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Working materials play different roles in design processes

Working materials are of great importance and play different roles throughout collaborative design processes. This places new demands on the co-designer. This position is established by Mette Agger Eriksen, a doctoral candidate and design researcher at Malmö University, in her dissertation.

Working materials, in a broad sense, are verbal, digital, and physical materials that are used and assigned various roles in collaborative situations. It can be post-its, paper, pipe cleaners, a narrative, video clips, a prototype, the agenda for a meeting, a PowerPoint image with questions, guidelines for collaboration, etc.

Mette Agger Eriksen sees these materials as central to design and co-design work, and she shows and discusses in her dissertation "Materials Matters in Co-designing" how their importance emerges and is negotiated in the situation.

One of the conclusions are that working materials are more than part of a method since other participants and materials are invited and play different roles in collaborative designprojects.

"How materials are engaged in co-designing depends on the situation and the design project. Materials cannot be understood out of their context. They are part of the situation, of how you collaborate, negotiate and communicate, and they impact involvement and ultimately the outcomes."

"Some materials assist in setting the stage for collaboration, what I call the format, whereas others relate to the relevant focus, theme, or subject. What materials are used, and the roles they are assigned and play, can truly empower designers or others who organize and stage co-design processes."

A key competence for interaction designers, service designers, and co-designers is therefore not only to be able to design solutions but also to a great extent to be able to design materials for staging and formatting collaborative processes where the focusing and proposed solutions are co-designed."

Co-design processes planned and staged Another conclusion in Mette Agger Eriksen's dissertation is that co-design processes are to a great extent planned and staged. Inspired by other design researchers, Mette Agger Eriksen views a co-design event as a performance, where the materials play a role in the staging before, during, and after the actual face-to-face interaction.

"Some of the planning of a workshop or a co-design event is, for example, the designing of a dedicated agenda, themes, and materials to work with that correspond to where you are in the project. In my practical work I have worked a great deal with staging and establishing the framework (formats) for open, creative, and collaborative exploration."

This requires special preparations and a good understanding of the contexts, Mette Agger Eriksen stresses.

A third conclusion in Mette Agger Eriksen's dissertation is that materials also play a role between different co-design events, since we quickly forget details of what happened and what was discussed and decided. What these materials specifically contain and how they are produced plays a role in relation to commitment to and owning a project.

"The materials that are made available during the aftermath of an event must also be co-designed, which is something I call rematerializing, and it makes a difference whether or not participants are still in an explorative mood when this is done."

How do you hope your dissertation will be used? "I hope it will affect views of materials in collaborative design and interaction design, service design, and architectural design practice. I would like co-designers to acknowledge and stage the different roles of materials in co-design processes where workshops or co-design events are central. I also hope it will affect teaching in interaction design, for example. Finally I hope my dissertation will impact practice-based design research.

Footnote: Co-design or participatory (collaborative) design projects are collaborations between designers, other actors and users.

Contactinformation: email: mette.agger@mah.se , cellphone: +45-26146452

idw :: 15.06.2012