Designer, Maker, User

Practices such as craft or DIY  for which ‘untrained’ people engage in the activity of creating objects question the role of the designer. Preston (2006, 15) distinguishes three groups engaged in the design process, which can, but do not have to be separated:

“There are three distinguishable roles human agents may play with regards to artifacts – designer, maker, and user. As commonly understood, the designer specifies the characteristics of the artifact to be made; the maker does the actual construction work; and the user subsequently puts the artifact to use.”

(Hardware) Hackers, Crafter or people engaging in DIY often combine two, if not all three of these roles in themselves. In being designers themselves – if conscious or not – consumers play a part in design culture and shape it:

“Historically, productive and creative activities of this kind have allowed consumers to engage actively with design and the design process at a number of levels, and to express a more individual aesthetic unbounded by the structures of massproduction and passive consumption.” (Atkinson, 2006, 1)

Schot and de la Bruheze (2003, 230f )outline a geographical as well as social division between users and consumers:

“In modern societies the mediation process became structured by a tendency to concentrate design activites in laboratories and in design agencies and firms. As a consequence, the identification of consumers and their needs became increasingly difficult – especially in the twentieth century, when the rise of mass production and the upscaling of production in most industries widened the gap between production and consumption.

This process is furthered complicated by a perceived tendency of designers and engineers to consider themselves the prospective users as well: “Engineers’ designing for themselves, in effect considering themselves to be representatives of the future users, is not uncommon.” (Lindsay, 2003, 34) Introducing the user’s perspective early on does influence the role of the designer as well: “Pushing users to the fore not only nuances traditional histories of designers and makers but also makes visible the often-hidden role of gender at an early stage.” (Schot; de la Bruheze, 2003, 230)

The complex of gender plays an important role in this discussion as well in the discussions surrounding dementia and care. It is nonetheless expected that it will play only a limited role within this research project.

In the discussion about use plans, the role of the user is particularly relevant as is already mentioned in the post on “Proper function”. Vermaas and Houkes (2006, 43)in this context divide the concept of the user in three subclasses, based on the to what extend they interact with objects: “It merely proves that the class of users can be broken up in subclasses: passive users that carry out existing use plans(…); creative users that construct their own plans (…), and innovative users that construct their own use plans and communicate them to other users(…). Forchhammer (2006, 133) describes this process both in regards to the concept of ‘objectivation’ and ‘subjectivation’:

“The process of using technologies is both a process of subjectivation, making sense in practice, and also of objectivation, producing (new) meaning that potentially can transform the concrete situation and be related to by others.”

In technology the role of the user is discussed in slightly different terms. Oudshoorn and Pinch (2003) give an overview of the discussions about users and the different views established in the 80s and 90s that shaped our current perception of the user. This overview is interesting not only as a timeline, but also as a reminder that many trends and philosophies influence how each entity is viewed and how both are considered in relationship to each other. They define their aim  “to present studies of the co-construction of users and technologies that go beyond technological determinist views of technology and essentialist views of uers’ identities. (Oudshoorn; Pinch, 2003, 3)

Oudshoorn and Pinch (2003, 1) also emphasise that the relationship between a user and technology can be complex and that they “are interested in how users consume, modify, domesticate, design, reconfigure, and resist technologies.” This view stands against the view presented in the beginning of this post that designers design, makers make and users use. Brandes, Stich and Wendes add a more materialistic view in which they refer to the object itself: ” ‘Use’ makes the user enter into a specific of object relationship that is located between form and function.” (Brandes; Stich; Wender, 2009, 55)

Bardini and Horvath (1995, 42) define the role of the “innovator” as to “provide the missing link between inventor and user, as the producer of the social meaning of the technology in their social construction of future personal computer users.”


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