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Cooperative Design: Techniques and Experiences From the Scandinavian Scene

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This chapter discusses the concept of cooperative design. It what discusses system development should achieve and how it should take place. Computer applications that are created for the workplace need to be designed with full participation from the users—both from a democratic point of view and to insure that competencies central to the design are represented in the design group. Full participation requires training and active cooperation, not just token representation in meetings or on committees. The term cooperative design is used to designate such cooperation between users and designers. However, to users, designing a new computer application is a secondary activity whereas for designers it is their primary work. This means that the designers should know how to set up the process and need to make sure that everyone gets something out of the interaction. The cooperative design approach begins by creating an environment in which users and designers can actively consider the future use situation. It is a process where users and designers do not have to wait until the final act to know if the application will fit the practice of the users.
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Cooperative Design: Techniques and experiences from
the Scandinavian Scene
Susanne Bødker, Kaj Grønbæk, and Morten Kyng
Computer Science Department,
Aarhus University, Denmark
Abstract
This paper presents a set of techniques for participatory design, or cooperative design as
we prefer to call it, which we have applied and developed through several design
projects over the last decade. The main techniques are Future Workshops,
Organizational Games, Mock-up Design, and Cooperative Prototyping. A brief
historical background of the techniques is given. The techniques were originally
introduced in projects in which researchers worked with groups of workers with rather
equal power and skills. Now they have been developed to be more widely applicable in
situations where management also participates. The techniques are introduced through a
description of a case in which they are used in combination. This case illustrates how a
design project is conducted with cooperation between designers and a mixed group of
workers and managers.
Acknowledgements
Many people have been involved in the work on which this paper is based. Pelle Ehn, Joan
Greenbaum, Kim Halskov Madsen, Finn Kensing and Dan Sjögren were principal
“methodology developers” and fellow writers on the Design at Work book (Greenbaum &
Kyng, 1991). Pelle, Joan, Kim and Merete Bartholdy were members of the group who did the
workshops at the Participatory Design Conference held in Seattle March/April 1990. The
researchers in the project that we use as our case include Ellen Christiansen, Pelle Ehn, Randi
Markussen, Preben Mogensen, and Randy Trigg, as well as the authors of this paper. Ellen,
Randi, Preben and Susanne have done many of the initial investigations in the project, and
together with Pelle and Randy they have planned and coordinated the workshop activities
discussed in this paper. The paper would not have been possible without the contributions of
the many collaborators in the different empirical cases that constitute our frame of reference,
including those of the people at AT-Århus. Pelle Ehn commented helpfully on a draft of this
paper.
Introduction
This paper is based on a vision, an ideal, of what system development should achieve and
how it should take place. First of all, we see the ideal project as one which encourages the
users-to-be in an organization i.e., all the involved groups and individuals, to decide
themselves how to develop their work by means of new computer support. This ideal is
seldom realized, because organizations are characterized by conflicts, most significantly
between management and labour, and because different groups have different power and
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resources in the organization. It is not only a matter of democracy, though. In our experience,
most traditional systems development methods are too abstract and detached from the work
and life of most people, even from management. Thus we need to develop and work with
techniques that allow for more use of everyday experiences and professional skills in design.
At the Participatory Design Conference (PDC ‘90), Seattle, the authors of this paper and
their collaborators were invited to present their approaches to participatory design, together
with other researchers and designers from Scandinavia. These approaches originate from a
diversity of projects where researchers and designers have been cooperating closely with
groups of workers, shop stewards, and other union representatives, and where the
organizational framework provided by the local unions played an important part (Ehn &
Kyng, 1987). Hence, one of the key questions discussed over the two-day conference was
whether the Scandinavian “Model” for system design, as summarized in the above vision
could be applied in a North American setting — a setting where industrial democracy and
strong union relationships cannot be assumed to be found in most organizations, as is the case
in Scandinavia. This paper is not meant to answer this questions. But it is meant to discuss a
set of techniques to support the above vision. We also describe the underlying perspectives
and leave it to the readers to judge whether the perspective and the techniques can be adopted
in their particular settings. For detailed discussions of the techniques, and the rationale behind
them, we refer to a recent book Design at Work: Cooperative Design of Computer Systems
(Greenbaum & Kyng (Eds.), 1991).
As a starting point we present our perspective on computer applications and design as a list
of statements or assumptions:
Computer applications
When computer applications are brought into a workplace, they should enhance
workplace skills rather than degrade them.
Computer applications should be viewed as tools, and designed to be under the control of
the people using them. They should support work activities, not make them more rigid.
