Design for Provocation

I will here comment on the paper “Critical Design and Critical Theory: The Challenge of Designing for Provocation”. I think the authors nicely present a way of taking design research out of the labs. As well as conceptual and provocative art did find stage starting from the last century in art galleries and museums, critical and provocative design needs to find his own as well. If the former forced people to move out of their ordinary context, to disengage with it by beginning a new contemplative experience, the latter brings the criticism and provocativeness within the everyday life. What I think it indeed makes the approach there presented valuable is the contextualization part, bringing designs to the homes of people, not taking people from their homes to exhibitions. Provocativeness of the design concept, strong relationship with the users and flexibility of the process altogether sound to be an effective guideline for conducting such a type of field research. The only risk which in my opinion should have been discussed more thoroughly is summarized in the following sentence, taken from the “Breakthroughs” chapter: “Provocation can be socially uncomfortable and subjects may not expect to be provoked when consenting to participate in a study.” Do people really want to be provoked in their everyday routines? Would they feel threatened?

Now my question is the following: do non-academics really want to participate in academic research? How much are people willing to be involved in these types of field trial? The way I look at it, also referring to my personal experience prior to the University is that if I want to “reason” and “critique” anything which is currently happening in my life, in my human-human or human-machine interaction, I am not sure I would be willing to be analyzed within my private context. I would just rather go to an exhibition, do the brain activity I am capable of doing and then get back to my routine, maybe not even applying any of the learned lesson.

The complexity of these field trials emerges then when we combine the different interest and involvement level of the two “critical” subjects. On the one hand, the researcher/designer who aims at finding answers or direction to a set of focus points, while on the other hand the user, who being critical as well on the topic presented, will be reflecting upon it, willing or not. When the user is not willing, or disturbed by that activity, the field trial turns into a bad nightmare..

I wanted to be provocative, just to stay in the topic.


One thought on “Design for Provocation

  1. I think you have some very interesting points about field trials and how to get people involved. As you have said, a very easy way to engage people in provocative work is through a gallery. People can choose to engage in that work and it is very straight forward what the intentions are. However, I would say that you cannot have the true impact here that you can have when the work is taken into the home. When you see something in the gallery, often an observer can have a reaction and speculate about what their behavior would be but not much more than this. I think a lot of power in design research comes in when you can get people to use it in the home.

    I agree that a challenge in this may be getting participants. Having done some work similar to this in the past, part of finding participants is being very up front to begin with. This can help to weed out the people that feel threatened. Also, during the study itself, you do not necessarily need people to be critical all of the time. To say that this field-based research leads to people having to constantly critique their life, I am not sure is intended or even desired. If a person was constantly critiquing the artifact that they were using outside of what they would normally think about it, then you may not get a typical reaction from them. A goal would be to have them integrate the artifact into their life and then when you talk to them during interviews, to be able to ask the probing questions that have them think deeper about their actions, feelings, and reactions. You do not need all reactions to be good reactions because the bad reactions show where the work is pushing boundaries.

    Something that I liked about this paper, that I realize not everyone will agree with, is the lessons learned. As they say in the paper, they are not looking to make a cookbook description, but are trying to shed some light into the area of critical design so that those outside of it can better understand it. I think that the lessons learned go a long way to helping with this. It did not feel like they were trying to prescribe a single method, but instead were providing helpful feedback on ingredients that they felt were beneficial to doing this work.

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