Designing in the Wild: Problem-solving for specialized apparel and soft products
Authors: Megan Strickfaden, Joyce Thomas
Abstract: The aim of this paper is to propose and elaborate on the concept of designing in the wild theoretically and practically through a case study on an apparel system created for people working in the oil and gas industry. Through our explorations we elaborate on motivating factors for designing in the wild, offer some of the fundamental theories on problem-solving in design, and provide an overview of human-centred practices to compare and contrast these with designing in the wild. Naturally there are a myriad of different ways that designers can approach designing. They can take a designer-centric approach, an artifact-centric approach, use- or user-centric approach, or a combination of these. Typically, designers will select one of these approaches especially when creating ready-to-wear apparel, soft products, and accessories. For example, apparel and soft product designers are often expected to peruse the market, speculate on new styles, and forecast trends (both are generally artifact-centric approaches) with a vision to realizing designs that will be easily produced and sell well. Alternatively, designers who are involved in creating products for specialized markets such as design for disability or safety wear take more use- and user-centric approaches where there is a greater focus on the use environment (use-centric approach). Furthermore, user-centric approaches in apparel design have been popularized around sizing, scaling and fit to the human body, usually as the study of anthropometrics, which is interestingly also quite artifact-centric because designers are consulting databases and documents with numbers that indicate how apparel and soft products need to interface with bodies. These approaches to creating apparel and soft products have provided the domain with tools towards developing apparel that fit the shapes and needs of consumers, but not necessarily the expectations and desires within specialized product realms. With the growing needs for more specialized apparel and soft product design due to specific work situations and environments, aging demographics and people with special needs, and niche markets it is essential that a more holistic problem-solving approach and acknowledgement of the complexity of design scenarios be taken. Designing in the wild plays on the work of Callon and Rabeharisoa’s Research ‘in the wild’ and the reshaping of new social identities (2003). Like “research in the wild” designing in the wild offers various methods to get at and understand the complexity of human experiences including the nuanced relationships among person-apparel-environment. Designing in the wild takes a two-pronged approach: (1) where the designer is required to understand themselves to design better for others; and (2) where a more in-depth methodology for understanding others is employed. Consequently, designing in the wild focuses on a more complex understanding of authentic human behavior to design for the portable environments of apparel and soft product. Our results are a rich description of our case study, what designing in the wild is, and pointers on how to employ this approach when problem solving for specialized apparel and soft product design.
Keywords: Case study, design methods, human-centred design
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