Where the borders are

Where the borders are

I contributed part of the Icograda Design Education Manifesto 2011 update. I explore the dissolving/ed borders between consumer and producer, collaboration as primary form of interaction in design, and “beautiful seams” as a response.

The updated Icograda Design Education Manifesto and supporting essays — including this one — is available for download. To obtain a printed copy of the book for a nominal fee, please contact the Icograda Secretariat.

The comfortably crisp borders between creator and consumer have dissolved. As a result of technological, social and cultural advancements in product design, the borders that once separated producer and consumer are no longer recognisable, permanent or possible.

Relying on these traditional boundaries can be a disadvantage for contemporary designers. We carry our social networks in our pockets. We crowd-source our private financial decisions with strangers online. We read a single book across devices on a number of screens. It is critical, then, that designers do not see borders, but design beautiful seams.

By not seeing borders, designers expand their possibilities at a time when websites have migrated off desktops onto streets and computing in public is becoming a behavioural norm. With the blurring of borders between disciplines, and across devices, time zones and communication spaces comes a new mode of collaboration. The changes necessitate a new form of collaborative enterprise — not just with team members, but with the target audience.

As we experience this shift, our collaborative activities must evolve in at least five critical ways:

Collaboration is interactive

Traditional frameworks for production are evolving into interactive activities where the consumer participates in creation. While traditionally a passive role, consumers are more frequently introducing their own stories, values and content into the production process. One-to-one works have become many-to-many works, and the do-it-yourself (DIY) culture is giving way to a do-it-with-others (DIWO) movement.

Collaboration is responsive

With the emergence of tools that allow consumers to take part in product creation, consumers have taken on a new role. No longer passive, they have become co-creators – moved from nouns to verbs. Consumers actively create alongside designers, often through improvisation. Improvising – the act of creating in the moment and in response to an environment, results in the invention of new patterns, practices, structures and behaviours.

Collaboration is sensemaking

To create patterns is natural not only as designers, but as humans. We make sense of chaotic environments by giving shapes and concepts meaning and form that we can categorise – poster, website, building, typography, interactive, stone and so on. Creating categories gives our experience boundaries.

Collaboration is continuous

Collaboration is both discipline-respectful and discipline-agnostic. It is a historically rich creative process that has influenced artistic mediums from music to dance to theatre. As a method it is evolving from a bounded behaviour that is a useful tool in specific cases to a life-long process that calls on various disciplines to work spontaneously, harmoniously and holistically.

Collaboration is personal

People should be fiercely passionate about good ideas so that their collaborative efforts are a natural extension of themselves. Confidence can bridge a gap between desire and outcome if our integrity of thought and authenticity of creation remain intact. We have the ability to both do good work and to make it personal. Confidence is good’s natural extension.

Finally, as we consider these shifting borders, we must consider the areas where those border lines meet — the “beautiful seams,” a term coined by Mark Weiser, chief technologist of, at the time, Xerox Palo Alto Research Centre. Weiser intended for users to explore systems and to find moments of beauty within them. If our role as designers is to create platforms and frameworks, we must be conscious of developing recognisable seams for others, so that they can play, discover and configure in those spaces.

As borders continue to shift, designers and users overlap, time zones matter less and boundaries blur, it is at these beautiful seams that designers have the most opportunity to create, to present possibilities, to demonstrate beauty, to teach and to learn.

Apropos of borders, in NYC, I am at 40˚34″N 74˚00’W.