Stanford University Stanford Computer Science Department
Abstract    |    Introduction    |    Contacts    |   

   What is PD?
   Political Push
   The Developer

Philosophical Perspective
   Design Philosophy


   Expert Systems Design
   Usability Engeering
   Value Senstive Design

Obstacles to PD in the US

A. Organizational structure of business
The current organizational structure of businesses in the United States is the main obstacle to participatory design. Though we live in a democratic society, business does not run by democratic principals, but hierarchical power principals instead..

The social climate and political pressures in the U.S. are such that democratic participation would be perceived as social interference into business affairs; this is neither socially acceptable, nor is it expected by the workers (Gower et al. 1997).

Thus, even workers themselves do not expect to be involved in the process of designing the software systems, which they will use. Historically, democratic values have only been partially considered in the systems design process in the United States. The main focus has been on technical and economic factors, and a hierarchical approach has been largely favored. Technologically savvy developers or organizational managers often assume they understand the needs of common users and workers, and that fulfilling their own goals will also fulfill the needs of the end-user ( States Jones:

North American information technology (IT) organizations typically promote the fulfillment of organizational needs with minimal social intervention. We avoid the investment in messy social engagement required to facilitate the systems associated with organizational change. This may be even more prevalent with firms that make the software shaping our future workplaces and home environments·..

According to Jones, these processes institutionalize not only the power but also the desired practices of a few over the activities of many. The difficulty of adopting participatory design in such environments, which participatory design directly contradicts, is the reason that Participatory design has not gained a larger following in the United States. Even in organizations which do promote democracy in the workplace there will be situations in which designers must choose between meeting management's objectives and enhancing workers' ability to plan and control their work (Kuhn).

B. Cost of changing organizational structure
Implementing participatory design often requires some sort of overhaul of the current organizational system. If followed correctly, PD produces well-designed "total" systems in which technology and the work organization can reinforce each other. However, participatory design takes time and money, as it requires design group members to learn new analytical and design skills. Thus, start-up costs are high. Though participatory design has been shown to return 10 to 100 times the startup cost (, it is difficult to justify the initial spending. This is especially true since even participatory design is not immune to failure. Participation will not provide ample benefits where the right industrial relations are not present to support it. There must also effective communication between developers and users for participatory design to function properly. Users must not be overwhelmed by developersâ technical jargon, and they must be made to feel comfortable expressing disagreement with developers' ideas for participatory design to work (Hedberg, 1975).

Product Development
   Vendor Adoption
   Product Design

In the US
   New Context
   Current Use

   Applied PD

Abstract    |    Introduction    |    Contacts