We were part of a two-week workshop in collaboration with an NGO called Jatan Sansthan located in Udaipur under the guidance and mentorship of Naveen Bagalkot. The workshop is divided into two phases: a) Thinking through technological things, and b) Future of IxD
As a design practitioner, solving a wicked problem is always considered an ultimate goal or that’s how the notion has been created. The scope of design is always imagined with a set of boundaries. The experience at Jatan Sanathan changed the entire notion and lead my mind into a contrasting standpoint on my comprehension of Design. The experience helped unpack and understand the layers, map and analyze that constituent design on a larger level. It aided in understanding what human centered design is, in a literal sense. The article is a compilation of episodes that resonated with me during the journey at Udaipur.
Participatory Design: Building Conversations, Building Relationships
The origin of Jatan kids are from the same state and across villages but they come from different backgrounds, varied cultural mindsets, contrasting social backgrounds, yet their families entrusted to send their children for a four-day workshop, away from their families.
Relocating both the designer and user and bringing them on the same platform, engaging in formal and informal interactions aided the relationship for both the participants. The role of designer and user were kept at bay, The experience helped in understanding the deeper nuances of the participants such as their emotions, backgrounds and build conversations around varied subjects. There were instances where my designer instincts were awakened, but the idea was to facilitate and not take lead, which brought about a different dimensions. Our role is to be a catalyst, encouraging the thoughts of emotions of the participants. As designers, we should take a step back and give them the ownership. Keep yourself back and hang around with the participant and give them the control.
Boundaries in the Mind
As we were interacting with the Jatan participants, there was reluctance in their behavior when it came to generating and presenting ideas. The notion of them not knowing as much as always cropped up. They felt insecure about the ideas of they were proposing, possibly because of the background they come from where they are not considered important to voice our opinions or they felt they didn’t know enough of the subject. They would just brush it off by saying “Mujhe Nahi aata, aap hi bolo”
This got me thinking about how Prof Lucy Suchman mentions how working across boundaries have different layers distinguished across hierarchy depending on factors like geography, professional identities etc. She states “ that technical expertise is not only a necessary, but is the sufficient, form of knowledge for the
production of new technologies.” In our case, the Jatan participants assumed that our background from design school enables us to have the technical knowledge of designing or imagining a future of a new technology.
Aspiration: A tool for Change
The way we imagine the future is contrasting from the way the Jatan participants imagine their future. The aspirations across us and they are very different and at the rate at which we aspire also differs. Our aspirations are very radical because of the opportunities we have received thus far which enabled us to aspire, but for the Jatan participants, the exposure and opportunities are very limited, hence they lack in imagining the possibilities. During the individual walk and talk session with the Rekha, it came to light that her aspiration in life is to study, not just complete her 12th but successfully finish a graduate degree. It then dawned to me that education for us is a necessity and given that needs to complete, our aspirations are not just to get a job but in the company we want, but for them just enrolling and completing their education is considered an achievement. As Arjun Appadurai states in his paper, “The capacity to aspire is thus a navigational capacity. The more privileged in any society simply have used the map of its norms to explore the future more frequently and more realistically”. The above statement doesn’t denote that people like Rekha can never have aspirations or dreams but her background and circumstances affect the possibilities.
But I wonder how do we get them to start aspiring frequently or radically?
Upon reflecting, I am making an assumption that the experience at Jatan over the four days assisted the Jatan participants to feel empowered in some way. Initially, they were very hesitant to speak to anyone whether private our public. They were cocooned in their own word even being part of a whole team, but over the course of four days, they starting voicing out their thoughts. The platform created at Jatan aided the Jatan participants to be empowered which in return assisted them in having a voice to communicate.
But again, unintentionally we tend to project a facade of the city life to them, which calibrates their aspirations in a certain way.
Jugaad — Is it disruptive?
