The Death of the Designer

I went to an interesting talk last month: Cultural Theory and User-centered Design. The presenter, Christine Satchell, is a PhD candidate at RMIT, Australia and works as a user-tester. Satchell was, is, investigating how young people use technology and found herself wanting to extend the systems commonly used. Systems such as Alan Cooper’s User-Centered Design (UCD). Satchell delved into her background — that of a cultural theorist — and is developing a ‘Deconstruction‘ version of UCD.

[D]econstructive readings attempt to show how texts are multivocal: how they cannot simply be read as works by individual authors communicating distinct messages, but instead must be read as sites of conflict within a given culture or worldview. As a result of deconstruction, texts reveal a multitude of viewpoints existing simultaneously, often in direct conflict with one another. Comparison of a deconstructive reading of a text with a more traditional one will also show how many of these viewpoints are suppressed and ignored.

The key themes Satchell is looking at is deconstruction, looking to the periphery and the death of the author:

The approach deconstructs transcripts with users as if they are artworks. It invovles a critical reading of user-data to discover what they’re not aware of.
Focusing on the Periphery
Satchell encourages analysing what happens outside of the mainstream of usage. For example, she cites the influence of peer-to-peer sharing (P2P) on the development of iPod.
Death of the Author
This approach, now rewritten as ‘the death of the designer’ concentrates on the pleasure of the user. In this, unintended use can be captured.

It should be noted that Derrida, the father of Deconstruction, stated that it cannot be a method. Here he elaborates on the stance:

It is not enough to say that deconstruction could not be reduced to some methodological instrumentality or to a set of rules and transposable procedures. Nor will it do to claim that each deconstructive “event” remains singular or, in any case, as close as possible to something like an idiom or a signature. It must also be made clear that deconstruction is not even an act or an operation. Not only because there would be something “patient” or “passive” about it (as Blanchot says, more passive than passivity, than the passivity that is opposed to activity). Not only because it does not return to an individual or collective subject who would take the initiative and apply it to an object, a text, a theme, etc.

I personally don’t think that is any reason to stop using it as a method and the approach is very interesting. Satchell is still deciding how the approach will be used, if used at all as an ‘approach’, but I think this is a fresh and potentially interesting avenue.

Cooper, A. (2003) About Face 2.0: The Essentials of Interaction Design, Wiley.
Cooper, A. (1999) The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity, SAMS, Division of Macmillan Computer Publishing.
Derrida, Jacques, “Letter to A Japanese Friend,” Derrida and Diff?rance, ed. David Wood & Robert Bernasconi, Warwick: Parousia Press 1985, p. 1.
Derrida, Jacques, Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.
Derrida, Jacques, Positions. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 1981.
Derrida, Jacques. Speech and Phenomena and Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs. Trans. David B. Allison. Evanston: Northwestern U.P., 1973.

1 Response to “The Death of the Designer”

  1. 1 Jeremy Douglass

    The phrase “deconstructions transcripts with users as if they are artworks” jumps out at me - transcripts are such fraught things in Interactive Fiction, where we often ask them to stand in for the experience - a fabula/syuzhet dilemma…

    I wonder to what extent users often imagine their own use transcripts as art acts or performances. Art pieces often push the boundries of actual use scenarios (i.e. WinNoise looks like a video capture of use at first, but isn’t), but I can’t help thinking that the inclusion of easy screen video capture into a major modern operating system (as screenshots are currently integrated) will unleash a flood of user-transcript-video-art.

    I’m periodically tempted to do performative user sessions myself - for OS X, Snapz Pro X is $70, while on PC a fullblown studio for designing interactive video captures as flash training is Macromedia Captivate, ne RoboDemo. At about $500, however, that’s a bit rich for my blood.

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