The introduction of computer applications changes the organization of work around them.
The interplay between the computer application and work organizational issues should be
a specific focus of the design and introduction of computer applications into
organizations.
Although computer applications are generally ordered to increase productivity, they also
need to be looked at as a means to increase the quality of the results.
The Design Process
The design process, as any process taking place in an organization, is a political one and
leads to conflict. Managers who order an application see things differently from the
workers who will use it. Different groups of users will need different things from the
application, and system designers often pursue their own interests. Conflicts are inherent
in the process. If they are ignored the solution may be less useful and continue to create
problems.
Computer applications that are created for the workplace need to be designed with full
participation from the users—both from a democratic point of view and to insure that
competencies central to the design are represented in the design group. Full participation,
of course, requires training and active cooperation, not just token representation in
meetings or on committees. We use the term “cooperative design” to designate such
cooperation between users and designers. However, to users, designing a new computer
application is a secondary activity whereas for designers it is their primary work. This
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means that the designers should know how to set up the process and need to make sure
that everyone gets something out of the interaction.
The design process highlights the issue of how computers are used in the context of work
organization. We see this question of focusing on how computers are used, which we call
the “use situation”, as a fundamental focus for the design process. We put our attention on
how people work, and take the practice of the users as the starting point for the design
process.
Encouraging user participation and designing for skill means paying attention to things
that are often left out of the formal specifications, like tacit knowledge or shared
knowledge and communication. Computer applications are a lot more than the simple
flow of information represented in the flowcharts that systems analysts present to their
clients. When users participate in actual design activities it is necessary to use tools that
are familiar to them. Traditional tools such as flowcharts, dataflow diagrams, and
programming languages are insufficient (or even useless) as means for cooperating with
users. In our experience, some of the techniques we discuss later do in fact encourage user
participation and creativity.
To enable users to contribute with their tacit knowledge in design, it is important to
simulate future work situations, creating the illusion of actually working with the
projected system. In this way changes in the use practice can, to some extent, be predicted
and evaluated.
This perspective on computer applications and design processes has evolved over more than
fifteen years, strongly influenced by the experiences from several research projects of our
own as well as those of other groups. We give an overview of this development in the
following.
Historical Background
The research projects that we have been involved with since the early 1970s, have developed
in interplay with the society around them. Employee influence through unions and
cooperation with management has for a long time been an integral part of the industrial
relations in the Scandinavian countries. The Scandinavian projects on worker influence on
development and use of computers began in the early 1970s, when new legislation increased
the possibilities for worker influence. The projects supplemented the earlier strategy, called
co-determination, with a series of activities set up by central and local unions independent of
employer organizations and management. In these “first generation” projects, workers aided
by consultants and researchers struggled to develop a better, more coherent platform for
worker influence on the use of new technology at the workplace. New work practices,
focusing on group work and the development of local resources for action, were being
shaped, tried out in practice, and reshaped in the projects. Some of the work groups produced
criteria for better working environments and suggestions for applications to support groups of
workers planning their own work. As a result of the first of these projects the existing
legislation on worker influence was supplemented by Technology Agreements that gave
workers a direct say in the development and use of technology in their workplaces. This also
led to an extensive series of union education programs. The first of these projects were the
NJMF project, set up by Kristen Nygaard and Olav-Terje Bergo together with the Norwegian
Iron and Metal Workers’ Union (Nygaard & Bergo, 1975). This was followed by the Swedish
DEMOS project in which Pelle Ehn and Åke Sandberg played major parts, and the Danish
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DUE project organized by Morten Kyng, Lars Mathiassen, and Niels Erik Andersen together
with the Trade Union Council (Ehn & Kyng, 1987).
In the 1970s these early projects introduced the notion of worker participation in decisions
about technology, but, whereas workers had a legal say in workplace technology, the laws did
little to shift the balance of power from a managerial perspective. And the rationalistic
tradition embedded in computer system development did little to give workers a voice in
putting forth their own ideas when trying to agree on the introduction of new technology. As
in the U.S., this was reflected in the tools of system development, which emphasized devel-
oping technical specifications rather than seeing the application from the perspective of the
users.
By the early 1980s, a “second generation” of projects was initiated in Scandinavia. These
projects focused on design of new kinds of computer support using skill and product quality
to push computer system design more towards a users’ perspective. They took the issue of
dehumanization and put it on the table as a central problem in the design and use of computer
systems. Thus, to put some muscle on the bones of the Technology Agreements, the issues of
quality of work and product were put into the foreground of the new design oriented projects.
