Participate Book Reviews


by Helen Armstrong and Zvezdana Stojmirovic

160 pages, softcover, $24.95, published by Princeton Architectural Press,

If “user-generated content” is hard to visualize as an art movement, Daniel Eatock’s “No Smoking Sign Library” illustrates one of its basic features: community. Eatock invites submissions for his ongoing red, black and white exhibit of alternative No Smoking signs and makes them available as free downloads for viewers to print and post. Using digital tools and social media, participants like Eatock’s web community are becoming part of the design process on projects designed for the unpredictability of user content.

From collaborative posters to viral branding campaigns and innovative typefaces, designers utilizing the richness of user-driven design have set up parameters and open-ended systems of immense diversity. Authors Armstrong and Stojmirovic, both designers and educators, have skillfully detailed the potential of participatory design. They don’t claim it is new or even limited to the digital realm, but they note a shift from designers as single creators to a network of communities driving commerce and culture.

The collection of work is grouped by the four characteristics that user-generated content shares—community, flexibility, modularity and technology—and includes digital, print and product examples to view. Industrial designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec use modular components that can be altered or replaced, such as their cloth tiles that let consumers create their own sizes and shapes to hang from a ceiling or wall. The success of mass customization of products currently allows buyers to create their own clothing, footwear and food.

Inevitably, more design from amateur creatives means more bad design, but the authors suggest the solution lies in the ability of designers to lead this movement. They supply exercises, interviews with design pros and case studies to explore the process, while questioning what the demystification of design practices will do to the profession as consumers seek more control, faster production and cheaper design solutions. “Today, it’s impossible to have mastery of one thing and all the technology behind it,” says designer Keetra Dean Dixon. “You must reach out to people. The first step is being OK with not knowing how it’s going to happen and then proceeding and making it happen.” —Ruth Hagopian



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