Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Participatory design, or the road to hell is paved with good intentions

American Women: Partners in Research (1960)

"It begins like this: basic research develops new materials to cope with the space age we're living in...Now the problem is this: Now that we have the material, what products can be made better than ever by using it? And more important still, how can industry be sure that what it makes are the things that people really want?

It starts with men: designers, engineers, production men. First they determine what things can be made better [and it] seems there is no doubt there is a need for good percolators. But it's also an established fact that 3 out of 4 new household products just don't sell. Or to put it another way, the women of America will not buy 3 out of 4 new products offered to them for their homes because they aren't what women want. That's the basic problem and that's the reason for this new partnership in research with women.

So first, the design department works out some preliminary shapes. And good as these designers are, they know that women have minds of their own. They've learned to seek the help of the American housewife. Now let's go on to the next step in design, and see how American women show one company what they want before it's offered for sale..."

Well worth watching in its entirety, this video outlines Corning's approach to product research and design in 1960. Its oh-so-dated take on gender roles makes it easy to dismiss, but how much has really changed when it comes to how we imagine the relationship between designers and the people who use their designs? What are the relationships between design research and market research today? And what will today's strategies look like 45 or 50 years from now?

See also:
BusinessWeek: Ruthless Focus on the Customer

2 Comments:

Blogger Phil said...

And good as these designers are, they know that women have minds of their own. They've learned to seek the help of the American housewife.

Don't overlook the saving irony of that first line: it reads to me very much as if the writer's evoking an already-outdated attitude so as to position himself on the side of enlightenment, in the confident (and probably mostly justified) expectation that most women hearing him would simply agree.

Which strengthens your point, of course. Take out the boy/girl stuff and it sounds like something from the cutting edge of digital design...

to put it another way, users won't adopt 3 out of 4 new tools offered to them because they aren't what users want. That's the basic problem and that's the reason for this new partnership in research with users

21:49  
Anonymous anne said...

word!

04:54  

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