An example of this was the Utopia project, named both for its ideals and as an acronym for its
use (Bødker, Ehn, Kammersgaard, Kyng, & Sundblad, 1987). In this project computer system
developers and researchers worked with a group of typographers to help them formulate the
ways that computer technology could be used to enhance their skill and better the typographic
quality of newspapers. These researchers came from the Swedish Center for Working Life,
the Technical University in Stockholm, and from Aarhus University.
From the first projects in the 1970s, developing strategies and techniques for worker
influence on design and use of computer applications, through the focus on skill in the early
1980s, computer system development in Scandinavia developed the concept of user
participation. In Work Oriented Design of Computer Artifacts, Pelle Ehn (1989) outlines the
story of these changes and delves into some of the theoretical work that influenced the
thinking of the earlier as well as later projects. Rethinking the actions and experiences in
these projects he develops a theoretical understanding of design work based on
phenomenology, marxism and ordinary language understanding.
This theoretical understanding has been supplemented with inspiration from activity theory
(Bødker, 1991; Christiansen, 1988), and the so-called work development research
(Engeström, 1987; Bisgaard et al., 1989). Together with the insight developed during our
writing of Design at Work (Greenbaum & Kyng (Eds.), 1991) it has lead to a new round of
empirical work, of which we will use one case for the presentation in the following.
In retrospect, when looking at the strategies and techniques applied in the above projects,
there have been a continuous development and some major changes: In general, we have
today a much better theoretical understanding of possibilities for and limitations to active user
participation in design processes. This understanding comes from our interpretations of
theories that can be grouped under the philosophical heading of social construction, seen in
contrast with the rationalistic tradition of computer science. At the practical level this is
reflected in our continued “revisions” of our set of development tools and techniques, where
we try to modify those aspects of our techniques which are influenced by the older
rationalistic perspective pervading system development theory and practice. One illustration
of these revisions is our move from system descriptions to mock-ups and game-like design
sessions (see the following). Also, where many of the techniques of the early projects
followed the line of analyzing, followed by setting up goals, e.g. for local unions, and then
making action programs, today, many of our techniques use fantasy and imagined futures to
move from problems in the present specific setting to reality and specific actions. This
“substitution” of goals with positive visions/fantasy without the need for rationalistic
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arguments to support the visions is an important step in encouraging creative contributions
from the users (Kyng, 1988).
Case: The AT project
The case used as example in the following is a project taking place at the Work Environment
Inspection (AT) office in Århus. The purpose of the project seen from the point of view of the
managers and workers at AT is to design a number of computer applications for AT and to
develop a long-term strategy for decentralized development and maintenance.
Decentralization here is relative to the existing strategy in which all AT offices in Denmark
subscribed to centralized computer applications run by a department in Copenhagen. This
aspect, that the project is useful for the people in the participating organization, is central to
our research. As with all the “empirical” projects that researchers from our tradition engage
in, the project is one of action research, which in our understanding, means that the people we
work with should get something out of the process as well. The purpose for the researchers is
an improved understanding and further development of the techniques described in Design at
Work, among others, and of the applied theoretical basis.
We use the case primarily for presenting our choice of techniques, based on experiences
from previous cases. The AT project itself is still only in the first stages. Presenting the
techniques by means of a concrete case also serves to illustrate the situated nature of our
techniques. The way we combine and apply the techniques at AT is dependent on specific
conditions at AT. So, for instance, the techniques are presented differently in Design at Work.
And obviously, the way we planned the work at AT differs from what actually happened.
In the project eight researchers work together with the people at the Work Environment
Inspection (AT) office in Århus. This office is part of a country-wide Work Environment
Inspection agency, under the auspices of the Danish State. This agency is to take care of the
workers’ health inspection at, in principle, all workplaces. It has inspectors, who are partly
specialized in different areas, as well as administrative personnel, and a centrally located
support staff of researchers. In the Århus office, the staff amounts to approximately 40
people.
The inspectors are trained in many different ways, as engineers, craftspeople, biologists,
nurses, medical doctors, psychologists and more. The contact between the inspectors and the
companies take place in three different ways: (1) an inspector selects, and visits, a randomly
chosen company; (2) an accident is reported from a company, a doctor or a shop steward,
upon which the inspector may choose to pay a visit; (3) and through a so-called campaign. A
campaign is a coordinated (often from the main office) effort to visit companies within a
certain area, or where a certain kind of work hazards are very common. E.g. all plastic-
producing factories are paid visits to inform about cancer. The inspectors in general give
information and advice, and they have the legal power to order changes in the production
facilities when these are not in accordance with the law.
