Paper at UTAK 2014: Participatory Design as Design Activism


UTAK 2014 (Ulusal Tasarım Araştırmaları Konferansı – National Design Research Conference) was organized on 10-12 September 2014 by the Department of Industrial Design at Middle East Technical University, with the aim to provide a platform for the sharing of the latest design research and educational methods in Turkish language. The organizing committee was as follows:

Conference coordinator: Pınar Kaygan
Conference committee: Naz Börekçi, Aykut Coşkun, Çağla Doğan, Gülay Hasdoğan, Harun Kaygan, Fatma Korkut, Sedef Süner

Besides our role in the organizing committee, we presented a paper that was an outcome of the course ID708 from 2012-13 Fall Semester, run by Harun Kaygan and Osman Şişman. Below you can find a Turkish translation of the abstract:

Sedef Süner and Harun Kaygan, “Participatory Design as Design Activism and the Designer’s Experience in Participation: The Case of METU Assistant Solidarity Initiative”

A topic of debate from mainstream politics to urban politics, from education to design, the concept of participation is defined as the institution of democracy through the inclusion of multiple parties in decision making. However, after Bill Cooke and Uma Kothari who argued that participation is a form of tyranny, and Markus Miessen who criticised it as fake romanticism, it is also possible to interpret the concept as merely justifying the options enforced by powerful parties through a pretence of conciliation and without questioning the actual distribution of power between those who participate and those who make the call. When we look at the field of design, we see that the optimist outlook is dominant, whereby users are included in decision making processes under the paradigm of user-centred design. The participatory approaches are often limited to setups where users contribute with their knowledge and experiences. They neither question the distribution of roles nor benefit from the above mentioned criticism, and we seldom encounter a search for new approaches. The intersection between participation and design activism (Fuad-Luke) or political design (DiSalvo) can provide us with new participatory scenarios as well as new perspectives to the role of design and designers in political processes. When the designer is a part of and a participant in a political struggle, it may be possible to experience a transformation of participation in and through design. This paper discusses different levels and forms of participation through a case in which a designer is involved in the Assistant Solidarity Initiative while also running a project for a graduate course.

Special Dossier for Arredamento Mimarlık: Tasarım ve (Biyo)politika

Arredamento kapak

We (HK and OŞ) invited Levent Şentürk from Osmangazi University, Eskişehir, as a guest lecturer to ID 708 Critique of Design II, and he shared with us his new book on architecture and biopolitics (Mimarlık ve Biyopolitika, 6.45, 2013). This triggered a classroom discussion on design and biopolitics, which ended up as a special dossier for the architecture magazine, Arredamento Mimarlık.

You can download the dossier (in Turkish) here.

Table of contents:

  • Harun Kaygan, “Çadır” (Tent)
  • Sedef Süner, “Direniş” (Resistance)
  • Osman Şişman, “İsyan Teknolojisi: Tasarım, Teşhir, (Biyo)Politika” (Technology of Riot: Design, Exposition, (Bio)Politics)
  • Efe Alpay, “Yansımaya Dokunmak” (Touching the Reflection)
  • Yekta Bakırlıoğlu, “Bilinçliyim, Ekolojik Tüketiyorum” (I am Conscious, I Consume Ecological)

Reference: Osman Şişman and Harun Kaygan, eds., “Tasarım ve (Biyo)politika, Arredamento Mimarlık 272, September 2013.

Papers at 5T Conference 2013: Gendered Perspectives in Design

Products of ID 707 Critique of Design I course, we will be presenting two papers at the 5T Conference on Gendered Perspectives in Design, 9-10 May 2013 at Yaşar University, İzmir. Below you can find the abstracts for the papers:

