Designing with Users

Participatory design and designing from the basis of cultural knowledge and understandings is necessary in a design research in order for it to work. Participatory design is the shift in attitude from designing for users to designing with users. It is not only a method or set of methodologies but a mindset and an attitude about people. Furthermore, it is the belief that people have something to offer to the design process.

India, a land of transposed design, boasts a rich tapestry of architecture and design history. For most developing nations, progress may mean taking designs from the developed nations and applying it to new designs. After India gained independence in 1947, the country tried to catch up with the rest of the world. And the quickest way to do so was to introduce and incorporate and exchange development into India. This resulted in both success and failure in the engagement of social and cultural context.

There are many design strategies or design solutions that aim to tackle health issues within the more developed regions. Many rural areas like parts of India are not connected to the electric grid in which modern washing machines are no use for the local citizens there. To address the problems of people living in the rural regions where laundry washing can be a difficult task due to the weight load of laundry, Alex Cabunoc and Ji A You have produced a foot pedal powered laundry washer the GiraDora. [2] It is claimed that the product reduces health risks such as joint problems, skin irritation. Mold inhalation and lower back pain all associated with hand laundry washing. foot-powered-washer-and-spin-dryer-5


A design solution does not necessarily work however if there is a lack of understanding or the target audience is not involved throughout a design process. Transposed development and thoughts on a product design may lead to a design that is simply cut and pasted into a new environment where considerations of context, social or cultural aspects are not taken into account. Indian design consultancy D-Design for example, had been given approval by NGO HealthWorks to develop a commercial market for water filters among Indians living in poverty. Initially, the lead designer imagined India’s living conditions as being fairly poor, getting water from the dirty river, often ill from water-borne illness and without a filter. Design researchers however found villages where people seemed relatively happy and even content of their water. So where was the poverty? The break in communication between designers and the users of what is being designed (or user centric focused design) evident in this case proves to designers how vital it is to maintain a level of connection, communication and understanding of their target audience. [1] The Post-Colonial Computing paper emphasises the fact that not all exchange in design and technology between two parties always go to plan.

The failure to engage with particular culture and tradition and the user themselves may potentially result in an unsuccessful design.


[1] The Problem of Development, p1314, Postcolonial Computing: A Lens on Design and Development, ACM, 2010, Lilly I., Janer V., Paul D., Kavita P., Rebecca E.G., April 2010, viewed on 19 October 2013

[2] GiraDora – Human-Powered Washer and Spin Dryer, written by Alex Cabunoc, July 2012, Art Center College of Design, 2013, <> viewed on 20 October 2013


GiraDora|5, Foot-Powered Washer and Spin Dryer, Ecoficial, August 2012, <> viewed on 22 October 2013

Alex Cabunoc, GiraDora – human-powered washer and spin dryer, 2012, Behance, < >, viewed on 22 October 2013


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