The administrative staff consists of office workers, who do numerous support functions,
maintain files of different kinds, and give immediate help to people calling on the phone.
For the researchers, this project is somewhat different from most previous projects in that
we cooperate both with the local management and with the workers. Furthermore, the project
from the outset includes all groups at the organization, with their different roles and skills.
In the following we give presentations of the techniques that the project works with as
outlined in Figure 1. We also discuss how they can be employed in the specific case. The
following activities were planned during the first part of the AT project:
Researchers learning about the work at AT through workplace visits during which people
from AT were interviewed and demonstrated work practices.
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Compilation of an inventory of existing problems with and new ideas for work
organization and computer support through the critique and fantasy phases of a Future
Workshop.
An Organizational Game investigating current roles, new technological possibilities—
illustrated by means of mock-ups and prototypes—and changed roles, and developing an
action plan.
• Embodying ideas—continued cooperative design of selected computer applications using
mock-up design and cooperative prototyping, and trying out new/modified work
organizations.
At this point, a detailed plan for development of a strategy for decentralized system
development or for the conclusion of the project has not been made.
The initial step of the first activity was for 4-5 researchers to visit the organization for a
couple of days. We wanted to learn more about the work tasks of the inspectors and the
administrative staff. Furthermore, we wanted to focus on the materials and instruments that
were applied in the different work tasks, and the cooperation between people in the work
tasks. This involved following several of the inspectors on workplace inspections. In general
the strategy was one of interviewing people in their offices or wherever they were working,
asking them to demonstrate to us parts of their work tasks, the files that they keep, the
instruments, in particular computer programs, that they apply, etc. Inspired by Engeström
(1987) and Bisgaard et al. (1989) focus was not only on the normal state of affairs, but also
on exceptions and problems. The work of managers and workers was treated in the same way,
and the outcome was improved knowledge of the organization as well as a number of ideas
and problem areas to focus on in the process to come.
Designers learn abou
t
the work at AT
Several days
Future Worshop
2 1/2 hour
Organizational Games
2 1/2 + 1/2 day
Current Roles
and
Commitments
Changed roles
and
Commitments
Critique
Phase Fantasy
Phase
Workplace visits
with interviews
and
demonstrations
Embodying ideas
Weeks
Action
plan
Users learn about
new technology
from illustrative
mock-ups and
prototypes Cooperative
Prototyping
Mock-up
design
Figure 1: Activities undertaken and planned for the AT project
Future workshops
Following the workplace visits at AT, a Future Workshop was conducted to help focus more
directly on the problems and ideas that the workers at AT had, or could bring forward
collectively. In Design at Work the use of the Future Workshop technique for system design
is described in detail (Halskov Madsen & Kensing, Chapter 8). They have developed the
Future Workshop technique for system development in combination with a technique denoted
Metaphorical Design.
Robert Jungk and Norbert Müllert originally developed the Future Workshop technique for
citizen groups with limited resources who wanted a say in the decision making processes of
public planning authorities (town planning, environmental projection, energy crisis, etc.;
Jungk & Müllert, 1987). The technique is meant to shed light on a common problematic
situation, to generate visions about the future, and to discuss how these visions can be
realized. Those participating should share the same problematic situation, they should share a
desire to change the situation according to their visions, and they should share a set of means
for that change. Usually, a Future Workshop is run by at least two facilitators, with no more
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than twenty participants. The facilitators attempt to ensure an equal distribution of speaking
time and they should also ensure that all participants can follow the discussion, by letting the
participants write their ideas as short statements on wall charts (a large sheet of paper taped to
the wall). A Future Workshop is divided into three phases: the Critique, the Fantasy, and the
Implementation phase. Essentially the Critique phase is designed to draw out specific issues
about current work practice; the Fantasy phase allows participants the freedom to imagine
“what if” the workplace could be different; and the Implementation phase focuses on
resources needed to make realistic changes. These phases are surrounded by preparation and
follow-up periods.
At the beginning of the Future Workshop the facilitators introduce the technique to the
participants. Basically the Critique phase is like a structured brain-storming that focuses on
current problems at work. Speaking time is distributed to all participants and often restricted
to 30 seconds to make it easier for everybody to speak. As a preparation for the next phase
the statements are grouped under a number of critique-headings/themes. As the first part of
the following Fantasy phase the critique themes are inverted to positive guiding themes.