E. Burcu Çelikkaya and Harun Kaygan, “Gendering of toys by affordances: The case of Lego”

The aim of this paper is to show how gender is inscribed on artifacts by designers through managing their affordances. The study is focused on toys, since they are important in conveying gender roles to the child. In the first part of the study, a theoretical framework is developed around script theory and the concept of gender script to understand the gendering of artifacts. In the second part, one of the most popular constructive toys, namely Lego products, are scrutinized in order to show how the designers inscribed gender scripts on the Lego sets. For this purpose, Lego’s themed sets are analyzed according to their gender-stereotyped and gender-specific scripts. In the third part, Lego sets which bear explicit gender scripts are studied and the role of affordances in realizing these scripts are underlined. Despite the  strong potential of Lego for creative play, it is observed that themed Lego sets–both male- and female-oriented ones–can be very restrictive in this respect, since the physical affordances of the sets are limited with pre-formed and specialized individual bricks. The building experience is thus, substituted by narrative and role-play. However, the sets that target girls are more static and easier to assemble while sets that target boys allow the child to build more organic structures and have specialized bricks that afford different building possibilities. Moreover, Lego’s non-themed creative lines–which have less limited physical affordances–are  inscribed  with  male-specific  gender  scripts,  which  in  turn  further  alienate  girls  from  creative  building experience.

Keywords: Gender script, Affordances, Lego, Construction toys, Creative play

Sedef Süner and Harun Kaygan, “Rethinking gender Stereotypes: a queer eye to home”

Domestic environment, a space which is traditionally associated with family life and femininity, actually is a sphere shared by people of all genders. Home is not only the residence of a nuclear family, but also that of single flatmates, as well as queer single or couples. In such an environment, conventional gender analysis becomes insufficient. Design disciplines have had a general tendency to ignore the relationship of spaces and objects with queer identities. Various interpretations of femininity and masculinity have been taken up as an issue in the fields of industrial design, interior design, and architecture (see for instance Buckley, 1986; Sparke, 1995). Whether it is conservatism or lack of interest, queer existence in these interpretations, on the other hand, is largely invisible.

The term “queer” is conceptually related to contextuality, fluidity and relativity of gender identities within a poststructural framework (Spargo, 1999). From this perspective, it becomes necessary to reconsider the rigid conceptions about gender performances and objectifications within domestic environments. One way to explore this intricate interrelation is to listen to users in order to understand what kind of a relationship they have built with home, and how they construe – or refrain from construing – gender meanings to this physical environment and their relationships with it.

This paper presents the results of a field study, conducted with queer participants as semi-structured interviews on gender performances at home in relation to domestic spheres and objects. After a brief theoretical explication, we will reflect on the participants’ struggles with the stereotypical (i.e., homo- or hetero-normative) and non-stereotypical (i.e., queer) ways to perform and objectify gender at home. For the latter set of practices, we will offer an incomprehensive inventory which explores the possibility of existence of queer objects – “queer” in their multivocality. We will conclude by discussing whether it is possible to find, and desirable to look for, objects that are characterized by queer users and identities.

Keywords: Queer objects, Homonormativity, Home

ID 321 Syllabus for 2012-2013

see PDF syllabus for image details

The syllabus for the undergraduate course, ID 321 Meaning in Design for the 2012-13 Spring Semester is attached here.

The aim of the course is to help you make sense of the cultural meaning and significance of design today. This will be done in four parts.

Part 1, “Design and designers”, will review the contemporary “field” of design. It will first challenge existing conceptions of what design is and who designers are. Then it will provide a deeper understanding of the design profession as practised within a specific social and economic context.

Part 2, “Consumer culture”, will go into further detail of that context. In this, it will focus on “consumer culture”, to which design largely serves. It will review what consumption is, and how design serves it.

Part 3, “Meaning in objects”, will turn to objects themselves. Specifically, it will study how designed objects become carriers of meaning. Here, you will also learn about “product semantics”.

Part 4, “Issues”, will apply what we learned in the previous parts to three separate topics: gender, sustainability and globalisation. Doing this, it will help you develop a critical attitude towards the various hegemonic discourses and practices of design that you encounter on a daily basis.

Having completed the course, you will have improved your understanding of the social and cultural context and significance of design practice. While we will use images, objects and videos in lectures, critical reading and writing are the primary skills you are going to use and develop in this course. You will encounter a variety of texts and engage in critical writing exercises to this end.