Codesigning with dogs
Originally published on the More-than-Human Participatory Research blog, an AHRC funded project exploring the possibility of extending participatory research techniques to non-humans.
Our first workshop is coming up soon and Clara Mancini and I have been having some really fascinating discussions about how to actually organise it. For this workshop we'll be working with dogs and people from Dogs for the Disabled who have generously agreed to participate. We're going to explore how to utilise methods from participatory design to invite the dogs into collaborative research processes.
One definition for participatory design from wikipedia suggests that it is a process where participants: are invited to cooperate with designers, researchers and developers during an innovation process. Potentially, they participate during several stages of an innovation process: they participate during the initial exploration and problem definition, both to help define the problem and to focus ideas for solution, and during development, they help evaluate proposed solutions. Assistance dogs use a variety of objects designed for humans as part of their work. This includes things like door handles and light switches, but also more complicated things like washing machines. One dog in New Zealand had even learnt how to drive a car. These items can be adjusted for dogs to use, by adding a rope to a door handle, for example, but what if you could use methods from participatory design to create interfaces specifically for dogs?
As Clara said today in our discussions, to design with someone (whether this be human or non-human) means coming to a stage where you've recognised that someone as worth catering for, as somebody that has requirements of their own. To design with and for dogs is to also recognise that they are worthy recipients of technology.
What we are hoping to do then is to use our workshop as an opportunity to do a test run of a participatory design process with dogs. We will pilot methods of doing an initial exploration and problem definition on the first day, by learning about the kind of relationship that exists between users and the dogs. We'll then focus on how the dogs learn their tasks and in particular how they learn to interact with the different technologies that they use. We'll look for issues, difficulties or complications that arise, as part of defining problems that may need a design solution.
On day two we are then planning to work in groups to develop responses to design briefs arising from our problem definition work from the day before. We're hoping to explore how we could support better communication and recognitions of agency through technology designs. Addressing issues around usability, functionality and aesthetics, we are hoping to touch on questions on how to think through the value of design for different species. Given how short our workshop is, we won't have time to test out evaluation methods, but we'll be hearing about some methods that the ACI team have being developing.
It's all feeling quite experimental at the moment, and is proving to be both challenging and fascinating. Stay tuned for updates on how it ends up playing out.
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