The word Jugaad is always associated with a quick fix to a problem but lately affiliated with innovation, but Jugaad is basically finding new ways of using the everyday things. Is this innovation? In the rural context, people don’t go out to markets, if they find something missing at home, but they look around and adjust accordingly. For e.g: when we went for a walk to Kadhbamaniya village, on the way we noticed plastic sheets placed on the plants. When asked what that signified, it was told that the sheets were placed to scare the Nilgai away. The rattling sound of the sheet will keep the Nilgai’s at bay. When the plastic sheet was designed for a purpose, did the designer for-see the use of it in this fashion? The intended design gives a new outlook on further innovating.
At the beginning, when we were given the design brief, the ‘problem’, we started brainstorming by having conversations in order to develop a deep understanding of the challenge, to empathize with the subject, but for the Jatan participants, it was easier to start sketching and translating the sketch into a quick paper prototype helped them imagine the future possibilities.
During the course of the hackathon, we wanted to educate the Jatan participants on how to generate ideas, we introduced them to crazy 8 from the Design sprint. This was an utter failure because we were able to generate ideas but the participants were attached to the initial ideas we discussed during our conversations. This process didn’t aid any conversation between us, which didn’t work in their favor.
The above occurrences made me think that we are drowning in colonised design processes, whether be it Design Thinking or Design Sprint. We follow them to the T and get off-course following it that we lose out on deeper nuances of who we are designing for. As Elizabeth Tunstal mentions “ Researchers and designers ought to create a process that enables respectful dialogue and relational interactions such that everyone can contribute their expertise equally to the process of design”
Lakshmi Murthy, Jatan Facilitator stated a fine example to support the notion of ‘Universal Design. She elaborated on creating a new visual language to communicate with the locals because the ‘universal’ symbols like men/female, cross, house etc were misinterpreted by the community.
As mentioned above, the Jatan participants got into making quick paper prototypes during the ideations which aided them in visualizing the future possibility of the product. As designers, we tend to over think even at the ideation stage, micro thoughts tend to creep in about functionality, cost, usability etc while sketching or penning down ideas and wait for the Eureka moment and build on that. In the case of paper prototyping at the early stages, it got me thinking that the process enabled us to see where the product is failing or requires improvement. The idea of failure was not dreadful because we made quick prototypes to express the concept. The notion of ‘failing early’ can drastically change the way things are conceptualized, built and delivered. We have the fear of failure at every given step of design, we don’t want our ideation efforts to go in vain but this exercise made me realize that failing early gave us a chance to succeed early.
The Human connection in a digital world
The network at Railmagarah was very feeble. In the age of WhatsApp as a constant mode of communication, to having that practice hampered was gloomy, but during the course of time, I realized that we were talking a lot more on the phone end of the day rather than constantly texting. This made me reflect that when we communicate through messages, the emotions are not conveyed; to some extent, emojis do the job but the emotion behind every statement we type is lost between the one or two line message we type. At Railmagarah, because of the feeble network, we were obligated to pick up the phone and convert our dialogue which captures our emotions and sentiments. A conversation is easier. A conversation doesn’t require 2g, 3g or 4g. A conversation is real. A conversation captures and reassures everything. I am sure that a human conversation won’t diminish even as technology advanced into every part of our lives. The qualities that make us human are more valuable today than ever before.
Acknowledging your privileges as a Designer
The experience at Hunargarh brought about another perspective into my of looking at Design. Earlier on, we discussed designers recognizing their privileges while practicing but I never understood what this meant until we were at Jatan working with the team. As a designer, we bring our biases and privileges on the table and this takes place because of the social and cultural background we originate from, and this influences the design in a particular way. For the Jatan participants, imagining a future of a subject which is still considered a taboo was difficult but for us, it was straightforward because we are sensitized about the subject. What might resonate with me, might not resonate with another? It’s important to be reflective of the power and privilege I have based on my background.
Through this experience, the Jatan participants and we were sensed to subjects which are considered a taboo, a lot of work goes into changing the mindset of community residing in a village, but my parting thoughts are, are people in the cities sensitized to subjects such as these? Even though the literary levels are higher in the cities, yet people are not comfortable discussing topics regarding reproductive health and hygiene. Does the notion around these subjects based on cultural create a barrier irrespective of backgrounds?