During the following brainstorming no statement about the future is considered too
extreme—if somebody wants it, it’s ok. As a preparation for the second part of the Fantasy
phase the short statements are re-grouped under a number of fantasy-headings/themes. Some
of these are then selected for elaboration in the following group work, where they are
elaborated into “utopian outlines”. The Implementation phase may start by having each group
present their version of a utopian outline. The general idea is to make plans for how to start
acting in the immediate future of the workshop. In the AT project the Future Workshop idea
was adapted as follows.
The researchers’ understanding of the problems of the organization was mainly based on
interviews with individuals at AT. After that they would like the workers also to formulate
their own understanding of problems and changes, and preferably as a collective. Not that
they expected everybody to share needs and problems, but at least to create a mutual
understanding of these.
Given previous experiences with Future Workshops where different groups were involved
(see e.g. Design at Work, Chapter 7), the researchers decided to ask management to stay away
from the workshop and leave the scene to the workers. One of the problems experienced
earlier in having a mixed group of managers and workers do a Future Workshop together is
that the workers may be afraid of management retaliation if they express serious critique of
current conditions in the organization. Also, in many organizations, the workers are less used
to expressing themselves orally than management, resulting in a workshop where
management interests set the agenda.
It is quite difficult to get everybody together in an organization like AT, where the
inspectors are out a lot, and where many people work part-time. Thus, a 2 1/2 hours slot in a
regular monthly staff meeting was set off for a meeting focussing on the Critique and Fantasy
phases of a Future Workshop. In addition to this, a 2 day meeting for a smaller group was
scheduled for later. For this meeting, the researchers decided to use the design-by-playing
technique described below. In order to make the best possible use of the 2 1/2 hour, the
Implementation phase was seen as something going on after the meeting (in many ways, the
rest of the project can be seen as implementation). To make use of the insight already
collected two out of four researchers present in the meeting were to observe the statements in
the Critique phase and try to come up with themes for the Fantasy phase. This also reflects an
experience of ours saying that formulating themes is often hard and time-consuming. The
Fantasy phase was conducted in four groups, each of which had a different theme and had a
researcher as facilitator. Some of the ideas that came up here were selected for further
exploration in the Organizational Game. The themes arising out of the Future Workshop were
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used in setting up the playground of the Organizational Game, and the discussions as well as
the earlier investigations were used in setting up the situations for the game.
Organizational games
The major problems in AT are centered around the organization of work and how this relates
to the use of computer technology: For instance, much of the information that the inspectors
report about their inspections is rewritten three times by the inspectors in slightly different
forms. Following this, the information is filed by different secretaries into different files. It
was suggested by the researchers, and accepted by AT, that the 2 day meeting should focus
on such work organization problems. The Organizational Game technique, developed by
Sjögren and Ehn (Design at Work, Chapter 12) seemed appropriate for this. It supports
considering alternative work organizations by playing them out and confronting the different
problems they create.
Organizational games build on the idea that:
they make a difference for the participants
implementation of the results is likely
they are fun to participate in.
The first two points concern the political side of participation in design; the users must have a
guarantee that their design efforts are taken seriously. The last point concerns the design
process. No matter how much influence participation may give, it should transcend the
boredom of traditional design meetings to really support design as meaningful and involved
action. The design work is treated as a theatrical play. Furthermore the organizational games
share with future workshops the idea that the overall structure of the game moves from the
present situation, via an imagined future, back to reality. One of the early attempts to develop
organizational games came from the Utopia project where an Organizational Kit was
developed to enrich work with abstract system descriptions. The basic ideas behind the
organizational design game in the Utopia project were that:
it should be fast and easy for a group of people to work with;
it should be cheap and flexible to use, allowing several alternatives to be tested during
discussions; and
it should be based on concepts relevant to the actual type of production and support design
discussions of existing and future work and technology.
Based on experiences from Utopia and other projects, the technique has been developed and
applied in several projects, by Sjögren and Ehn. The main example of the use of the technique
is the Desktop Publishing Game. It was developed for and played in a few public ad-
ministration offices in Sweden, the main case being the Consumers Agency Konsumentverket
(Design at Work, Chapter 12). The technique borrows its way of thinking from theater. Its
dramatic design context is based on six concepts:
The playground is a subjective and negotiated interpretation of the work organization in
question. The professional roles are represented by both individual professional ambitions
and organizational requirements. The situation cards introduce prototypical examples of
breakdown situations. Commitments are made by individual role players as actions related to
a situation card. Conditions for these commitments are negotiated, and an action plan for
negotiations with the surrounding organization is formulated.
