The Quality of Design Participation: Intersubjectivity in Design Practice
Denny K L Ho, Yanki C Lee


As a team composed of a design researcher and a sociologist, we initiated the Design.Lives Lab, to examine how user involvement actually works and what elements of the design process would bring forth positive and negative impacts on both design practice and user engagement. In this paper we argue that it is methodologically necessary to practice design participation because of the specific nature of design, which is characterised by “wicked problems” and the necessity of employing abductive logic. After reflecting on our findings from the labs for Hong Kong youngsters, we also suggest the concept of intersubjectivity, which is a threefold model of I-It, It-Thou and I-Thou. The I-It relation can be used as an indicator of the existence of an instrumental relationship and the deterioration of the quality of human interaction, whereas the It-Thou relation is an indicator of the formation of an empathic act, which would certainly help open communicative space. The I-Thou relationship engages each member in an entity as a whole and helps accomplish equal dialogues. We propose this threefold typology of intersubjectivity as a conceptual guide for designers to know how to build up communicative space in which equal dialogues are possible and can extend the impact of design participation on social development.

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