Dialogue as unmediated design

Peter Jones Dialogic Design

Or at least, less-mediated design. A goal and an inherent value of participatory design is that of engaging users directly in a design processes, to minimize the translation of features by designers. The goal of direct participation is not to reduce the cycle time incurred between cycles of user-centered design, prototyping, and user assessment, although that happens. The goal is to maximize user ownership of the design for their own work practices, and to minimize the influence designers have in articulating the significant features in the application space. Participatory design has a values orientation that respects the intelligence and autonomy of participants in their own work practices.

Dialogic design also aims to minimize designer mediation, even if through a facilitated process. By enabling participation of all stakeholders in a design dialogue – aspires to immediacy. The principle of requisite autonomy is honored in all SDD sessions, which requires the autonomy and authenticity of all individual stakeholders to be preserved. Nobody can alter a contribution made by a participants in structured dialogue.

Dialogue happens with a committed group of people, during a particular time only, with all the raw materials generated by the participants themselves. While the classic writers on dialogue include philosophers Habermas, Gadamer, (and the later interpreter Kogler), and thinkers such as Bohm and Krishnamurti. But why not also be inspired by un-mediation writers and artists such as:

  • Joseph Beuys, and his expression of direct democracy and non-mediated direct engagement of social sculpture.
  • Guy Debord, situationist and confronter of the phenomenon of spectacle
  • And a little more recently by Hakim Bey’s Immediatism (1994), also available in its anarchic entirety on the web. (You can see the revival of this meme in full sway in our household, in the recent blog by my partner (and wife) Patricia on Slow Learning)

So given that Structured Dialogic Design is mediated by facilitation, structure, and software – what does disintermediation mean and demand of our interaction? SDD is not Open Space – it is highly intentional, disciplined approach to dialogue, designed to generate results. But then, Beuys intended democracy, and Bey confronts the directness and meaning of media we employ to live lives of full participation and F2F intimacy. These same values are held sacred in SDD. To the degree our structure is transparent to participants, allowing them to focus on meaning in their committed contexts, then we have reduced the distance between people and their ownership of authentic dialogue.

To the extent our design is direct – or experienced as direct by participants, then we are eclipsing the role of “designer” with a process that achieves designed outcomes and true consensus for acting on the design.