The game designed for AT was based on a group of 10-12 people from different parts of
the organization, workers as well as management. The game started with a Prologue, where
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the rules of the game were introduced, and the roles and competences of the participants
chosen. For Act 1, which followed the prologue, the playground and situation cards were
designed by the researchers to focus on the problems that had surfaced during the initial
activities in the project, i.e. the workplace visits and the Future Workshop. In later parts of
Act 1, the participants were to create and play their own situation cards. This was done to
bring the game closer to the actual problematic situations of the organization, as perceived by
the participants from AT. A lot of work was put into preparing Act 2, where some amount of
not-yet-implemented or well-defined technology/applications were to appear on the scene.
The researchers decided to instantiate this technology by means of prototypes and mock-ups
(see the following) and let the participants get a chance to experience these as part of the
game. Act 2 was to focus on possible new pieces of technology to be applied in the
organization, and how they would affect the work in the organization. Act 3 was to focus on
changes of roles and new commitments, with new technology. This act applied scenarios
rather than situation cards. One scenario was the small autonomous group, and one was
focussing on process and product quality. Once again the roles and competences of the
participants were negotiated. In the final part, a new playground was brought in, and the
participants negotiated an action plan, based on the experiences from the game. This action
plan focussed both on what could be done here and now by groups or individuals in AT, and
on what needed external resources. All of this was scheduled to take place at a two and a half
day seminar. However, we did not finish the action plan. This was done ten days later at a
half day meeting.
The following two sections present some of the techniques we have developed to involve
users actively and creatively in the design of computer applications. Their main value is that
they allow users to experience future work-like situations where emerging new applications
are tried out, evaluated and changed or discarded—in cooperation between users and (system)
designers. This use of the techniques is part of the action plan developed in the
Organizational Game described above, but thus far the techniques have, in the AT project,
only been used in a learning process, where the designers illustrated new technological
possibilities by means of mock-ups and prototypes as part of the Organizational Game (cf. the
second act described above). As Figure 1 shows, mock-up design and cooperative
prototyping activities are planned to embody a subset of the ideas that were surfaced in the
previous activities.
Mock-Up design
The idea of mock-ups was developed in the Utopia project, as a way to encourage active user
involvement, as opposed to the use of traditional specification documents. In addition, they
actually help users and designers transcend the borders of reality and imagine what is
currently impossible, such as a screen of 100” with 1000 pixels per inch. As opposed to
descriptions, mock-ups remind the users of familiar work situations. And with mock-ups
there are meaningful roles for them to play in the use of these design artifacts.
The idea of mock-ups is presented by Ehn and Kyng (Design at Work, Chapter 9). They
ask why mock-ups work, despite having low functionality and being only a kind of
simulacrum. Some of the answers, they suggest, are that mock-ups:
encourage “hands-on experience,” and thus support user involvement beyond the detached
reflection that traditional system descriptions allow for;
they are understandable, hence there is no confusion between the simulation and the “real
thing,” and everybody has the competence to modify them;
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they are inexpensive, hence many experiments can be conducted without big investments
in equipment, commitments, time, and other resources; and last but not least,
they are fun to work with.
Some of these characteristics are shared by mock-ups and prototypes, as described in the
following section. However, some are not, and in the following we focus on these
characteristics, i. e. why, at times it may be a good idea to design without computers. First,
mock-ups are built with inexpensive materials. To buy expensive hardware and build
advanced software early in a project may, in most situations, be directly counterproductive,
especially given the possibilities of mock-ups. In other situations, however, the investments
in hardware and software may not be a problem—PCs may already be massively used in the
organization. Still, the use of mock-ups may pay off, because it can help generate new visions
and new options for use. Second, the characteristics of these simple tools and materials are
familiar to everybody in our culture. With this type of mock-ups nothing mysterious happens
inside a “black box.” If a picture taped to the blackboard drops to the floor everybody knows
that this was due to difficulties of taping on a dusty blackboard, and not part of the design.
There is no confusion between the simulation and the “real thing.” Third, such mock-ups lend
themselves to cooperative modifications. The possible “operations” on the material using, for
example, pens and scissors, are well known to all, and with simple paper-and-cardboard
mock-ups people often make modifications jointly or take quick turns changing the mock-up.
The physical changes are visible, and, with proper display, visible to all the participants.
However, as with any tool or technique, simple mock-ups have their limitations, too. First,
changes to a mock-up may be very time-consuming. If, for example, a different way of
presenting menus is chosen, changes may have to be done to dozens of drawings, or a whole
new set of slides will have to be made. Secondly, it is hard to illustrate behavioral aspects of
future applications as realistically as it can be done with prototypes. Thirdly, while mock-ups
allow a design group to experiment without the limitations of current technology, this
freedom is only a partial blessing. In the end, good design results from a creative exploitation
of the technological possibilities and limitations, not from ignoring them. Thus, as
paradoxical as it may sound, the demands for computer knowledge in a design group using
mock-ups are very high.
