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Critiquing Contemporary Design Philosophies

Most contemporary design philosophies (whether processes, schools of thought, or otherwise) follow the subject-object model. The subject-object model is both harmful and misguided. Harmful because it places us at the center of the universe, thus ignoring anything that isn’t us. Misguided because, by nature of placing things on the shoulders of our own perception, we leave the world open to the insidiousness of subjectivity.

Two examples of how design processes and schools of thought suffer from this:

  1. Agile methodology requires user stories. User stories are driven by the following format: “As a < type of user >, I want < some goal > so that < some reason >.” In agile, the stories drive sprints, which drive the process. Stories are driven by user perspective, and thus are inclined toward subject-object thinking.
  2. Human-centered Design. It’s right in the name. People are at the center of the design process and research in this methodology. Problematically, this means that other things (the environment, animals, future humans even) are not given as much importance in the process (or, at least, are only given importance in relation to their usefulness to humans).

I’m currently writing a paper that analyzes these two problems and proposes an alternative way forward for, specifically, the design of things. More to come.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

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