October 10th, 2016
A Paradoxical Weakness
From Politics and Method, by Ahmed Ansari:
“Design tools and methods are thus never, as most toolkits and models claim, value neutral, but always arrive laden with political and cultural baggage. The claim that packages delivering design methods to social designers and workers in the developing world are ‘neutral’, in the sense that they are just methods, and that politics lies in the domain of their human users, is false. […] This is the most frightening thing about the uncritical adoption of design toolkits: that in becoming the de-facto way of practicing social design in the hands of powerful actors like government organizations and foreign-funded NGOs, they crowd out alternative voices that would caution models of development based on unconstrained growth.”
This is a paradoxical weakness of some human-centered design methodologies, in that so many of them end up becoming prescriptive, and therefore divorced from the tenets that originally defined them. It is not uncommon, in my experience, for these practices to push forward what are deemed “universal values,” such as efficiency or quick iteration, when in fact these practices can at times be in direct conflict with the cultural norms of a given place. In the end, truly “efficient” methodologies are those that integrate the most seamlessly with specific cultural norms and practices. Sometimes slow iteration just works better, sometimes very very slow iteration works the best. But regardless: design is a critical exploration, not a universal truth.