Designing for social cohesion

C.C.M. Hummels, A. Trotto

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The concepts that helps us to get grip on how we make sense of the world or the way we give meaning to our lives is essential for the field of design, since designers produce proposals for action and experience through their designed artefacts. They create opportunities through which a person can create meaning in a specific socio-cultural context. Within phenomenology, ‘embodiment’ and ‘skilful coping’ are considered to be unique characteristics of man; that is, we are able to engage with the world and develop skills while acting in the world. We perceive the world in terms of what we can do with it, and by physically interacting with it we access and express this meaning. To cope skilfully in the world from day to day, we do not need a mental representation of our goals; our body is simply solicited by the situation to find the right balance so as to gain a maximum grip on the situation (Merleau-Ponty, 1962; Dreyfus 1996). These notions of embodiment and skilful coping did not only arise in philosophy, but also in other fields like psychology, anthropology, pedagogy and biology, across different cultures. Within embodied cognition for example, Lucy Suchman argues that people do not execute an internally created a ‘plan for action’, but they act in the face of concrete circumstances in the world: situated action (Suchman, 1987; van Dijk, 2013). The concept of affordance plays an important part in the sensorimotor perspective on embodied cognition. James Gibson (1979), with his ecological theory of perception, introduced the concepts of affordances and effectivities to show that the characteristics of the human world (e.g. what affords walking on, squeezing through, reaching, etc.) correlate with our bodily capacities and acquired skills, that is our effectivities (Dreyfus, 1996). Related to this notion of affordance is Fransisco Varela’s notion of enactment, i.e. "a process whereby a living being creates and maintains its own domain of meaningfulness, in generating and maintaining its own self-identity as an embodied organism." (Torrance, 2006, p. 359). In other words, the "environment" we inhabit does not exist before we come to inhabit it: each creature, based on its sensory capacities and its behavioural repertoire, brings forth both itself as well as its environment (Von Uexkull, 1934). The user ‘enacts’ a world of meaning by interacting through the artefact. Essential element for making sense of the world is the sensorimotor coupling between a person and its environment (Van Dijk, 2013). But how can these theories help us to get grip on activities like communication, social connection and creativity? How can embodiment, skilful and enactment help designers to connect people and to catalyse a constructive (design) "conversation" among people with different backgrounds? During a two-weeks class with Master students of the Department of Industrial Design at the Eindhoven University of Technology, we developed so-called Engagement Probes, i.e. open tools which serve as a means to connect people and enhance engagement, empathy and respect. We used these Probes to engage people in a design discussion more concrete and effective than a discussion or brainstorm session held around a table. During the class, student developed six Engagement Probes that have been validated in a five-hour workshop, in which 80 participants from very different cultural and professional background have used them as a means to ignite a design process. The results show that the Probes stimulate engagement, help people to get familiar and connected in a short period of time, and inspire and boost the design process. In this talk I will discuss the development process of the Engagement Probes, the theoretical embedding, and the qualities of the designs that contribute to social interaction and engagement.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRencontres Perspectives et Supports Techniques de La Pensee : From Perceptual Interaction to Extended Cognition, 22-25 Janvier 2013, Compiègne, France
Place of PublicationCompiègne
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Eventconference; From Perceptual interaction to extended cognition; 2013-01-22; 2013-01-25 -
Duration: 22 Jan 201325 Jan 2013


Conferenceconference; From Perceptual interaction to extended cognition; 2013-01-22; 2013-01-25
OtherFrom Perceptual interaction to extended cognition


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