In the AT case, we plan to build mock-ups to explore more details of possible future
technology, by managers, workers and researchers in cooperation. Suggestions for where to
use mock-ups and prototypes have arisen from the action program, as described below, but
the specific areas in which to proceed remain to be chosen.
Cooperative Prototyping
The way we do prototyping—cooperative prototyping—is different from traditional
prototyping in that traditional prototyping approaches mainly take the perspective of the
developers: Analyst/Designers conduct investigations in the user organization and develop
prototypes on their own. Such prototypes are tested by or demonstrated to users to give the
developers feedback on their solution. It has a superficial resemblance to our use of
prototypes for illustrating new technological possibilities, but whereas we see this use of
prototypes as part of the users’ learning, traditional approaches view it as part of the feedback
to developers. Traditional approaches put little emphasis on active user involvement in the
actual design process. In (Design at Work, Chapter 10) Bødker and Grønbæk introduce a
different approach called Cooperative Prototyping. The approach is an exploratory approach
(Floyd, 1984) where prototyping is viewed as a cooperative activity between users and
designers, rather than an activity of designers utilizing users’ more or less articulated
11
requirements. In cooperative prototyping the aim is to have users achieve a familiarity with
the tools that comes close to what was achieved with mock-ups, although this may be
infeasible in the immediate future.
The cooperative prototyping approach establishes a design process where both users and
designers are participating actively and creatively with their different qualifications. A key
point in facilitating such a process is to let the users experience prototypes in a fluent work-
like situation. The users’ current skills must be confronted with new technological
possibilities. This can be done in a simulated future work situation or in a real use situation.
When breakdowns occur in the simulated use situation, users and designers analyze the situa-
tion and discuss whether the breakdown occurred because of the need for training, a bad or
incomplete design solution, or for some other reason. Breakdowns caused by bad or
incomplete design solutions should rapidly be turned into improved designs, in order to
reestablish the fluent work-like evaluation of the prototype. In many cases the users can
participate actively in improving the prototypes. Prototype modifications that can be made by
direct manipulation are made immediately in the session, whereas modifications requiring a
larger programming effort are postponed and made by the designers after the session.
Setting up alternative prototypes is useful for users and designers to get their imagination
going and thereby for the group to discuss different ways of organizing work. A Future
Workshop often displays a diversity of alternative fantasies about how to improve work with
computers or by changing work organization. Exploring some of these alternatives through
prototyping is a fruitful way to move from fantasy into the actual development process and to
focus on improving the users’ work through computer support.
At present the prototypes for the AT case are seen primarily as “learning vehicles” for the
workers and managers as a part of the Organizational Game. This use of prototypes supports
imagination and discussion about the future work with new technology. The Organizational
Game becomes more concrete than if technology is just talked about. For instance, prior to
the AT project, there had been a lot of talk about the inspectors carrying portable computers
on their visits. But hardly any of the inspectors had seen one. Letting them experience the
general capabilities of a portable computer in itself grounds the discussions. And of course
experiencing prototypes of what the portable may be used for in their specific situation brings
the discussion much further and also raises a number of questions related to work
organization. For instance, if the inspectors directly enter into the computer the information
that they now record on forms, what will happen to the work tasks of the secretaries who are
now responsible for this data entry?
As with mock-ups these initial discussions help delimit areas in which to proceed with
prototyping. And part of this is to let the users get more actively involved with the existing
prototypes. To learn the best ways to set up these sessions, a diversity of questions are
considered, such as: What is the purpose of the session? How stable should the prototype be
in advance? To what extent should in-session modifications be done? What setting should be
chosen? How should the outcome be documented/evaluated? In prototyping sessions,
designers often like to demonstrate all the features they believe are wonderful. However, our
claim is that demonstrations do not necessarily tell the users anything about how the
prototype or the final application fulfils their needs. To fully experience the prototype, the
users need to be in control of its use for some period of time, to try it out in work-like
situations. If the prototypes are not sufficiently stable to let the users work on their own with
it, the designer should be prepared to give first aid for breakdowns caused by the prototype.
While designers are, initially, the ones who know how the process should be set up, it is
important that the process be adjusted to the needs and wishes of the users.
