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When is it appropriate to appropriate?

In keeping with my suggestion that it is the university of Web 2.0, students at the information school at Berkeley recently had a lunch time discussion on designing for appropriation. The notes from the discussion are available, and make for a worthwhile read.

The discussion was spurred by a question aired at the DUX2005 conference: “How can I design for user experience if once I put my products out into the world, they pretty much ‘die.’ They are no longer mine and they are being used in ways that I never intended.”

It is exactly such egocentricity and small-mindedness that upsets me about designers. Oh, boo-hoo, users aren’t respecting your brilliant vision for their experience!

Anyway, the discussion at the iSchool took a different tack, exploring the opportunities afforded by appropriation. (It also lead to my most favorite recent turn of phrase, “Is it appropriate to appropriate?”)

This subject has been dear to me for a long time. At South by Southwest 1999 (my first), I participated on a panel called “Interface Design as Social Architecture,” and spent my time focusing on unintended uses. The grandest being that “hypertext” was invented to augment intelligence, the web created to facilitate physics knowledge sharing, but when placed in the hands of users, it quickly became out shopping and porn.

I also discussed the subversive appropriations, such as using Amazon’s customer comments section to discuss the literary merits of The Family Circus.

When taking Nancy van House’s IS 212 course, Information in Society, I learned of “SCOT”, the Social Construction of Technology, which deals explicitly with how individuals and groups make technologies their own. Appropriation goes back a long way.

All this was reminiscent of Anne Galloway’s “Design for Hackability” panel at DIS2004.

Anyway, stick with the notes through the end, where methods for designing for appropriation are discussed. That whole post is filled with good, though-provoking stuff.