually potential or current users of the system) in design and decision-making processes.

Pioneers in the field of participatory design are:

  • Kristen Nygaard
  • Pelle Ehn
  • Stephen Draper
  • Jakob Nielsen
  • Donald Norman.

Recently, scholars in the writing disciplines have begun discussing ways participatory design impacts technical communication and research. Participatory design played a key role in current research on and redesign of the Purdue OWL.