The product of the prototyping process is not only a computer prototype. Prototyping is a
learning process, and much of the new understanding must be spread to workers and
12
managers who do not participate directly in the prototyping. One way is to use the different
prototypes in a process in which all involved personnel are guided through a compacted
version of the prototyping process (Bisgaard et al., 1989). In general, the prototypes are
valuable means in the education of future users, because education can start while the final
computer application is being implemented. Similarly, the participants from a prototyping
process can often act as teachers. These ideas will be further explored in the AT project.
General conditions
A design process in which a group of users and designers cooperate takes place in a complex
context with different types of societal conditions and contractual relationships among the
partners (Grønbæk et al., in this volume). System designers in some settings will have to fight
to involve users in the design process. For instance, the application to be developed may be
specified in a product contract stating requirements and a fixed price. Or the application is a
brand new product to be marketed. Thus it may be difficult to identify a suitable group of
potential users.
One of the frequent obstacles to increased user involvement in design projects is resources,
or rather, the lack of them. Throughout a design project resources must be secured for user
participation if there is to be real cooperation. Users who get no reduction in their daily
workload cannot be expected to engage themselves in a design project over long periods of
time. But resources are not only time and money; they also include education and assistance
from a variety of experts.
Another frequent obstacle to user involvement is the current structure and the traditions in
the involved organizations. For instance, marketing groups within product development
organizations may restrict user involvement in the development process even when the
developers do find it important (Grudin, in this volume; Grønbæk et al., in this volume). One
such reason could be that the product development organization does not want to design a
product that is tied too closely to a certain customer or customer type.
In most organizations, some groups have more power and resources than others. Those
who have the most power and resources are usually management, not the end-users. To help
users get a forum where they can take an active part in design means to set up situations
where they can act according to their own interests and rules, and not simply according to
those of their managers. The right to make decisions about how to spend resources is also a
crucial aspect of the resource question mentioned above. Most projects have to follow the
rules of the organization to which they belong. In some cases this implies that a project group
consisting of designers and users collectively makes the decisions, as was the case with the
Utopia project mentioned earlier. In most cases, however, standard managerial procedures
will determine the way decisions are made. When a crisis or a conflict arises under these cir-
cumstances, decisions often run contrary to the wishes of users, and perhaps contrary to those
of the designers as well. The result is usually that the users withdraw from the process, either
totally by leaving the design group, or by becoming passive members, losing their initial
belief in the possibilities of their influencing the design. To give users a better chance of
continued participation, we recommend that from the outset the designers argue for a certain
amount of resources to be allocated for user initiatives.
The weakest groups in particular need the strongest support in formulation of their
demands and ideas for the future. There can be conflicting interests among the groups, but
these conflicts may be turned into resources for the project, if the situations are set up in
appropriate ways. This can mean that designers and users should not just establish one project
group of all involved parties, but should work with different groups of people at different
times (Ehn & Kyng, 1987; Ehn & Sandberg, 1979; Engeström, 1987). At the same time, the
13
different groups need to be exposed to each other’s demands and suggestions, which
emphasizes the need for designers to be coordinators of the activities.
Concluding remarks
One of the issues confronted when we tear down the barriers of traditional design is that the
roles of the system developers shift from that of project managers to project facilitators.
Cooperative design, which in our perspective means empowering users to fuller participation
and cooperation, changes the rules of the game. Within traditional system development each
step, from feasibility study through implementation, is supposed to be controlled by system
developers and management through discrete procedures, and marked by clear-cut milestones
and exit criteria. In our view, the traditional system approach makes it easier for designers to
create the impression that things are under control. But often the supposedly last act, where a
system is put into operation, shows that it does not fit the work of the users, and an almost
unending epilog of modifications begins. The cooperative design approach begins by creating
an environment in which users and designers can actively consider the future use situation. It
is a process where users and designers don’t have to wait until the final act to know if the
application will fit the practice of the users.
Finally, we recall the situated nature of cooperative design. Each application of the
techniques described in this paper will be different depending on the type of project in which
they are applied. In Design at Work the techniques have been presented using a variety of
examples of their use; in this paper we have done a somewhat similar thing using a single
project as our example. A reader who examines both sources will see that the techniques have
been applied differently. The point is that the next application of the techniques will again be
different. This is why we think example driven presentations, like the one in this paper, are
more appropriate than stating general guidelines and methods. Trying to apply techniques
that have been described by example will force the reader to consider similarities and
differences between the described example and the current situation. This exercise will move
the attention towards how to fit the technique to the current setting, rather than just sticking to
a guideline that most likely doesn’t fit the situation.
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Review, 4(2).
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