everyday.sign creates better participatory experiences by starting from people's everyday design habits

everyday.sign is design which occurs as part of everyday activities with the ambition of creating better lived experiences. Practiced by individuals or groups, everyday.sign is the daily creative endeavors which occur intuitively or habitually, often without an articulated process, and rather emerging from a combination of design influences. Examples of everyday.sign might include community work, product modifications, or personal style choices. everyday.sign exists in, and is built on, the outcomes, experiences and interpretations of existing design activities. Practiced quickly and lightly, it generates an immediate and rapid dialogue between groups and individuals. Each everyday.sign endeavor is a small contribution towards a larger discourse on the way communities work and change. Identifying examples of everyday.sign can provide insights for designers seeking to create better participatory experiences by basing their practice on recognizable patterns of public engagement with design. Here, examples of everyday.sign are presented alongside suggestions for how these insights might inform design practice.

#1 Indonesia

Kustom culture exists across sectors, from agriculture, to automobile, to fashion. It is made possible by a large number of specialist high-street artisans who build long term relationships with their customers, including blacksmiths, woodworkers, tailors and mechanics. The values underpinning Kustom are aspiration, vision, and quality. Design decisions are made iteratively, usually between an individual and an artisan. Although decisions are made with an original plan in mind, there is no fear to contradict earlier decisions when confronted with new information.

Diakali is a Sundanese word meaning to creatively see the unintended potential in existing products or scenarios, and modifying or combining them to make something new. Here it is using it to describe the practice of solving small, ‘temporary’, problems with limited resources and time. The values underpinning Diakali are problem solving, temporality and assistance. Like Kustom, the most common forms of Diakali occur from an accepted template, with concepts reused between similar settings and problems. Unlike Kustom however, there are few ‘experts’ involved in Diakali, and problems are solved by ‘everyday’ people using familiar props found in their immediate surroundings. (Some images courtesy of unconditionaldesign)

Allegiance design culture reflects a need to belong to – and be clearly and proudly identified as part of a particular community. Consumer decisions help identify and define allies and even who you spend time with. The use of products to define status and identity is not a novel idea, however it is a driving force in the way people participate in design. Examples of Allegiance in Indonesia include car communities, bike clubs, and symbolic fashion. The values underpinning Allegiance are a respect for the traditions and heritage of an existing design, the security of the community it makes visible, and the pride in that ideology. Design decisions are generally made individually but with the knowledge that there is a community that will support personal decisions if made following particular rules.

Insights for Designers

Community Building. In Kustom, designers might seek to build a network of ‘everyday’ experts to support participants to realize their vision. These skilled people would work iteratively, flexibly and through dialogue – with small iterations to help inform design decision making. In Diakali, designers might arrange activities around familiar mutual problems to be solved together, and provide plenty of opportunities to self-organize and iterate. In Allegiance, creating solidarity around particular designs might be an avenue for the designers to explore.

Prototyping. Some non-designers find prototyping difficult to do in a meaningful way. everyday.sign shows that there are certain approaches which might help people prototype with more confidence. In Diakali, prototyping is done through the combination of familiar objects whose weight, form and mechanics are already understood. Designers could create design environments either situated in or replicating everyday settings or environments. In Kustom, prototypes are created with the support of a skilled craftsperson, or expert. Designers could allow experts to help build prototypes in collaboration with design participants. Prototyping could even be seen as a two-step process, with participants creating the first few iterations in Diakali to refine concepts and vision, before working in Kustom to refine ideas and products.

Templates. Templates provide guidance about the expected design process. However, it is sometimes difficult to strike a balance between a fixed and flexible approach. The use of templates in everyday.sign might provide insights about how to achieve this balance. In Diakali, people are adept at building solutions with objects and approaches they are familiar with. These existing artifacts provide a template for new designs. In Kustom, this is even more clear, with existing products providing an initial template to be modified to either improve or enhance its function. These improvements are generally planned but these temporary templates are considered flexibly as the new design unfolds. In Allegiance, templates focus on symbolism over function, and are followed most strongly compared to other forms of everyday.sign. Designers might consider using more physical templates over paper-based worksheets, upon which more advanced prototypes and ideas can be built.

Engagement. Encouraging people to participate and engage with design is difficult. everyday.sign is design which people participate in voluntarily and therefore may provide some insights for designers. In Kustom, the use of experts to create a high-quality output is a motivation to engage people to participate. In Diakali, people engage in design experiences which are short-term, temporary and very relevant to the moment. They are often presented as problems which require mutual assistance, and work best when they only require small and collective contributions of help. The contributions are usually voluntary and not requested. Allegiance suggests another motivation for engagement, that of the awareness and respect of ‘good’ design. Designers might try creating collective design experiences where many people contribute a small amount to ‘help’ towards a larger roughly defined goal. In certain communities, it may be useful to present diverse examples of ‘good’ design and explain their symbolism and importance – building communities around particular designs.