The context in which we view something, or the perspective it is given, can greatly impact our impression of an object, picture, person, etc. Take the two images below.
Though we would expect the one on the right to garner more outcry and despondence, it is #TheDress that has had social media in a tizzy over the last few days, not the beheadings but an optical illusion fueled by poor photography. The environment in which the picture was taken greatly influenced over half the world to see it as white and gold, rather than the true colors: blue and black.
However, how we identify the surrounds of the picture: do you perceive the dress to be backlit or not, is the underlying factor to perception as one color over another. This will tie to our identities, what we have experienced and built over the years. 2.3 millions people who looked at #TheDress, saw it incorrectly. 2.3 MILLION people. How we react to the second picture, that of a headline from an ISIS beheading will also be driven by (and shape) our identities—are you political, religious, pro-war? You will react differently depending on your identity with and within a community. Our identities shape what we see. If we design without care for the impact those designs will have on others, consequences can be grave. Though a silly comment about color of a dress is fine here in the United States, where we can comment on religion as we see fit, or see what we want to see, similar conversations in other countries will result in imprisonment torture, or loss of life.
The community identity will shape not only what we see, but also what we design. “Any design endeavor takes place in relation to a cultural environment, and the more that environment accepts design as a valid approach for intentional change, the better it provides support for design and for the designer” (Nelson & Stolterman, p. 225). For a design to be impactful and lasting, designers need to have support from the client community. Cuban gives us the example of policy makers (designers) and teachers (clients, sort of.) Current policy reforms are not being accepted in educational communities, and policy maker/designers are confused. They would do well to look at the IDEO HCD Toolkit’s exemplar of the farmer design challenge. The designers gained the trust of local farmers by showing investment and interest in their specific community, and a commitment to staying. Most teachers see policy reform as waiting for the next dictation to come upon them. Policy makers are not their allies but their judge and jury. In the Toolkit, designers are seen as collaborative, not combative.
We need to also look from the perspective of the designers—what does the designer need to influence the design more than what the client needs? It is possible that a designer of say, #TheDress, knows that their design can be seen in multiple ways. This could be intentional to be more generalizable, or cause mayhem. The identity of the designer needs to be balanced with the needs and identity of the client. This lack of regard for teachers as clients in policy reform “has led to overestimating the influence of personal traits and underestimating the influence of the context in which teachers find themselves every day. Because of this fundamental attribution error, as it is called, policy makers have undervalued the power of the age-graded school, particularly the way it isolates teachers from one another, discourages collaboration, and influences daily teaching. Moreover, policy makers have ignored what students bring to school. Context matters.” (Cuban, p. 12) The teachers, and even students’ identities have been diminished for the identity and needs of the policy maker-designers. We have pushed teachers into a non-participation role and subsequently created marginalized roles for them and their students in a process so crucial to them. However, designers need not be walked-on by overzealous clients.
“Good designers do not accept any situation as given; instead they always begin by asking challenging questions to better understand the true nature of what they are dealing with. They never settle for the ‘problem’ as presented to them by clients, users, or stakeholders. They do not accept the initial ideas for ‘solutions’ given to them, not even by people who live and work in the situation and who see themselves as experts in the environment. Designers always need to expose the underlying forces of change that their design intervention is expected to successfully confront, modify, and use. They try to become aware of problematic symptoms, and they try to expose underlying forces and root causes that need to be taken into account when attempting to actualize expression of desiderata for the particular situation at hand.” (Nelson & Stolterman, p.249)
“It also means constantly engaging in the creation, application, and critique of ones own schemas (p. 224).
We need balance of identities and community support in order to create effective designs.
We conclude with the needs of higher education- are designers, like Batman and Gotham, therefore “not the hero [they] deserve, but the one they need right now?” Designers will need to ask hard questions, but still be willing to invest themselves in the communities that require their services. It is a never-ending reiterative process in which designs will grow and strengthen over time as designers are brought into the communities of practice for whom they are designing. What we need now though, are the design heroes who can help us solve the the wicked problem that is ISIS, and how to stop seeing that damn dress on Facebook.
-Katie, Zach, Dean