Critical Response to RE:Definitions of Use – by Johan Redström
1. About the author
As with so many great designers, Johan Redström found the field somewhat by accident. As a Ph.D. student in philosophy, Redström was recruited by a research group at Göteborg University that was pioneering the field of interaction design. He’s been an adjunct professor at the School of Textiles at the University of Borås, Sweden, and associate research professor at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture, Denmark. Currently, he teaches and conducts research at the Umeå Institute of Design where, according to his profile, he supervises 8 PhDs. As an academic with a broad background and diversity of experience Redström decided to commit 14 pages of academic writing to just one word.
2. Indicate 5 meaningful keywords
Thing Design & Use Design: Thing design refers to the process of designing a specific object. Designing how we perceive a certain object be it the look, feel, sound, etc. The object may have a specific function, like a chair, but unless the use of the object must be instructed through the design, it can still be deemed “thing” design. Use design refers to when designers want to specifically design the way an object is interacted with, how they want the object to be used. With most chairs, there is a prewritten script designers can rely on that allows the thing to be the focus. With the Balans chairs by Mengshoel and Opsvik for Stokke, the use was the focus of the design as it balked at the script we’re familiar with for office chairs.
(Defining) Use Through Design (UTD) & Use Through Use (UTU): Redström uses four verbs to define and contrast UTD and UTU. Defining UTD is an interpretation or an anticipation of how an object will be used. Whereas defining UTU is an appropriation or an appreciation of an object. I feel the difference between the two lies in whether the use was defined before or after the object becomes physical; UTD before it’s physical and UTU after it’s physical. This isn’t always true but can be useful in terms of separating the two.
User-Centred Design (UCD): Redström offers two definitions of UCD. The first, more general definition, is that UCD focuses on the future users of the object and tries to anticipate their needs in relation to it. He (re-)defines UCD in the context of this paper as an exploration between defining use through use, and use through design, and points out that the two ways of defining use are typically done by different parties.
3. Articulate a significant idea and 3-5 points that support the argument
The distinctions between use and design are not so concrete. Redström brings up the example of the record player becoming used as an instrument in hip-hop culture. The redefinition of how to use this object is undoubtedly an act of design. DJ Grandmaster Flash, a pioneer of the genre, can be considered the designer of the record player as an instrument. While objects have ways they are intended to be used, they also have rules about ways not to use them. Touching the surface of a record was one of those rules. Wanting to have clearer control of where the “break” is on a track, Flash broke this rule by spinning the record by hand while on the turntable. He continued to design by adding slips of paper or felt underneath the record to make controlling it by hand easier.
Additionally, in the example of architecture, the design of a building is not truly complete until the building is in use. Redström quotes Rendell (1998, p. 232, 234f) stating “…the non-architects continuously do architecture. When we, as non-architects, occupy a space, when we start to use it, we start to ‘do-it-ourselves’.” Under this point of view, an object isn’t fully “designed” until it is in the hands of the users.
Finally, Redström brings up the personal computer. The personal computer only becomes a unique artifact once it’s in the hands of the user. Redström claims “…its form in a wider sense… also includes all the documents, images, music, software, and even hardware created or modified by the user herself.” This puts the design of the personal computer to be a thing constantly in flux as defined by the user.
4. Include a piece of text taken directly from that week’s reading that you found most compelling
“Another set of examples comes from the domains of sports such as skateboarding, snowboarding and windsurfing, e.g., as described by Shah (2005, p. 4f): Users generate and accumulate information based on product use in extreme or novel contexts, the creation of new (unintended) uses for the product or service, and accidental discovery – in addition to intended product use.”
Redström brings up skateboarding and windsurfing as examples of user innovation. With windsurfing, the addition of foot straps made the act of jumping possible, but they would be considered sacrilege on a skateboard. To jump on a skateboard the user must learn to “ollie.”
To do an ollie, the skateboarder jumps while flicking the back foot down to strike the rear of the board against the ground. This action raises the front of the board and causes the whole board to bounce off the ground into the air. The boarder then drags the front foot forward along the board, further lifting it and flattening it out in the air. This is an act of defining use through use.
The ollie is the foundation of countless tricks across skateboarding (kickflips, pop shuvits, heelflips, 50-50s, board slides, and other such nonsense words). Had an innovator (or manufacturer) defined the use (of jumping) through design ( e.g. footstraps like on a windsurf) we would have ended up with a completely different sport. Defining use through use and use through design give radically different results. It illustrates how we as designers must be careful about whether we should be changing the design of an object or how we’re using it.
The skateboard was invented in the 50s in California, the creation of the ollie was accredited to Alan “Ollie” Gelfand in the late 70s. It took almost 20 years between the invention of the skateboard and the invention of the ollie. Defining use through use takes time, but luckily the skateboard was part of a culture that allowed for that.
- Redström, J. (2008). RE: Definitions of use. Design studies, 29(4), 410-423.
- Johan Redström. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.uid.umu.se/johanredstrom.
- Wheeler, D., Dunn, S,. McFadyen, S., Hip-Hop Evolution (2016) Netflix