The Tension between Participation and Professionalism
While participatory design seeks to create unity between professional and non- professional, it also raises an ideological conflict. During the conference for Design Participation: Proceedings of the Design Research Society's Conference Manchester, September 1971, practitioners were seeking validation for participatory design, but that validation was equally met with skepticism. Nigel Cross provides skepticism in a faux "social conscience" motivation behind participatory design:
Why do we want 'the people' - that convenient abstraction - to participate in the processes of design, whether it be at the commodity level or the community level? In other words, not to put too fine an edge on it, what's in it for us? Right, so some of us are putting our social consciences to work. We believe, for social, political, religious reasons, that these things should be done. On the other hand, it is not too difficult to see that, in some places and at certain times over the last six years, the motivation of professionals to stir up the populace into participatory action has a been a way of finding allies for our own private inter-professional guerrilla wars.41
To contextualize, Cross was speaking of certain political climates, i.e., the politics of Ralph Nader, that were very populous oriented and despised by largercorporations i.e. Koch Brother’s industries.42 Cross point carries over into contemporary times, (where politics have not changed all the much) and individuals or groups often employ ‘participatory action’ for their own agenda. In essence, there is a danger in chance of exploiting participation or using it as leverage for personal gain. In addition, there is the idea that perhaps designers are sticking their noses where they don’t belong, and should quit subscribing to the idea people are misfortunate by not being included in a designer’s design. Rather, it is the designer that is seeking help for their ‘agenda’ or because they alone are
incapable of an innovation process. Cross raises the question, "what's in it for us?” which is a resounding question that practitioners often attempt to answer. Yet, in the case of idBrooklyn and other Participatory Design, practitioners should feel the pressure to be answering "what's in it for them?" The designer rarely holds a mirror up to themselves and asks what their influence or consequence might be on the nature of their work. Altogether, are the professional's motives really able to
41 Nigel Cross “Here Comes Everyman” in Design Participation: Proceedings of the Design Research Society's Conference, ed. Nigel Cross (Academy Editions Ltd, a division of John Wiley & Sons Ltd., December 1972), 16.
42 Chad Beck, Adam Bolt, Alex Gibney, Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream, Documentary, Alex Gibney (BBC: 2012).