Monday, November 06, 2006

Designer - Linguist not Novelist

At a presentation tonight by visiting professor Josh Tennenberg, a discussion arose about the "problematizing" of the role of designers in a world where design research seems to be finding more and more that the outsourcing of design to the end user (participatory design, experience co-creation, innovation democratization, etc) produces a better design.

My thoughts on this?

Glad you asked - or at least kept reading so far. As designers find themselves outsourcing design and innovation to the users themselves, they become no less "designerly." Instead, it is merely that the locus of the value that they add to the process shifts. This process of locus-shifting is not without historical precedent. Education itself has seen this shift occur, for example. Where once the educator was seen as the disseminator of knowledge and the students as the receivers, now a good educator is often a facilitator that creates the space in which students learn. Where in a monarchy, the ruler was seen as the maker of laws and the determiner of ethics, democracy attempts to create the space in which the people govern themselves. So i see that designers are no longer the designers of designs that consumers consume. Instead they are becoming the designers of the spaces in which consumers (though this name will need to change) can configure and create their own designs.

But there is something more. For the last few months, i have been working on understanding this "space-creating activity", continually conceiving of it as "creating a space" into which user/consumer creativity could pour. But this would merely make the designer a demolition man, blasting holes in the earth in hopes that people would then spontaneously construct mansions. This is as ludicrous as the theories of extreme anarchism, which seek to destroy government in hopes that a civilized society will spontaneously form.

No, the new designer is not a demolition man, but a linguist. Where once the designer acted as a novelist, striving to put together for an unskilled public just the perfect work of literature that would educate, entertain, embolden them, now the designer is a linguist, who creates for her skilled public the grammar, the language, that the user/consumer can easily learn, use and re-use to create their own works of art.

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