When skillful participation becomes design : making clothes together: Making clothes together

Anja-Lisa Hirscher

Tutkimustuotos: Doctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


This dissertation investigates the intersection and fluidity of design, use and participation when participatory design (PD) extends its focus to new forms, spaces and community contexts. Whereas early PD aimed to enable user participation in the design of their workplaces, contemporary PD experiences new challenges by expanding to new contexts. These contexts are, for instance, “makerspaces” for “peer production”, dedicated to placing participants with varying knowledge and skill into dialogue while providing spaces, tools, materials, and guidance. When extending PD to such spaces, the roles of the designer/user become blurred, because over time they move along a spectrum of acts of design and use. I investigated this challenge by creating three exemplary sites for designing and making clothes together. By designing together I refer to enabling the garment user to participate in the design and production process through offering local spaces and means for shared making activities. I blend PD, do-it-yourself, and do-it-together activities with concepts from peer production, to explore how participants (designer and user) with different skills are “making clothes together”. Simultaneously, I sensitize the participants to sustainable alternatives to the global mass-production system in fashion, which is traditionally based on fast, cheap and high-volume production in low-labor-cost countries. I carried out three “research through design” experiments, creating different kinds of peer production makerspace settings in Finland, Germany and Italy. These spaces were distinctive in the social diversity of their participants; themes and engagement methods, and in their focus on clothing. This focus offered the participants a familiar repertoire of technical equipment (e.g. household sewing machines) and was thus beneficial for observing the blurring of roles between designer and user. Each experiment consisted of a series of participatory making workshops, each lasting three to six hours. During a total of about 60 workshops with hundreds of participants, I collected rich materials such as design diary notes, observations, photographs, and audio recordings of qualitative interviews. The experiments posed specific questions that led me to emergent conceptualizations of “stuff” (i.e. tools, materials, spaces) and “skills”. These stuff and skills were analyzed in terms of their evolving interdependence and their relation to participation and the blurring of roles. The dissertation is structured as the presentation of the main findings of four peer-reviewed journal articles and an introductory chapter. I outline five main contributions to extended PD research and practice. First, my research illustrated the fluid spectrum that spans design and use, through interrelating conceptions from literature with a substantial amount of materials documented through practice. Second, through systematic analysis of stuff and skills, the research explored the social and material considerations of design and “infrastructuring”. Third, I documented how the participants’ (designer and user) roles changed and how participation is a development process over time. The participants’ roles changed from categories such as beginner to advanced experts and allowed associations between those with different kinds of material engagements from operating to managing to designing. This was seen, for instance, by participants taking over responsibilities and becoming workshop facilitators; or a local visitor who turned out to be a sewing machine repair expert. Fourth, I propose that in the given context, participation can be understood as skillful acts of use. This perspective helped me recognize and document changes in the participants’ roles and types of participation when framed as acts of use, determined by skills. Finally, the developed categories documented the relation between participation and skill, by highlighting interesting dynamics emerging around skills development, materialized through evolving and changing stuff (i.e. social and material infrastructuring). For example, skilled participants developed or brought their own tools for facilitation. This further elucidated how skills are not static but interrelated, and that specific skills are required and can be developed through different social, material and designerly aspects, attuned to such extended PD contexts. The results, therefore, contribute to extended PD research by adding nuances extracted from practice, to highlight how skillful participation changes over time. This suggests a reconceptualization and broadening of traditional PD or co-design perspectives of roles. For practice, the perspective of framing participation as skillful acts of use allows designers to support participants’ skills (development) during participation. Further, my research identified that a focus on user or designer roles is limiting in such contexts. It advocates designing spaces for infrastructuring, which allow changes in participation and anticipate unexpected use: spaces that nourish skills development and encourage the sharing of responsibilities among very different participants which can potentially be sustained over time.
Julkaisun otsikon käännösWhen skillful participation becomes design : making clothes together
Myöntävä instituutio
  • Aalto-yliopisto
  • Niinimäki, Kirsi, Vastaava professori
  • Mazé, Ramia, Ohjaaja
Painoksen ISBN978-952-60-8925-6
Sähköinen ISBN978-952-60-8926-3
TilaJulkaistu - 2020
OKM-julkaisutyyppiG5 Tohtorinväitöskirja (artikkeli)

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