Design for Reflection at the core of collective visions

By understanding the idea of designing for reflection, here, I have tried to argue for the framework that fosters reflective and rational thinking on a complex problem aiming for collective imagination. This is done by reflecting on my own work towards a community engagement project aspiring at co-creating alternative imaginaries of masculinity with adolescents.

A detailed account of primary research for the project is given here.

Over the last few years, HCI has moved beyond the definition of a cognitive-influenced approach of enabling communication between the machine and the humans. It has pushed the boundaries far beyond the physical domains. On similar grounds, the focus has been shifted to active users rendering usability as secondary. Consequently, phrases like “one method fits all” can be seen fading. This also supports the basis of a contextual design by Hugh Bayer, emphasising the importance of setting and environment in the user-centered design process.

“From here, I take it a step further towards a more human-centered vision of imagining future establishing the fact that the best knowledge and data about the user is acquired by the user itself. “

Designing for Reflection

Reflection is something we designers do a lot. It helps introspection, examination, and synthesis to get new perspectives. Various papers focussing on reflection pictures it as an emerging trend for design practitioners but with different purposes. Some advocate reflection for improved life decisions, some for tracing back experiences while others may just take it as a tool for finding a mind space. Hence, rather than giving a definition for reflection, Fleck & Fitzpatrick gave a theoretically-grounded frame-work for designing for reflection. After looking at various academia and reflecting on my own understandings, I go with the definition that —

“Reflection is something that deals with looking back and deliberating over them to get some outputs. And any design that fosters thinking in this manner is a reflective design.”

In the subsequent sections, I first summarise my work giving a response to the context previously stated validating the design landscape for reflection and then bring back the central argument.

Summary of work — Theme: Reimagining Masculinity

A curriculum for Emotional & Cognitive Self regulation

When we talk about Masculinity, a lot of things are related to aggression. Our primary research consisted of mainly participatory activities and co-design exercises with the participants. We concentrated mainly on mapping their emotions taking a probe at their cognitive self, considering the masculinity- aggression link that acts behind the majority toxic behaviors. I observed that the most common expression of emotion was “bejaar” meaning irritated, worried or tensed in their regional language, which qualifies for being a possible catalyst to toxic behavior. They could identify a few common emotions but could not get a deeper dig at more complex emotions. They experienced aggression in their surroundings but how they perceive that was not clear. To understand that I performed participatory activities to understand how they react to situations of anger. The results of the activity mainly showed that they tend to choose morally good emotions/behaviors but were not actually “thinking” the rationale behind. Also, a realization of the need for a more nuanced emotional vocabulary among the participants was felt.

Following the observation from the field, I came up with a curriculum design that aimed at the Emotional & Cognitive Self regulation of the participants.

The curriculum consists of various participatory activities that facilitated co-creation and self-reflection divided into 4 modules that works in order.

The Curriculum Snapshot

The knowledge and results of modules were co-created and could be used in other modules as starting points. From the activities, methods and tools chart, it is evident that the majorly focussed methods are dialogues & discussions, personal stories, co-creation and crowd-sourcing; while tools are thinking activities, participation, speakup sessions and co-curriculars.

How did I reach here ?

The Good Men Project defines toxic masculinity as: “Toxic masculinity is a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness.

So this led me to a question — How might we strengthen our emotions? That not only make us self-aware of our emotions but able us to rationalize and channelize our energy into correct pathways. This way I took a probe at the grass root level of the issue which not only hits the problem but also fosters well being in general.

Emotion-Behavior Cognitive paradigm.

For my secondary research, I met a creative art therapist to understand the dynamics of emotions which gave me a bigger picture of emotional self and as she said, “Emotions are even powerful than intellect”. Her talks also strengthened my point that there is constant need to reflect and channelize the energies in adolescents.

From the works of Dalai Lama and after looking at various emotional self-awareness and behavioral theories like Cognitive Behavioural Theory, BJ Foggs Behavioural Model etc. , I came to the above Emotion-Behavior paradigm.

A participatory activity carried out with participants.

I then designed a participatory activity mixing this paradigm with a blindfold game focusing on “rational thinking” being the most important part to test out with our participants, but I soon realized this did not work as a single entity and there was a need for other arrangements like the creation of scenarios, channelizing energies, building emotional vocabulary amongst participants etc.

Blind folding a participant (L) . Emotions card (M) . Participants (R)

After the not so good feedback, I reiterated and found that the emotion-behavior paradigm was a system in itself. Using affinity mapping with Goals, Tools and Channels gave me enough direction to create a curriculum design for the collaborators. I acknowledge the fact that the initiative has a broader goal to serve i.e sensitizing boys with serious gender-based issues so, I designed the curriculum that fits into the main framework. I picked activity and themes to focus the agenda, their aims, gains, challenges, and role of facilitators so that activities can we well managed and assessed. While on the field, the facilitator had an important role in keeping the activity on to the toes so that it goes in the desired ways.

What I learnt from this ?

  • The lessons from participation are lasting: Tangible games are a great way on engagement but the engagement dies out soon if the game is not constructed well with fun elements and new entries from time to time. This is a big challenge for games with social aspects. Rather, I found simple small activities more effective in that way. The physical involvement keeps the activity engaging and allows a better understanding as it is experiential.
  • Design with a purpose: While doing the participatory activities with our participants, each element in the activity was designed with a purpose giving us either an insight or a learning. Also, think of what you are giving back to the community. In the end, they are not mere your research candidates.
  • Intersectionality is inevitable: Real world situations work in intersections and thus the solution lies in intersections.
  • Being critical ensures quality progress: Never settle with the first idea. I kept critiquing my work and this brought the flaws out before anyone else could.
  • Iteration is the key: My initial interventions failed very early which led me to think into new directions. With each failure, I improved.


Reflection takes time and needs space for developing. The response presented above gives considerable time to the participants by incorporating activities that inculcate habits of daily reflection and thinking e.g. daily journal, emotion collage etc. These activities are not restricted to the boundaries of school but are also given for home so that enough space is available for reflection. While at the same time, facilitators also keep encouraging the participants to continue doing reflection and thinking exercises.

The purpose of reflection here is to collectively imagine new ideas for change. The activities are descriptive including justification or reasons for action or interpretation. They allow exploring relationships between the learned, practiced and imagined.

The context is not aiming for short term results. Change is a big word and it requires time. Through inculcating habits, the curriculum aims at building habits of rational thinking which results in cognitive state that brings change in behaviours and enables challenging preconceived notions in the long run.

Back to grind

The central argument here is that in order to co-create alternative imaginaries and challenge a culturally prevalent notion, one has to have a reflective self. Thus,

Reflection lies at the core of any designing that aims at imaginations or re-imagination as outcomes.

For any kind of progressive imaginaries, the first and foremost thing is to see and identify the challenges in the current framework. And then reflecting and thinking for the alternatives. Looking for the broader and deeper dimensions of its effects comes after these. Reflection is important especially for collective imagination when we co-create or re-create imaginations with communities together. But outcomes of co-designing process are not always desired.

The co-designing participants from the communities may or may not be equipped with the cognitive state of mind for the making ideal imageries. They may not, at all times, have an understanding of the breadth and depth of the problem. The design practitioners on the other hand (I assume) have practiced to explore and share insights from several sources, building off of each other.

Thus, a possibility for enabling collective imaginations is to design for reflection, a framework that fosters reflective and rational thinking on a complex problem by the participants.

Enabling Collective Visions was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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