Originally posted: Wed, 06 Oct 2004 08:39:36
Bodker, Kensing, and Simonsen have been involved in Scandinavian participatory design for a long time, and they've done a lot to work out a systematic participatory design approach. This approach, called MUST, is the descendant of the early and relatively unstructured PD work and was presaged by the Cooperative Design approach described in the 1991 classic Design at Work. Understandably, I was eager to see their new book. And as I read Participatory IT Design, I saw that they had indeed systematized and developed those participatory design themes while keeping the political and ethical orientation of the early Scandinavian work. The many techniques that were developed in the UTOPIA project and similar projects -- prototyping, future workshops, organizational games, observations, document and functional analyses -- are here, further developed and given coherence in the MUST approach. And MUST provides a far more worked out understanding of organizations, projects, and project phases.
And yet. Have you ever met a scholar whose work you greatly admired, perhaps at a conference, and gotten to know him or her? And have you suddenly realized, this person is incredibly boring? That's how I felt about 30 pages in. The authors have provided too much structure, too much detail, and far too many scenarios to keep things straight; I could tell that there's something to the method, but it gets bogged down in the many, many details and principles and phases. Further, the methods and techniques are separated from the phases, so we don't get a solid sense of how the two relate. I can't keep from comparing this book to Beyer and Holtzblatt's Contextual Design, which -- although I have my issues with it -- really does a remarkable job of explicating phases, methods, and techniques in a more integrated manner.
All in all, I expect to refer to Participatory IT Design quite a bit in my scholarly work. But I can't imagine using it in a classroom, as I regularly use Beyer and Holtzblatt's book.
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