42.4 Co-design, social practices and sustainable innovation: involving users in a living lab exploratory study on bathing

Kakee Scott , Technology Dynamics & Sustainable Development, Delft University of Technology, Delft, Netherlands
Conny Bakker , Design for Sustainability, Delft University of Technology, Delft, Netherlands
Jaco Quist , Technology Dynamics & Sustainable Development, Delft University of Technology, Delft, Netherlands
Full Papers
  • ScottQuistBakker.pdf (10.4 MB)
  • The design profession has the potential to serve ordinary people (‘users') in the process of designing sustainable ways of living. This is the logic behind applying a user-centred orientation for sustainable design. One approach taken to applying such an idea has been made in an exploratory study conducted for the Living Lab project, an EU funded program to research the interactions of users with more sustainable and quality-of-life enhancing innovations. The research was motivated by a desire to understand the relation between the behaviour of end-users (users of consumer products) and sustainability, and to translate this understanding into design strategies. The chosen approach blends emerging concepts of co-design and co-creation with a ‘practice-oriented' approach. The study was conducted, using bathing practices as a case topic, to explore the approach with a group of participants including users, designers and sociologists. The experience gained from the study raised new possibilities, ideas and issues for further research while advancing the approach toward a practice-oriented design methodology.

    Co-design is a cooperative and continuous process bringing everyday people together with design professionals to find new and better ideas for daily life. The principles of co-design and co-creation are beginning to turn design on its head by increasingly putting the tools of design into the hands of its end-users. Co-creation appears already in emerging trends of social innovation, user-generated content, and open-source design, providing real-life examples from which the design profession is beginning to learn some valuable lessons. (Sanders & Stappers, 2008) Co-design suggests that companies offer a deliberate design role for regular people through the general idea of ‘enabling platforms' (Manzini, 2007) or ‘convivial tools' (Sanders, 2006) which give everyday people the capability to engage with each other in creating new concepts and designs collaboratively and to build upon existing and evolving ideas- ‘mass creativity.'

    The idea of a practice-oriented approach comes from a discussion happening about the conceptual and practical relevance between practice theory, studies of consumption and product design. (Julier, 2007; Shove et al, 2008; Ingram et al, 2007). The argument is that practice theory can provide a better framework for understanding issues of consumption, and this learning can be applied in design approaches in order to establish more sustainable and effective modes of consumption (including both purchase and use.) A practice-oriented approach is intended to guide the design process to look more broadly, beyond individual products and users, to the integrated routines, materials, bodies, meanings, functions, and abilities that make up everyday practices. This approach prioritizes the role of conventions, habits, and conceptions of normality in shaping resource intensive behaviours over efforts to make individual technologies or behaviours more efficient. (Shove, 2003) This is argued to be a more systemic approach that can help design for sustainability efforts to grapple with the uncertainties of consumption, such as rebound effects and user acceptance issues.

    The case study on bathing brought together a group of participants to make a practical sketch of how design could enable people to make their everyday bathing practices more sustainable. Designers, sociologists and ‘user' participants from the public took part in a non-hierarchical, collaborative format. Without the introduction of new designs or technologies, all participants underwent experiments in bathing, interacted using a blog site and came together for group creative sessions. The case study was organized essentially to simulate what an intentional practice-oriented design community would look like, how it would work, what members would need, and so forth.

    This study is part of a general dialogue, in discussions on co-design and practice-oriented design, on the question of how users can be continuously integrated as participants the design process— of how to shorten the distance and time that separates product design and product use. A focus on the dynamics of design and use recognizes that products, people, and practices are continuously changing in response to each other. Practice-oriented design denies that finished products are necessarily the ultimate goal of the design process. Rather, products should be seen as stepping stones and building blocks for everyday people to design sustainable practices over time. Therefore, the goal of practice-oriented design is to imagine how everyday people can be cooperatively engaged in the formation of more sustainable, more effective practices, and how the design of products and services can be re-oriented toward enabling these changes.

    This paper explains the hybrid approach, describes the case study on bathing, and reviews the results of the co-design process in the form of clusters of more sustainable alternative practices and products. It also discusses the learning regarding the participatory format, as well as the learning among the participants. As an exploratory study, more questions and ideas were generated for the Living Lab project to consider in future studies, which are also discussed.


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