Participatory Design (PD):

Increasing value for all involved in, and affected by, design



What is Participatory Design?:

Relations of PD to other topics:

Sample publications:

Additional information:

What is Participatory Design?:

Design can be interpreted as a product or a process. As a product, it is an object that was conceived and realized in some way. As a process, it is the sequence of events from conception to realization of the design object.

  • We are all designers and customers - producers and consumers of designs.
  • Design is a social process.


  • In almost every activity there is a design aspect.
  • Social processes permeate our activities.

Participatory design is the antithesis to traditional design. Design knowledge exist in all those potentially affected by a design and they can all contribute to design a better product. This design is carried out in a social process of communicating, sharing, reconciling, and acting.

A more elaborate answer can be found in the Varieties of PD paper.

Relations of PD to other topics:

In the last few decades, a number of perspectives/approaches/views

Each of these following perspectives/approaches/views on how work need to be organized is attempting to answer fundamental questions about competitiveness, quality, cost, productivity, and customer satisfaction.

Concurrent engineering bring engineers and other practitioners from all life-cycle functions to work together to shorten development time, bring all perspectives early on into design since quality and all other key properties are fundamentally determined in the conceptual design.

Agile manufacturing suggest some organizational, human, and technological changes to firms to allow them to survive in a dynamic environment. Close collaboration, or better, cooperation is stressed as a key factor of success.

From one perspective, knowledge management is a way to achieve some of these changes and support continued adaptation. In another perspective it is an approach very similar to agile manufacturing.

TQM or QFD are methods to bring "customer voice" into design to improve customer satisfaction and value. But even QFD does not arise from the perspective of treating customers as equal partners, or sharing knowledge with customers, or educating customers to be more knowledgeable thus better consumers.

Only Participatory Design insists on the true appreciation that all participants in design have relevant expertise without which quality and value to all affected by it.

Looking at the following figure, each of the perspective has a different idea about the role of different participants. In the terminology of KM, each defines its own communities of practice. In concurrent engineering, these communities include engineers. Only in PD, these communities include all affected by the design, to include both customers, researchers, and philosophers. These communities usually have different views and different, or even conflicting, goals.

Adapted from: Transcending the theory-practice problem of technology

A Sample of Publications include:

  • Reich, Y.``Transcending the theory-practice problem of technology,'' Tech. Rep. EDRC 12-51-92, Engineering Design Research Center, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, 1992.
    (HTML file)
    This paper deals with philosophical foundations of participatory design. It discusses the breakdown of existing thinking and practice of design, the wrong ways proposed to address it, and the potential of a new thinking about design activities based on dialogue and participation.
  • Reich, Y., Coyne, F. R., Konda, S., Monarch, I., Subrahmanian, E., and Westerberg, W. A. (1993), Computer-Aided Participatory Design, White paper on the use of n-dim as a support system for participatory design, 1992.
    This paper discusses the underlying foundations for supporting participatory design with computational tools. It introduces n-dim and illustrates it through a plausible reconstruction of a participatory design project for developing a community library. The paper includes many screen dumps with their explanations.
    (HTML file)
  • Reich, Y., Konda, S. L., Levy, S. N., Monarch, I. A., and Subrahmanian, E. (1996), Varieties and Issues of Participation and Design, Design Studies, 17(2):165-180.
    (Postscript file, 170K; PDF, 3M; Zipped PDF, 500K)
    Abstract: Participatory design is the antithesis to traditional design in which designers are expected to exhibit their expertise. The right to participate in design is often ignored and even when it is accepted, many obstacles including perceived pragmatic/economic deficiencies and organizational concerns, impede participation. This paper criticizes the foundations of traditional design. It starts from the premise that it is the right of all affected by a design to have an active role in its development and that appropriate ways of exercising this right can lead to better designs. Subsequently, the paper elaborates on some properties of participation in various design disciplines and in particular in the context of architectural design and urban planning. The paper then presents an approach for participation founded on widening communication channels between participants and briefly discusses the potential of computer tools for supporting participatory design. Finally, the paper briefly relates participation and design to several popular concepts such as concurrent engineering, total quality management, and quality function deployment.
  • Subrahmanian, E., Reich, Y., Konda, S. L., Dutoit, A., Cunningham, D., Patrick, R., Thomas, M., Westerberg, A. W. (1997), The n-dim Approach to Building Design Support Systems, Proceedings of ASME Design Theory and Methodology DTM '97 ASME, New York, NY.
    (Postscript file, 263K)
    Abstract: Creating practical design support systems is a complex design endeavor. We approach it with an evolutionary process, one that studies the design information flow then builds and tests information management support systems. Through our experience with industrial partners we have evolved this process into a set of methods and tools that implement these methods. We have evolved an infrastructure ure called n-dim, that is composed of a small number of building blocks that can be composed in ways that match the complexity of design contexts and work. We have developed this infrastructure to be highly flexible so as to allow us to conduct this evolutionary process in a practical project setting.

Additional Information:

Copyright 2005 Yoram Reich
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Last modified: 5/17/2005 11:02 AM