About Elizabeth B.-N. Sanders
Ever since the 90s, Elizabeth Sanders has been interested in people. A psychology academic, Dr. Sanders boasts a Ph.D. in Experimental and Quantitative Psychology, an M.A. in Experimental Psychology, and B.A. in Psychology and Anthropology. In 1995, Sanders and her colleague Elizabeth H. Nutter organized what they called Participatory Design Practices: A Special Interest Group, to investigate the idea of “participatory design.” In the words of Liz and Liz, participatory design is when “users and other stakeholders become direct participants in the design” as opposed to “respondents.”
Dr. Sanders would continue to push designers to work more collaboratively with stakeholders throughout the end of the millennium and into the 2000s. In 2001 she published A New Design Space where she formalized what she believed the future of the user/designer relationship would be for the 21st century. This paper was followed by Scaffolds for Experiencing in the New Design Space in 2002. On her current website. Maketools.com, she opens her bio with the line “all people are creative.” A simple statement of fact that has been driving her research ever since she began giving “non-designers” a seat at the table way back in 1995.
Ordinary People: Non-designers, non-experts, the users and stakeholders of a project.
Experiential Offers vs Experiences: Experiential offers are the outputs the designer provides for the user to interact with, they can be interfaces, environments, or scenarios. Experiences, however, are not designed or provided by the designer. Experiences come from the users and their interactions and feelings around the experiential offers.
New Design Space: The paper A New Design Space defines it as such “In the new design space, we will learn to design for experience. Design for experiencing is design that puts experience first and builds to support and enhance it… It is about designing with people and not just for them… Design for experiencing addresses the whole user experience, which includes not only the current experience (the moment) but also past experiences (memories) and future experiences (dreams).”
Scaffolds for Experiencing: According to Scaffolds for Experiencing in the New Design Space these are “infrastructures upon which non-designers can express their creativity.” A design environment built by the designer that allows ordinary people to explore their own creativity and make their own experiences.
Participatory Toolkits: The tools a designer can provide to Ordinary People in the new design space that allow them to properly express themselves and develop their ideas. According to the text they “…contain a finite number of components that can be combined and recombined in an infinite variety of meaningful ways.”
Quote Used for Important Reading
“Scaffolds provide support for the workers and their tools and materials. We can think of workbenches and toolboxes as being in the same general category as scaffolds.”
This metaphor, although brief and devoid of designerly language, sums up the role of designers as scaffolds. The worker cannot work without the scaffolds, the scaffolds are required to get the job done. The scaffolds, however, are not the center of attention, rather they are the background. As Jackie Chan fights baddies on bamboo scaffolds, the focus is not on the bamboo but on Jackie. The fight sequence doesn’t happen without scaffolds, but they also don’t demand the attention of the room. As designers, we must be comfortable enough in our role as scaffolds to allow ourselves to fade into the background.
- You can design information, but you can’t design meaning.
We can provide experiential offers, but the meaning comes from the experiences of the user. To design experiential offers that approach the outcomes we want, the user must be involved.
- Technology has reduced the need for design expertise.
As technology continues to advance, the need for precisely honed skills to create is reduced. It happened with the printing press, as well as the personal computer. While artistry and craftsmanship continue to exist after these technological developments, they are no longer a requirement to create. Undoubtedly, technology has its limits, the 1984 Macintosh only allowed graphic design in black and white. The dedication and love required to learn the traditional methods of creation force the budding designer to explore. They may end up learning the history of woodworking or graphic design, researching how different cultures have accomplished a similar creative end etc. By falling down these various rabbit holes a designer separates themselves from “ordinary people.”
- Designers are scaffolds for experience.
Like Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception, the job of the designer as scaffold is “…to access and understand the dreams of ordinary people…” and “…help people realize their dreams.” I see two possible perspectives on designers as scaffolds. Participatory design allows for broader visions from more marginalized people to be present in design as it removes a barrier to entry. Additionally, the output will be more specific to the user as they played a greater role in the development. Unfortunately, the cynic in me worries that the scaffold designer reduces artistic expression. In becoming scaffolds we become a tool, and depending on who’s hand it’s in, a hammer can build or destroy. There is no human in a hammer.
- People are Creative
Just as Sanders says on her website, “all people are creative.” It is up to the designer to bring out that creativity and teach them the language required to express it. Dismissing the creativity of ordinary people will result in a departure from the new design space; a designer will seek to realize their own ideas rather than giving the tools the user needs to realize theirs.
Will you, as a designer, be able to check your ego enough to foster a healthy new design landscape?
Where does technology fall short when it comes to allowing “ordinary people” to design?
When we become a scaffold do we stop being an artist?
- Sanders, E. B.-N. Nutter, E. H. “Participatory design practices a special interest group.” In Conference Companion on Human Factors in Computing Systems. 1995.
- Sanders, E. B.-N. “A new design space.” In Proceedings of ICSID 2001 Seoul: Exploring Emerging Design Paradigm, ICSID, 2001
- Sanders, E. B.-N. “Scaffolds for Experiencing in the New Design Space.” In Information Design Institute for Information Design Japan (Eds.), IID.J, Graphic-Sha Publishing Co., Ltd., 2002
- Sanders, E. B.-N. “All people are creative.” https://maketools.com/. Accessed Nov 2021
- Inception. Directed by Christopher Nolan, Legendary Pictures, Syncopy, 2010